Sexual abuse of female Guard members and mass abuse of civilians with F-35 both rooted in failed Guard leadership

National Guard commanders failed to quell culture of sexual abuse, says federal military report after 18-month investigation. They also failed to stop daily assaults on 6000 civilians with F-35s.

Instead of putting a stop to the sexual abuse, commanders “provide tacit approval of sexism and sex offenders...Even those found guilty after full investiga[tions] are given letters of recommendation by leadership. Some of these offenses are so bad they should be on the Sex Offender Registry.” —This quote from a member of the Vermont National Guard in the report of the federal military investigators.

A pair of articles in Seven Days and VTDigger, both published on August 8, 2021, present highlights of the devastating 113-page report issued by the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations into the violent and abusive practices directed against women members of the Vermont National Guard.

It is almost three years on since then VTDigger reporter, Jasper Craven, published the groundbreaking series of articles detailing gross abuse of alcohol and of women by members of the Guard, “The flying fraternity: A ‘Top Gun’ culture pervades the Vermont National Guard.” The revelations in the series led to the federal military investigation.

Bitter complaints directed against commanders were leveled by individual Guard members and included in the federal military report and quoted in the Seven Days and VTDigger articles:

∙ Commanders failed to quell the culture of sexual assault and harassment, some of which had been described in “The flying fraternity” series of articles.

∙ The assaults on women Guard members persist to the present day.

∙ Commanders fudged the number of such assaults reported to legislature.

∙ Commanders protected perpetrators and even recommended them.

∙ Commanders failed to follow DOD regulations that were updated in 2013 related to sexual misconduct

∙ Commanders continued to permit unlawful discrimination against women Guard members.

∙ Commanders continued to permit “an old boys network” of favoritism within both the Army and Air segments of the Vermont National Guard.

Along with these command failures, with the full support of Vermont’s top political leaders, Vermont National Guard commanders implemented training in the state’s most densely populated cities with 115-decibel F-35 jets taking off and landing hundreds of times a month. Even though commanders knew from detailed disclosures in the Air Force Environmental Impact Statement that nearly 3000 working class, immigrant, and BIPOC civilian families, their children and their schools would be harmed. Even though commanders also knew they were foisting the F-35 in densely populated cities against the will of the people, as expressed in the 2018 Burlington town meeting vote. And even though Commanders also knew that the military’s own fundamental law of war principles flatly prohibited such indiscriminate violence targeting civilians.

While facilitating the assaults on their own women members and ordering assaults on thousands of civilian families, commanders could hardly be doing more to harm the people who they are supposed to lead, serve, and protect. And to harm the rule of law. And to denigrate democracy. All of them all at once.

The federal government report noted that military criminal laws are often more comprehensive, and provide more protection for victims of sexual abuse than civilian laws. The report also noted limits on federal jurisdiction and said that, “unfortunately,” the authority of the weaker local laws prevailed. Interestingly, the same is true regarding the protection of civilians from military operations.

However, under Vermont statute 20 VSA 361, which is mentioned in the report, the governor is empowered to take whatever organizational action is necessary “in order that the National Guard of this State shall conform to any system of drill, discipline, administration, and instruction prescribed for the U.S. Armed Forces.” Thus, both administrative and criminal investigation and prosecution of perpetrators and their collaborators is theoretically available under the more comprehensive laws and rules governing the Vermont National Guard.

One of the reasons the abuses continue is because Vermont National Guard commanders enjoy impunity derived from unconditional lock-step support offered by the governor, the former governor, both US Senators, the US Congressman, the Mayor of Burlington, the Vermont attorney general, the Chittenden County states attorney, the federal prosecutor, and the Vermont House Speaker and Senate President.

With county, state, and federal prosecutors onboard, no worries about accountability for the high-level perpetrators and their facilitators, notwithstanding the damning evidence accumulated and published in the report of the federal military investigation.

Thus, these top political leaders, along with the Guard commanders, have shockingly turned Vermont into a state that wantonly and recklessly permits assaults on female members of the Guard, while, at the very same time, brutalizing cities full of working class, immigrant, and BIPOC neighborhoods with F-35 training flights. With everybody knowing full well that none of the political leaders, none of the commanders, and none of the area’s tony leafy neighborhoods are subjected either to the sexual violence or the 115-decibel F-35 violence.

Craven is also the author of the August 8, 2021 Seven Days article, “Military Report: ‘Good Old Boy’ Network Has Flourished in the Vermont National Guard.” His article states that the federal military investigation and report was “the first outside assessment undertaken in Vermont National Guard history, and it confirms patterns of misconduct and spotlights serious roadblocks to accountability and reform.”

His Seven Days article further states:

The report was ordered in November 2019 by Adjutant General Greg Knight as part of his pledge to clean up and professionalize the organization, which has been beset by problems of sexual assault, harassment and favoritism. The blistering assessment, which was undertaken over 18 months by the National Guard [Bureau’s] Office of Complex Investigations, included reviews of internal documents, interviews with 70 officials, and a sweeping survey involving more than 2,000 members of the Air and Army Guard units. Investigators limited the scope of their inquiry to three years: 2017 to 2020.

The Vermont National Guard Bureau investigators also limited the scope of their inquiry to include the suffering of women members of the Guard but not to include the suffering of hundreds of Vermont civilians families at the hands of the Guard. Thus, although the investigation included survey results of Guard members, the report omits mention of more than a 1,400 F-35 noise complaints submitted by civilians directly to the Vermont National Guard telephone complaint line.

The report also omits mention of more than 1,600 F-35 Report and Complaint forms submitted by hundreds of Vermont civilians that present detailed descriptions of pain, injury, and distress from close encounters with the Vermont National Guard F-35 taking off and landing for training amidst the state’s most densely populated cities. Here are the results of the F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 version of the form, which includes automatically generated charts and graphs and in-your-own-words statements confirming the suffering and trauma from the 115-decibel noise of hundreds of F-35 training flights each month. So far this version has received 445 responses, and readers can submit their own response by clicking here: https://tinyurl.com/4zjjn39x

The VTDigger article, “Investigation into Vermont National Guard documents ‘good old boy’ culture,” by Grace Elletson, noted that “from 2010 to 2020, the Vermont Guard failed to properly report and track data on sexual assaults,” that “a culture of fear keeps some members from sharing concerns with leadership because of the potential for reprisal.” And that the Guard “failed to provide the required support structures for people who have experienced sexual assault.”

The Seven Days article says that many of the issues “stem from an informal, untouchable and often-retaliatory ‘good old boy’ network.” The VTDigger article also notes that the “good old boy” network led to “favoritism with assignments and promotions,” and that some members “think that the Guard protects sexual predators.”

Seven Days said that, “While the report largely leans on data and is chock full of military jargon, it’s also peppered with brutal quotes drawn from anonymous surveys of Guard members, many of whom broadly railed against leaders.” The Seven Days article said:

One used the metaphor of foxes in a chicken coop to describe senior officials who’ve protected bad actors. “At some point those that move sexual harassers from unit to unit are just as responsible and need to be dealt with,” this member said. “They have created more casualties among our ranks.”

Another Guard member criticized an “in crowd” who evade accountability and “harbor perpetrators of both sexual assault and harassment.” A third contended that Guard leaders have provided letters of recommendation to officials found guilty of sexual misconduct. “Some of these offenses are so bad they should be on the Sex Offender Registry, yet we try to retain them,” this member added.

VTDigger further notes that commanders failed to abolish “bullying and harassment among the ranks.” Also that guard commanders are “not in compliance with Department of Defense and National Guard Bureau policies and regulations,” regarding equal opportunity employment opportunities.

Similarly, a 62-page Complaint to the Inspector General, signed by 657 Vermonters, and a series of dozens of articles published on CancelF35.substack.com and circulated up and down the chain of command, including both to Vermont National Guard commanders and to top Pentagon officials, provides solid evidence of gross violation of fundamental Department of Defense and Air Force directives, instructions, policies, and doctrine which protect civilians from military operations.

Quoting from the report, the VTDigger article said that procedures used by Guard commanders do not “‘allow for transparency, consistency, and oversight of the program. This results in distrust of the process and impedes the command’s ability to resolve issues involving unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment in an efficient and prompt manner.’”

The VTDigger article further revealed the finding in the report that “every state National Guard was required to implement a Retaliation Protection Plan in 2017. The Vermont National Guard did not do so. Complaints had to be reported to the chain of command and not anonymously, the report found, which inhibits members from being forthcoming.”

In other words, commanders cherry picked procedures and retained their ability to retaliate, allowing them to keep the unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment going.

VTDigger stated that investigators also found that “many [Vermont Army National Guard] personnel across the organization have a deeply rooted fear that senior leadership will not treat them fairly if they highlight or voice problems in their units.”

Seven Days said that “while the report noted some improvements in data collection around sexual assault, it spotlighted concerning deficiencies — including disparities between the number of misconduct cases reported internally with what is provided publicly each year to the Vermont legislature.” A glaring example of commanders falsifying the data to protect themselves. Yet legislative leaders continue to obsequiously subordinate public health, safety, and welfare to these malevolent commanders who fudge the numbers to protect only themselves.

The same top Vermont military leaders who foisted and nurtured this systemic abuse of their own female members for three years since it was first widely revealed cannot be expected to ever abolish it. Nor can they be expected to follow their own rules to protect Vermont civilians living in Winooski, Burlington, Williston, or the Chamberlin School neighborhood of South Burlington from the F-35 nightmare.

Such commanders have no place in the employment of the State of Vermont. Much less directing the flying of weapons of mass destruction, like the F-35, amidst densely populated cities. They must be removed.

Vermont’s top political leaders must stop announcing their unwavering lock-step support for Guard commanders, no matter what harms they allow to be perpetrated on their own female members and on thousands of civilian families. Without such odious support as offered by Vermont politicians, especially prosecutors, neither kind of abuse could long continue.

None of Vermont’s political or military mis-leaders can be trusted to implement the needed reforms within the Guard. They’ve had more than enough chances. Along with the Guard commanders, Vermont’s top political leaders who fail to remove them must themselves be removed from office. Those who share responsibility must be investigated, prosecuted, and incarcerated, no matter how high they may be, as no one is above the law, and no one is permitted to be an accessory to such crimes and continue to act with impunity.

Persistent pressure from an aroused public is needed to force a halt to the abuse of women members and civilian families under the authority of Vermont National Guard commanders and top Vermont political leaders. The federal military report is sure to facilitate that effort.

Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott invited Vermont National Guard Commanders, Governor Phil Scott, and members of the public to the combined in-person and online Winooski City Council meeting on September 7 to discuss the F-35 training flights and the proposed plan for noise “mitigation,” projected to take some 50 years to fully implement. This is an opportunity to bring your questions and comments. Don’t downplay. Tell commanders and governor about the pain, injury, and distress you experience. Call for a halt to F-35 training over your home and in any populated area.

So let’s make the most of this opportunity. Mark your calendar for September 7 at 6 pm. And spread the word.

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 441 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>