Commanders offer deeply flawed defense of F-35 training over cities: We are just following orders

Residents effectively make their case at Winooski City Council meeting

One after another some 30 residents of the cities of Winooski, Burlington and South Burlington described pain, injury, distress, trauma, fear, and suffering from the F-35 flights. The daily atrocities against civilians are being committed by the state’s military forces with F-35 jets.

Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott invited the governor and Vermont Air National Guard commanders to attend the September 7 Winooski City Council meeting. Governor Phil Scott did not attend to face his constituents. To their credit, three Vermont Guard commanders were present in person.

Though several residents expressed appreciation of Guard work, especially on COVID 19, none spoke in favor of the F-35 training in a city. The call to halt the training flights over any populated area was unanimous.

Here are a few of the remarks by residents presented in person and on Zoom. The video of the entire meeting will be posted on the city’s website in a few days:

Stress hormones, high blood pressure, heart damage. Who profits? What will it take to stop this, a crash? Scandal? Or listening to the people of Winooski? I hate living here now. It’s unbearable. I feel stress. Tense. Anxious. Mitigation won’t work and will take years? Who will stay indoors? I walk the dog, garden, sit on the front porch. How will mitigation help? How do you soundproof a playground? Unbearable excruciating sounds of war in our homes and lives, as if we don’t matter at all. I am suffering. The F-35 is pure insanity-making. Whatever the benefit to some, it is a disaster to many of us. Beyond human level to tolerate. If I were still teaching, this would be holy hell. You feel you are being attacked. You feel you have to dive for cover. My hearing has gotten worse. Can’t imagine what is happening to babies. Makes you shake. My inner ear rattles. The sound of the F-35 is terrifying. Painful. Can’t shield the pain. Environmental racism. 8th grader: F-35 very disrupting. We stop learning. Just sit while they go over. Shaking. So loud. Awful. Very hard for us to learn. Leahy does not take responsibility. Who do we talk to? Who is responsible? I would love for someone to take responsibility for this.

The three Vermont Air National Guard commanders attending readily acknowledged that F-35 training flights low over cities “impacted” residents. But the commanders offered only one reason for so severely hurting civilians: to fulfill a number of Pentagon-mandated F-35 flight hours. Thus, commanders essentially argued, they are just following orders from the Pentagon.

However, since the Nuremberg war crimes trial in 1945 to 1946, following orders from superiors has not been an adequate defense for charges of military crimes against civilians.

Particularly because the US Constitution gives the State of Vermont command and control over the training of its own national guard, the state’s military and political leaders have full authority as to time, place, manner, and content of Guard training.

Because the constitution requires the training of state national guards to be “according to the discipline prescribed by Congress,” which include strict legal protections for civilians, state military and political leaders have an obligation to refuse any order that violates that discipline—especially an order to cause pain, injury, or suffering to civilians for training.

But it isn’t even true! No order from the Pentagon requires F-35 training to be conducted from a runway in a densely populated area. The flight training hours can all be accomplished from a runway far from a city. No order from the Pentagon requires F-35 training low over any city.

Especially revealing was the fact that the commanders did not respond to the question, whether any military rule permitted a military force to conduct its training in a location where it routinely hurts and injures civilians?

Nor did the commanders respond to the question whether military regulations require military forces to avoid dangerous training operations in densely populated cities?

The military’s own law of war principles are actually stronger than rules governing civilians. Under Department of Defense (DoD) policy military personnel must apply those rules during armed conflict and in peacetime:

Elementary considerations of humanity have been understood to be “even more exacting in peace than in war.” Thus, these legal standards, at a minimum, must be adhered to in all circumstances.

So says the DoD Law of War Manual (p. 72), which is cited in DoD Directive 2311.01 as “the authoritative statement on the law of war within the DoD.”

DoD Directive 2311.01 itself states:

It is DoD policy that: Members of the DoD Components comply with the law of war during all armed conflicts, however characterized. In all other military operations, members of the DoD Components will continue to act consistent with the law of war’s fundamental principles and rules, which include those in Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the principles of military necessity, humanity, distinction, proportionality, and honor.

Military commanders controlling operation of powerful weapons are required to know these rules and scrupulously follow them. Department of Defense directive 2311.01 requires all military personnel to participate in “periodic training” in the laws of war. It requires military personnel to observe the rules, report incidents of violation, and enforce them.

Military personnel are supposed to only get to be commanders if they have proved they can be entrusted to make operational decisions conforming to the rules.

Last night Vermont Air National Guard commanders revealed that the system has completely broken down in Vermont. Commanders did not know the rules. They could not articulate the rules. They demonstrated that their training in the rules is deeply flawed, to the severe detriment of children and adults in Vermont’s most densely populated cities and towns. Last night, the commanders effectively admitted that the F-35 training over Winooski is illegitimate.

The City of Winooski, whose voters adopted an F-35 resolution at town meeting on March 2, 2021, had it right. By a 2 to 1 margin they called on “the State to halt F-35 training flights in a densely populated area, such as Winooski.”

The time has come for democracy and the rule of law to prevail.

Write or call your public servants:

Governor Phil Scott 802-828-3333 Chief of Staff <Jason.Gibbs@vermont.gov>

Vermont National Guard's Complaint Line: 802-660-5379

Add your own report & complaint to the online F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 Report & Complaint Form: https://tinyurl.com/4zjjn39x

See the responses to the F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 Report & Complaint Form (so far 485 responses): https://tinyurl.com/3svacfvx

Senator Patrick Leahy 800-642-3193 Chief of Staff <john_tracy@leahy.senate.gov>

Senator Bernie Sanders 800-339-9834 <Senator@sanders.senate.gov>

Congressman Peter Welch 888-605-7270 Chief of Staff <patrick.satalin@mail.house.gov>

Burlington City Council <citycouncil@burlingtonvt.gov>

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger <mayor@burlingtonvt.gov>

Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott <klott@winooskivt.org>

S. Burlington City Council Chair Helen Riehle <hriehle@sburl.com>

Williston Selectboard Chair Terry Macaig <macaig@msn.com>

VT Senate President Becca Balint <bbalint@leg.state.vt.us>

VT House Speaker Jill Krowinski <jkrowinski@leg.state.vt.us>

Attorney General TJ Donavan <DonovanTJ@gmail.com>

States Attorney Sarah George <Sarah.fair.george@gmail.com>

Vermont’s Federal Prosecutor <usavt.contactus1@usdoj.gov>

Adjutant General Brig Gen Gregory C Knight <gregory.c.knight.mil@mail.mil>

Major J Scott Detweiler <john.s.detweiler.mil@mail.mil>

Wing Commander Col David Shevchik <david.w.shevchik@mail.mil>

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall <Frank.Kendall@us.af.mil>

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