Conspicuous by its absence--Senator Patrick Leahy’s retirement speech omitted mention of the F-35
Although Senator Patrick Leahy’s speech last Monday announcing his decision to retire from the Senate included a long list of his accomplishments, one item was missing. Unmentioned was his central role foisting the basing of the 115-decibel F-35 in Vermont’s most densely populated cities. Nor did the wave of Vermont politicians and editorial writers obsequiously praising Leahy following his speech mention his role bringing on the F-35.
The omission of F-35 basing from the speech marked backhanded recognition of the intense public opposition to training with the jets in Vermont’s most densely populated cities.
That opposition was demonstrated in the town meeting vote in Burlington in March 2018 at which 55% voted to “request cancellation of the planned basing of the F-35 at Burlington International Airport” (BTV). Opposition was confirmed at town meeting in Winooski in March 2021 at which a resolution calling on “the state to halt F-35 training flights in a densely populated area, such as Winooski,” was adopted by a lopsided 2 to 1 margin.
The intense opposition was most recently demonstrated at a Winooski City Council meeting on September 7, 2021 attended by 3 Vermont Air National Guard commanders. The 30 residents who spoke at public forum at that meeting were unanimous in their opposition to continuing the F-35 training flights over Winooski and in any populated area.
The opposition correlates with the pain, injury, trauma, and suffering reported by hundreds of Vermonters in surveys. These devastating survey results were confirmed by independent reporting on VTDigger, “Panic attacks. Ringing ears. Shaking walls. Happy 1-year anniversary to the F-35s,” September 27, 2020. Also on VTDigger, “Pandemic isolation and increased flights spike F-35 noise complaints,” April 27, 2021. On a Seven Days cover story, “Sound Effects: In the F-35’s Flight Path, Vermonters’ Lives Have Changed” July 7, 2021. And in the 12-minute film “Jet Line, Voicemails from the Flight Path.” The “impact” to civilians was also confirmed by such authorities as the Vermont Air National Guard Wing Commander, and by Senator Patrick Leahy himself.
Senator Leahy is responsible for the F-35 basing in densely populated Vermont cities
Twenty F-35 jets are now based at BTV in the City of South Burlington. The runway aims at the center of the City of Winooski one mile to the northwest and at the town of Williston immediately to the southeast. The City of Burlington is in the flight path to the west, a bit more than one mile from the runway.
The training flights target more than 6,600 white, black, brown, and immigrant working-class Vermonters within the Air Force designated F-35 noise target zone shown in the US Air Force Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (p. BR4-30, BR4-69, BR4-83). None of the area’s wealthy neighborhoods are in the noise target zone.
How Senator Leahy got the US Air Force to select Burlington was first reported 8 years ago in the Boston Globe, “As jets seem bound for Vt., questions of political influence arise,” by Bryan Bender, April 14, 2013. The Globe article quotes insiders in the Pentagon. These brave military personnel disclosed corrupt acts by top Air Force officials in response to Senator Leahy’s unrelenting pressure for F-35 basing at BTV:
One of the Pentagon officials said in an interview that the lengthy base-selection process was deliberately “fudged’’ by military brass so that Leahy’s home state would win.
“Unfortunately, Burlington was selected even before the scoring process began,” said the official, who asked that he not to be identified for fear of reprisals from his superiors. “I wish it wasn’t true, but unfortunately that is the way it is. The numbers were fudged for Burlington to come out on top. If the scoring had been done correctly Burlington would not have been rated higher.”
The Boston Globe reporter offered Leahy the chance to deny that political influence played a role in the Air Force decision making. Leahy did not do so: “Leahy, in an e-mailed statement, reiterated his support for the planes but did not respond to allegations of political influence.”
The Globe reported that Pentagon officials identified several locations that were better than BTV for both military operations and environment:
Judging strictly by the Air Force’s environmental and operational criteria, there were more attractive bases in South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama, the Pentagon officials said.
“It would be more costly to do these missions at Burlington,” one of the officials said. “They came up with this scoring model to be independent and stand up to scrutiny. But political promises were made.”
Regarding environment, one of the key Air Force metrics was the number of people who would be subjected to extreme noise in the F-35 noise target zone. At the three Air Guard Stations considered in the Air Force EIS, that number of people for Jacksonville was 170, and 245 for McEntire. It is 6,663 for Burlington, 27 times higher than for McEntire. Compared to their previously based military jets, the average noise level and the number of people affected would have decreased at Jacksonville and McEntire. Only at Burlington did the basing of the F-35 produce an increase in noise (more than 4 times louder than the previously based F-16) and an increase in the number of people living in the noise target zone (2,061 more people). (p. JX4-27, MC4-29, and BR4-30 and 2-32).
The Air Force EIS provides a conclusion:
The environmentally preferred alternative for Air National Guard (ANG) basing locations is McEntire. . . This ANG scenario represents the greatest decrease in the amount of acres, population, households, and receptors exposed to [average] noise levels 65 dB DNL and greater (p. 2-30).
However, pressure from Leahy was not included as a factor in the Air Force EIS conclusion.
The Globe described the sources of Leahy’s power and his deep connections as key reasons the Air Force accepted his pressure:
Leahy, elected in 1974, is a powerful figure in the Senate. He is the longest-serving member and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense, which exerts great control over how the Pentagon spends its budget. As cochairman of the National Guard Caucus in the Senate, Leahy also is a prominent booster of the Guard and looks out for the Guard’s interests in Washington.
The Globe also disclosed Leahy’s supporters and collaborators:
Leahy has been among the most prominent cheerleaders for basing F-35s at the Vermont Air National Guard, but he had plenty of company. Strong support came from the governor, the state Legislature, a slew of local business leaders and groups, as well as his fellow senator, independent Bernie Sanders.
Further evidence of Leahy’s pressure is found in Internal Air Force emails released as part of discovery in an environmental lawsuit against the US Air Force. The emails, from 2010 to 2013, confirmed the Boston Globe reporting and provided specific details. In the emails, Air Force officials described dozens of interventions by Senator Leahy and his staffers to pressure the Air Force to choose the densely populated Vermont city location.
Yet further evidence of pressure, including an admission by Senator Leahy himself, was provided in “Leahy and staff had central role in F-35 basing decision,” VTDigger.org, March 5, 2018. Investigative reporter Jasper Craven, wrote:
While Leahy had publicly pledged not to influence the outcome, behind the scenes he had been a central participant in the selection process since at least February 2010.
According to internal Air Force documents, Leahy staffers also played a substantial role in the F-35 basing process. They coordinated with military leaders over a media message, conducted post-mortems after public meetings and — according to a Boston Globe report — pushed to “fudge” the numbers during the government’s environmental analysis of Burlington as a potential base. Meanwhile, neither Leahy nor any other member of Vermont’s congressional delegation held a public forum to discuss their views on the basing, despite sustained attempts by activists.
Craven described how Leahy changed his story and admitted his role:
Leahy told VTDigger on Monday that he did not work to influence the basing process in Burlington, and further contended that no member of Congress could sway such a decision if they tried.
“I wish I had that kind of power,” Leahy said.
Later in the interview, when presented with information suggesting he and his staff had pushed for the basing, the senator said he “probably” worked to get the fighter jets to Burlington.
With credibility shattered and abuse of power admitted, Leahy resorted to the “everybody does it” excuse. He told VTDigger, “‘If I was advocating, I was doing what everybody else was doing,’ Leahy said, adding that other senators have pressed for similar decisions in the past.”
Leahy thus demonstrated a quick willingness to disclose that all his senate colleagues engage in wrongful acts. Even if for the moment, we accept that they are all corrupt, Leahy identified nothing that prevented him, as the longest serving and one of the most respected of all senate leaders, from taking action to put a stop to such malfeasance. Nor did he identify anything preventing him from refusing to join in.
Leahy then told VTDigger, “I don’t think a senator from a state of 600,000 people is going to be able to tell the Air Force what to do.” Leahy thus downplayed his seniority and membership on a key committee and subcommittee that, combined, gave him extraordinary power over the Air Force budget. Power that no other senator could assert.
The Jasper Craven VTDigger article continued:
A review of government documents, however, shows his efforts to tilt the basing decision to the Vermont Guard clearly frustrated career military officials whose assessments generally favored other prospective sites. In one 2012 email, an Air Force official vented that “military judgment and politics may override” the facts as stated. A few months later, another official complained that information had been “tailored to predispose the decision.”
A Pentagon official who was involved in the entire basing process, who asked not to be named out of concern for possible retribution inside the military, said: “The Air Force was forced into the Burlington decision” by Leahy.
The omission of the F-35 from Leahy’s retirement announcement speech may indeed allow those with him in Montpelier to forget about the F-35. But its 115-decibel noise daily blasting thousands of families keep cities full of children in its flight path painfully aware. Also aware that someone in high office is responsible.
The second part of this article will be published on Tuesday: “Patrick Leahy ending his Senate career with a gross violation of human rights right here in Vermont.”
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 (Note: the Vermont Guard told a reporter that it received over 1400 noise complaints. But the Guard won’t release what people said).
Add your own report & complaint to the new online F-35 Fall 2021-Winter 2022 Report & Complaint Form: https://tinyurl.com/5d89ckj9
See all the graphs and in-your-own words statements on the recently-completed F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 Report & Complaint Form (513 responses): https://tinyurl.com/3svacfvx.
See links to the graphs and in-your-own words statements on all four versions of the F-35 Report & Complaint Form since Spring 2020, with a total of 1670 responses from 658 different people.
Senator Patrick Leahy 800-642-3193 Chief of Staff <email@example.com>
Senator Bernie Sanders 800-339-9834 <Senator@sanders.senate.gov>
Congressman Peter Welch 888-605-7270 Chief of Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Burlington City Council <email@example.com>
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott <email@example.com>
S. Burlington City Council Chair Helen Riehle <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Williston Selectboard Chair Terry Macaig <email@example.com>
VT Senate President Becca Balint <firstname.lastname@example.org>
VT House Speaker Jill Krowinski <email@example.com>
Attorney General TJ Donavan <DonovanTJ@gmail.com>
States Attorney Sarah George <Sarah.firstname.lastname@example.org>
Vermont’s Federal Prosecutor <email@example.com>
Adjutant General Brig Gen Gregory C Knight <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Major J Scott Detweiler <email@example.com>
Wing Commander Col David Shevchik firstname.lastname@example.org
Vermont National Guard Inspector General Lt. Col. Edward J Soychak <email@example.com>
US Air Force Inspector General Lt. Col. Pamela D. Koppelmann <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall <Frank.Kendall@us.af.mil>