Senator Leahy no longer in denial—he now recognizes “negative impacts” of the F-35

Senator Patrick Leahy announced his shift from denial in a letter to Winooski resident Matthew Ennis, for the first time recognizing “negative impacts” of the F-35. Matthew Ennis had written to the Senator, asking him to listen to the voices of some 30 residents who spoke at the September 7, Winooski City Council meeting about their daily torment from the F-35:

I am requesting that Senator Leahy, John Tracy, and others in your office watch the video of the Winooski City Council meeting on 9/7/21 in which many citizens of Winooski gave testimony to three representatives of the VT Air Guard about the impact of the F35\flights over Winooski. Please get this basing of the F35s in BTV reversed. It is a travesty that this has been foisted upon us. Thank you. Here is the link - https://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/winooski-city-council-424

Leahy wrote back on September 17:

I empathize with those in our communities who feel negative impacts of the F-35s at home, at work, at school, and outdoors.  I understand that many of those who attended the recent meeting in Winooski expressed strong opposition to the F-35s based in Vermont because of their personal experiences with the noise, despite their support for the Vermont Guard.

The change in Leahy’s position is dramatic. “Empathy.” Recognition of “negative impacts.” Is a halt to the F-35 flights on its way?

Significantly, Senator Leahy’s letter includes no mention of action to abolish the harm to civilians. Just the opposite. The Senator persists in support for the F-35 basing in the city location. Leahy appears to be using softening language only to distance himself from responsibility for the ongoing F-35 torment that is getting increasing public attention.

But Leahy’s responsibility cannot be shed. As reported in VTDigger in 2018, “Leahy and staff had central role in F-35 basing decision,” Air Force documents reveal that the Senator was the chief perpetrator of the F-35 basing in the city location: “A Pentagon official who was involved in the entire [F-35] basing process, said that ‘The Air Force was forced into the Burlington decision’ by Leahy.”

The VTDigger article reported on Leahy phone calls to the Air Force chief of staff and to the Secretary of the Air Force in the weeks before the Air Force announced that Burlington would receive the F-35, beating out five other locations, none of which targeted cities full of civilians, like Winooski.

One additional element of this story was revealed in a September 19, 2021 article on VTDigger by attorneys James Dumont and Laura Hill Eubanks, who reviewed the Air Force documents and other facts in the F-35 court cases they litigated:

The Air Force decided not to locate the F-35s in Burlington — and then, a Vermont Senator on the Senate Appropriations Committee found out about the decision, contacted the Air Force to complain, and the Air Force overruled its staff and chose Burlington. 

Leahy’s use of his legislative authority over Air Force appropriations to influence non-legislative decision-making by the Air Force was a clear abuse of his authority as a Senator. The abuse was especially egregious because the foreseeable harm to civilians from locating the F-35 amidst cities violated Air Force and Department of Defense regulations, congressionally enacted laws, Senate-ratified treaties, Vermont laws, and constitutional rights that protect civilians from military operations.

No less an authority than the United States Air Force itself, in Volume II of the 2013 US Air Force Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), had cited scientific studies showing that repeated exposure to military aircraft noise at 114-decibels can cause permanent hearing damage. And that much softer noise of. aircraft at busy civilian airports was still loud enough to impair the learning of children and degrade their cognitive development. Volume I of the Air Force EIS pegged the F-35 at 115 decibels, compared to the previously based F-16, at 94 decibels, which is more than 4 times quieter. But was still too loud for a populated area filled with children.

Thus, the Senator had the facts from the US Air Force, the most unimpeachable source of all, showing that he was putting the health and safety of thousands of Vermonters in grave danger by foisting the basing of the F-35 in a densely populated area.

But noise was not the only issue raised in the Air Force EIS. In response to input from a community member, the EIS also included pages warning of a dangerously high F-35 crash rate—much higher than the crash rate of the previously based F-16s, which itself was much higher than the commercial aircraft crash rate.

Now, after two years of F-35 training flights, Vermonters have not acquiesced. They persist in speaking out. Their voices keep pouring fourth, as at the September 7 Winooski City Council meeting. And their voices are no longer being excluded from news reports, like this one on Channel 5.

A town meeting vote in Winooski in March calling on the state to halt the F-35 training flights (Yes - 67.1%, No - 32.9%). A brilliant 12-minute film, Jet Line, Voicemails from the Flight Path, in April. A front page story in Seven Days in July. And now, thirty residents describing their experiences before Winooski City councilors and three top commanders of the Vermont Air National Guard on September 7. The daily violence directed against civilians under the auspicious of the state is no longer capable of being suppressed and concealed.

The repeated outpouring of dissent, along with the extreme noise of the F-35 itself, have made Vermonters statewide increasingly aware that the F-35 is unacceptable in a populated area. Those voices appear to have finally triggered the change in tactic by Leahy.

The “negative impacts” of the 115-decibel noise in densely populated cities are extreme: pain, injury, distress, fear, and panic attacks. Psychiatric harmChildren crying. Internal bodily organs shaking. Interrupted speech in homes, classrooms, and business meetings. Hearing damaged. Learning impaired and cognitive development of children degraded. Stroke and heart disease increased.

Mayor Kristine Lott invited Vermont Air National Guard commanders to attend that September 7 City Council meeting to respond to the Winooski town meeting vote on March 2. With a 2 to 1 margin, the city’s voters had put Winooski on record “urging the State to halt F-35 training flights in a densely populated area, such as Winooski.” Finally, that vote would get a response from Guard commanders.  

One after another, some 30 residents spoke, courageously telling the City Councilors and the three Vermont Air National Guard commanders in attendance of their suffering under the 115 decibel F-35 training flights from a runway amidst the state’s most densely populated cities. Not one resident spoke in favor of continuing the ear- and brain-damaging noise of the F-35 training over the city. The video of that meeting should be mandatory watching for any public official who respects the petitioning clause of the First Amendment.

The three Vermont Air National Guard commanders offered this defense of F-35 training in and over cities: A federal mission. Essentially amounting to: we are just following orders from the Pentagon. Since the Nuremberg trials in 1946 that rationale for military action that harms thousands of civilians has lacked the slightest shred of legitimacy.

Senator Leahy’s departure from denial, his recognition of “negative impacts,” and his use of the word, “empathy,” are unlikely to quell public opposition to the F-35 training in a populated area. Indeed, it may encourage the public to continue to speak out. To expand the campaign for the State of Vermont to implement the Winooski town meeting resolution: the state has constitutional authority over the training of its national guard.

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So Vermont has both the power and the obligation to order a halt to the F-35 training flights in a densely populated area, such as Winooski, where the training is violating the constitutional requirement for the state to conduct the training “according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” That discipline protects civilians.

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 495 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>