Open letter to US Air Force Inspector General

Demands action to protect Vermont civilians from 115-decibel F-35 training in densely populated cities that hurt and injure civilians

Dear U.S. Air Force Inspector General Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said,

This is a complaint to you, as Inspector General of the United States Air Force, seeking investigation of the failure of the Inspector General program to address a Complaint to the Inspector General signed by 657 Vermonters, submitted on October 22, 2020.

The US Constitution assigns to Congress the power "To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress."

Thus, while the states have full authority of training their National Guard units, enforcing "discipline," a word that appears twice in this US constitutional provision, is a responsibility of the federal government. The states must conduct the training "according to the discipline prescribed by Congress."

That discipline protects civilians.

Further, Congress has the authority to provide for "disciplining the Militia." Congress established the Air Force Inspector General program, that you lead for the Air Force, as one of its mechanisms to enforce both the discipline prescribed by Congress and the military regulations issued by the Department of Defense and the Air Force.

When, as now, the discipline prescribed by Congress and the military's own regulations are being violated by the Vermont Air National Guard, and civilians are being hurt and injured, federal enforcement action under this constitutional provision is mandatory.

1. The Complaint signed by 657 Vermonters: It was transferred by the commander to the very units under the authority of the commander who is the subject of the complaint. Because the investigation is now under the control of the very people directly responsible for the injuries described in the Complaint, the investigation is not and cannot be “impartial, unbiased, objective, and thorough,” as required by Air Force Instruction 90-301. It is a "self-investigation," also in violation of Air Force Instruction 90-301.

2. The complaint has not been acted upon. It appears to have been shelved. Air Force Instruction 90-301 allows 150 days for completing the investigation. It is now more than 10 months, more than 300 days, more than twice the allowed time.

I contacted the Air Force Inspector General stationed in Vermont, Lt. Col. Pamela D. Koppelmann. She said that she is not herself involved in the investigation of the complaint, as it remains under the Vermont Air National Guard commander. She said she would review the issues of self-investigation and long delay. A recent telephone conversation with Lt. Koppelmann revealed that the commander is taking no action to elevate the complaint to a higher level to avoid "self-investigation," as required by Air Force Instruction 90-301. Nor was any reason given for the long delay beyond the 150 days Air Force Instruction 90-301 allots for completing an investigation of a complaint.

I am writing to you in view of the urgency of protecting civilians from errant military operations that hurt civilians. The facts disclosed in the complaint require prompt action: Hundreds of civilians report pain, injury, distress, trauma, anxiety, and suffering from Vermont National Guard military training with 115 decibel F-35 jets from a runway in a densely populated part of the City of S. Burlington Vermont and amidst two other cities and two other towns.

The facts: The Vermont Air National Guard itself reported more than 1000 noise complaints but it did not disclose the content of those complaints. Detailed online F-35 report and complaint forms submitted by more than 600 Vermonters show that the F-35 training in the densely populated city location is causing pain, injury, distress, fear, panic attacks. It is also causing psychiatric harm. Children cry. Internal bodily organs shakeSpeech in homes is interrupted. Hearing is damaged. Learning is impaired. Cognitive development is degraded. Stroke and heart disease is increased. Classroom speech and business meetings are interrupted.

The training in a city location exposes cities full of civilians to the much higher crash rate of the F-35 than the F-16 had, which itself was far higher than the crash rate of commercial aircraft. The Air Force itself told a US District Court in Vermont of catastrophic crash consequences if an F-35 crashes. The F-35 training also inflicts PFAS exposure on a densely populated area. It also turns those densely populated cities into human shields for the F-35.

The runway used for the F-35 training at Burlington International Airport (BTV) is in the Chamberlin School neighborhood of the City of S. Burlington. The runway aims at the City of Winooski one mile away in one direction and at the City of Burlington slightly further away in that same direction. It aims at the Towns of Williston and Essex, both practically adjacent the runway, in the other direction. The Air Force stated in Volume I of its Environmental Impact Statement that 2,963 homes and 6,663 people live within the extreme noise contours exposed to the F-35's 115 decibel noise. In addition, more than 3,000 civilians use the airport for travel each day and are on airport grounds, the most dangerous part of the noise exposure contours. Hundreds more work in the immediate vicinity of the airport.

The Air Force admitted harm to civilians by signing an agreement with the City of Valparaiso that it would use the runway at Eglin Air Force Base that aims away from the city instead of the one that aims at Valparaiso, one mile away.

The military's own regulations: The training in this location violates Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 2311.01, which prohibits military operations in a populated area where they may hurt or injure civilians without military necessity, without first taking feasible precautions to protect civilians, as required by the principle of proportionality, by failing to provide adequate separation from populated areas, as required by the principle of distinction, that uses a weapon in a manner--or in a location--that causes unnecessary suffering to civilians in violation of the principle of humanity, and by making tens of thousands of Vermonters into human shields for the F-35, in violation of the principle of honor

Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 2311.01 states that, “It is DoD policy that: Members of the DoD Components comply with the law of war during all armed conflicts, however characterized." It then goes on to state, "In all other military operations," which includes training operations outside of a theater of armed conflict, "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.”

The DoD Law of War Manual states that the protections of civilians are “‘even more exacting in peace than in war.’ Thus, these legal standards, at a minimum, must be adhered to in all circumstances,” (p. 72). Thus, further emphasizing that the law of war principles apply outside of armed conflict. There is no excuse whatsoever for hurting and injuring civilians in violation of those principles, including in Vermont by conducting the routine F-35 training operations in a densely populated area.

DoD Directive 2311.01 and the DoD Law of War Manual, that 2311.01 cites as authoritative, are being wantonly and recklessly violated by conducting the F-35 training flights amidst Vermont's most densely cities where they are violating each and every one of those principles.

Federal laws and ratified treaties that protect civilians from military operations are also violated by the F-35 training in the densely populated city location: the Universal Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) the US War Crimes Act, the Hague Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These laws and treaties are part of the international humanitarian law that DoD Directive 2311.01 and the Department of Defense Law of War Manual made into military regulations.

DoD Directive 2311.01 requires all military personnel to participate in “periodic training” in the laws of war and requires military personnel to observe the rules, report incidents of violation, and enforce them. However, a request for information about periodic training of Vermont Air National Guard personnel revealed no such training. 

DoD Directive 2311.01 requires commanders controlling operation of powerful military weapons to know these law of war rules and scrupulously follow them in all operations. However, when the following questions were asked of three Vermont Air National Guard commanders attending a meeting of the Winooski City Council on September 7, none could answer: "Is there a military regulation that requires distinction or separation of military operations from populated areas?" Nor could any answer, "Is there a military regulation that authorizes you to conduct training in a location where you are routinely hurting or injuring civilians?" 

The complaint to the Inspector General is not about the F-35 itself. It is about the city location for the F-35 training. No military regulation permits hurting and injuring civilians for any kind of military training. If Vermont's military forces are permitted to hurt and injure civilians in violation of military regulations, US and Vermont criminal laws and ratified treaties, how can civilians in other countries where US forces operate feel confident that the rules are being followed and that their lives and property are being respected?

I urge you to take immediate action to elevate the investigation, as provided in Air Force Instruction 90-301, to avoid the self investigation and to ensure that it is “impartial, unbiased, objective, and thorough,” as also required by Air Force Instruction 90-301.

If the investigation remains bogged down in a self-investigation and further undue delay is imposed on the investigation of the complaint to the Inspector General, one can reasonably conclude that the purpose of the wanton violence being inflicted on Vermont families with the F-35 training amidst densely populated cities is to do exactly what the Vermont Air National Guard is doing: Hurting. Injuring. Causing distress, trauma, fear, and suffering. Knowingly. Deliberately. Intentionally.

Further details are in the article below that was published on cancelf35.substack.com on February 18, 2021.

Please give this matter your attention.
Thank you.
Best regards,
James Marc Leas

Vermont Air National Guard Resorts to Sham Investigation in Response to F-35 Complaint

Guard transferred complaint investigation to the units responsible for the injuries

Feb 18
The Vermont National Guard transferred the investigation of an F-35 Complaint to the Guard units responsible for the F-35 training flights in a city.

The transfer violates Air Force Instruction 90-301 that bars “self-investigation” of a complaint. With the investigation now under the control of the very people directly responsible for the injuries described in the Complaint, the investigation cannot be “impartial, unbiased, objective, and thorough,” as also required by Air Force Instruction 90-301.

The transfer was revealed in response to a status request to the Inspector General (IG) of the Vermont National Guard. The IG reported that “the investigation [of the F-35 Complaint] has been referred to the Commander and he has assigned it to our OPS group and representatives from public Affairs and the Wing” (email from the IG dated December 19, 2020).

The Commander, the OPS group and the Wing are among the subjects of the Complaint. They have been conducting hundreds of 115 decibel F-35 training flights each month low over Vermont’s most densely populated cities. Thus, the Complaint is now being investigated by the people directly responsible for the F-35 flights that are inflicting pain, injury, and suffering on hundreds of city dwellers.

The 62-page Complaint, entitled “F-35 Flights in a City Violate the Military’s Own Rules,” was signed by 657 Vermonters and submitted to the Inspector General (IG) of the Vermont National Guard on October 22, 2020.

The Complaint summarized the injuries to brain and bodily organs that the US Air Force itself anticipated in its 2013 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Complaint cited the report of “Panic attacks. Ringing ears. Shaking walls.” in a VTDigger news article. It also cited the written testimony submitted by hundreds of civilians subjected to the extreme noise of F-35 takeoffs and landings at the Burlington International Airport (BTV).

Among the numerous laws and military regulations it cited, the Complaint quoted from US Air Force targeting doctrine prohibiting use of an otherwise lawful weapon in a manner that causes unnecessary suffering. The Complaint concluded its presentation and analysis of the facts and the law with a call for an immediate halt to the F-35 training flights at BTV and at any other populated area.

Air Force Instruction prohibits “self-investigation”

Air Force Instruction 90‑301 implements Air Force policy governing the investigation of complaints to Air Force and Air National Guard units. Consistent with fairness, due process, and common sense, Air Force Instruction 90‑301 mandates that “Appointing authorities will not initiate investigations into allegations against themselves. Such allegations will be forwarded to the next higher-level IG for resolution” (1.7.8). If this provision had been followed, the Commander, who is one of the named subjects of the allegations in the F-35 Complaint, would not have initiated the investigation.

Air Force Instruction 90‑301 further mandates that Investigating officers (IO) “must be impartial, unbiased, objective, [and] thorough” (3.34.3), and prohibits “self-investigation or the perception of self-investigation.” In particular, Air Force Instruction 90‑301 states that “IGs must elevate complaints [to a higher-level IG] when self-investigation or the perception of self-investigation is an issue” (3.4.2). Thus, the OPS group and Wing, whose training with F-35 jets in densely populated cities is the subject of the complaint, should have been barred as Investigating Officers.

Hearing damage, impaired learning, damaged cognitive development

The F-35 Complaint to the Inspector General submitted on October 22 summarizes the permanent hearing damage, impaired learning, damaged cognitive development, and severe distress that the US Air Force EIS itself said could be caused by the extreme noise of F-35 jets taking off and landing in a populated area. Noise that the Air Force EIS indicated was more than four times louder than the previously based F-16s (Volume I, p. BR4-23 and Volume II p. C-2).

The Air Force EIS anticipated that 6,663 people living in 2,963 homes in a 2,252-acre oval-shaped area surrounding the BTV runway would be repeatedly exposed to dangerously high F-35 noise (BR4-30) and that 7 schools were located in this oval-shaped area (BR4-33). The flight schedule issued by the Vermont National Guard in April 2020 indicated that F-35 jets were taking off and landing at BTV between 300 and 600 times each month.

The injuries and distress anticipated by the Air Force EIS were confirmed by more than 1000 submissions to online F-35 Report and Complaint Forms since the F-35 jets ramped up training flights in April 2020 (see the graphs and in-your-own-words statements of the 470 submissions to the summer 2020 version of the form). That 657 signed on to the F-35 Complaint to the IG within 10 days also confirmed widespread public awareness and deep concern about the injuries and distress produced from the city location for the F-35 training flights.

Choosing a densely populated location targeting working class & minority civilians

A detailed map shows the runway at BTV located in the densely populated Chamberlin School neighborhood of the City of S. Burlington. In one direction the runway aims F-35 jets directly at the center of the City of Winooski, only one mile away. Winooski is the most densely populated city in Vermont. On their way to Winooski, the F-35 jets direct their intense noise at the Chase Street neighborhood of Burlington. In the other direction the runway aims F-35 jets at neighborhoods and retail stores in Williston. All the affected residential neighborhoods are working class, and the Air Force says the F-35 basing disproportionately impacts low income and minority populations.

F-35 training flights in a populated area violate the military’s own rules

By choosing the densely populated city location for hundreds of F-35 training flights each month Vermont military leaders knowingly and recklessly target civilians, in violation of US and international law. The military’s own laws of war require distinguishing civilians and taking feasible precautions to protect them. Instead, the F-35 Complaint demonstrated how F-35 training flights in a populated area violate military law principles, including “Distinction.” The Complaint described how the training flights in a city violate the law of war, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and the US War Crimes Act. And how the F-35 training flights in a city also violate fundamental rights in the US and Vermont constitutions, US‑ratified treaties, and international law. And Vermont’s reckless conduct laws.

The resort to self-investigation serves as an admission

By resorting to self-investigation, the Vermont National Guard effectively admitted that it expected that an independent, impartial, and objective investigation would support the allegations in the F-35 Complaint.

Integrity of IG process at risk

If such a flawed self-investigation is allowed to stand, the integrity of the Inspector General process is abandoned. The rule of law is discarded. Both replaced with impunity.

Vermont has authority to halt the F-35 training flights in a city

Under the militia clause of the US Constitution responsibilities over state national guard units are divided between the federal government and the states with each having only specified powers. Congress has authority of “organizing, arming, and disciplining” while “reserved to the States is the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Thus, while the federal government has authority to add or remove F-35 jets from BTV, Vermont controls the training itself. Vermont cannot force the federal government to remove the F-35 jets but the Federal Government cannot force Vermont to continue using the F-35 jets for training flights in a city. Especially as such a location for training violates the discipline prescribed by Congress and Department of Defense and Air Force discipline.

Remedy

The investigation of the complaint must be removed from the hands of the perpetrators of the suffering. The F-35 Complaint must be elevated to a higher IG level that can conduct an impartial, unbiased, objective, and thorough investigation, free of self-investigation or the perception of self-investigation. This is vital not just for the 657 who signed on to the complaint. It is vital for all Vermonters, as due process, the rule of law, and the integrity of a Vermont state government agency are at stake.

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 490 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>