Vermont National Guard Wing Commander Did Not Deny the Severe Pain, Injury, and Distress Caused by F-35 Training Flights in a City
March 25 Town Hall Meeting Featured the Adjutant General, the Director of the Joint Staff, and the Wing Commander
Adjutant General Gregory Knight read this question at the Vermont National Guard’s online town hall on Thursday March 25:
How do you explain ordering the 115 decibel F-35 training takeoffs and landings at BTV in view of the hundreds of people reporting severe pain, injury, and distress?[20:06].
In his response, Wing Commander Col. David Shevchik did not downplay or deny. To his credit, he went further, acknowledging the ongoing “impact on the community.”
Col. Shevchik: I’ll take that one. Well we definitely do what we can to mitigate. As we’ve said before, we understand we are members of the community. We live in and around and serve the community. And we want to be as respectful as we can of the community and continue to be good stewards. And part of that is mitigating in any way possible that we can. So we continue to mitigate noise as much as possible.
As an example today was a nice day. So we try to fly. When we return to base we land on the highest possible pattern and we do one pattern and full stop. So we don’t do our training here locally. We try to do as much off station as possible. Because we do realize the impact on the community and want to minimize that as much as possible.
However, we also have an obligation and responsibility. Meeting these federal mission training requirements. So it is the airport. We have been charged with this mission. We do have to take off and land from it. So as such we try to minimize that impact as much as we possibly can.
In response to further remarks by Adjutant General Knight, Col. Shevchik said he would work with the Airport, the congressional delegation, and the FAA to obtain funding for noise mitigation. Thus, notwithstanding the best efforts of the Wing to mitigate through adjusting flight patterns, avoiding use of afterburner, and conducting aerial training off station, Col. Shevchik implicitly acknowledged that the ongoing reports of pain, injury, and distress were real, that the mitigation so far undertaken by the Wing was insufficient, and that more was needed to protect public health and safety.
As seen in the last paragraph of his quoted remarks above, Col. Shevchik clearly identified the root problem: that this airport is in a densely populated area: “So it is the airport. . . We do have to take off and land from it.”
The runway at the Burlington International Airport (BTV) is located amidst more than 1000 affordable workforce homes in the densely populated Chamberlin School neighborhood of the City of S. Burlington. The runway aims directly at the center of the City of Winooski only one mile away. Winooski is an ethnically diverse working class city where more than 20 languages are spoken and where 98.1% of the 885 children in K-12 are low income and on free or reduced price lunch. Thousands of people living on the east side of the City of Burlington and in parts of Colchester and Williston are also in the immediate flight path and in the oval-shaped extreme noise zone of the F-35 identified by the US Air Force.
Col. Shevchik described a federal purpose for the F-35 training. But he did not assert a federal requirement for F-35 training from a runway in a densely populated area. To the contrary, the Air Force’s scoring system for basing locations downgraded BTV compared to 5 other locations precisely because of so many thousands of people living in the BTV noise zone. A chart in the Air Force Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) shows BTV as the only location where effects on residential lands would increase (Volume I p. 2-32). The EIS also shows that BTV would have the most homes (2,963 homes), the most people (6,663 people), and the most schools (7 schools) severely impacted by F-35 noise (Volume I pages BR4-30 and BR4-33). And that BTV also had the most homes (1,443) in the “accident potential zones” that extend from each end of the runway: the areas where the Air Force anticipates military jets are most likely to crash (Volume I page 3-26). The Department of Defense recommends that zero homes be located in these areas. BTV was selected by the Air Force only because of pressure from Senator Leahy.
Consistent with the predictions of hearing damage, learning impairment, and impaired cognitive development of children described by the US Air Force (EIS Volume II), hundreds of people exposed to its noise have written in their own words about pain, injury, and distress in a publicly available online “F-35 Summer Report and Complaint Form” and in an online F-35 Fall-Winter Report and Complaint Form. Readers can add their own report and complaint here: https://tinyurl.com/y5l74s25
While the US Constitution reserves to the states the authority of training the militia, states are granted no authority to physically abuse even one of their own civilians during their routine national guard training operations. States must conform the training to the discipline prescribed by Congress. That discipline includes such federal criminal laws as the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the US War Crimes Act [18 U.S. Code § 2441]. It also includes provisions of Senate-ratified treaties.
DoD Directives and Air Force Instructions are violated by F-35 training in a city
In addition, the Vermont legislature strengthened protection of civilians by adopting a law (20 V.S.A. § 361) that requires members of the Vermont National Guard to follow all Department of Defense (DoD) and US Air Force directives and instructions, including:
∙ Department of Defense Directive 2311.01 requires DoD Components to “act consistent with the law of war’s fundamental principles and rules” in all military operations. These include “the principles of military necessity, humanity, distinction, proportionality, and honor.” F-35 training flights in a city violate each and every one of those fundamental principles and rules, as further described in “F-35 Flights in a City Violate the Military’s Own Rules,” which was submitted as a “Complaint to the Inspector General of the Vermont National Guard” by 657 Vermonters on October 22, 2020.
∙ US Air Force instruction 51-401 prohibits using conventional weapons indiscriminately, and US Air Force Targeting Doctrine prohibits using an otherwise lawful weapon in a manner for which it was not designed that causes unnecessary suffering. Both of these rules are violated by using F-35 jets in a manner for which it was not designed and that indiscriminately inflicts pain, injury, and distress on civilians: The “engine is capable of supplying approximately 40,000 pounds of thrust and speed up to 1.5 Mach.” (Volume I p. 1-5). The ultra-high thrust and ultra-high decibel and supersonic-capable F-35A was not designed for city life. It was not designed for taking off and landing amidst cities full of children hundreds of times a month. This weapon was designed for takeoff and landing remote from any civilian-populated area.
∙ Air Force Policy Directive 51-4, “Operations and International Law,” unequivocally requires the Air Force and its personnel to “comply with the law of war at all times.” It asserts that “the US, including its individual citizens, is bound by all treaties and international agreements to which the US is a party, as well as by applicable customary international law.” This Air Force policy directive states that the law of war “protects combatants from unnecessary suffering, and safeguards the basic rights of non-combatants and civilians.” It requires the Air Force to ensure that “its personnel understand, observe, report, and enforce the law of war, and abide by US Government law of war obligations in all military operations.” (AFPD 51-4, section 1.7).
∙ Citing DoD Directive 2311.01, the DoD Law of War Manual notes that adherence to the law of war standards is required “in all circumstances,” – “even in situations that do not constitute ‘war’ or ‘armed conflict’” – including “during military operations outside the context of armed conflict.”
∙ The DoD Law of War Manual further notes that the law of war applies even more during peacetime than during war: “‘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.” (p. 72). This means that the standards for protecting civilians and civilian property from military operations cannot be neglected when the military operations are outside of combat zones: The standards are therefore more exacting during Vermont National Guard F-35 training operations in Vermont than for the Vermont Guard when called up to conduct military operations in a theater of war.
Commanders and pilots are subject to courts martial for violation of the above military regulations, whether in Vermont or in a theater of war. Yet, in Vermont, civilians are being daily physically assaulted by routine F-35 training in the state’s most densely populated area. With each F-35 takeoff from BTV, the Vermont National Guard knowingly indiscriminately targets civilians.
The rule of law: abrogated.
If the state government persists with its F-35 training in a densely populated area even now, after the Wing Commander’s recognition of ongoing impact on civilians, Vermont effectively declares itself a failed state. The governor, legislative leaders, the congressional delegation and Vermont National Guard commanders and pilots turn themselves into knowing and wilful violators of federal and state laws, ratified international treaties, constitutional rights, and the military’s own regulations that protect civilians.
As no person is above the law, an independent and impartial investigation must be opened now to determine how this happened and to begin the process of holding each and every one of these public officials accountable under law, no matter how high they may be in political leadership or military rank.
Public campaigning has been effective to inform and persuade the vast majority of the public, as shown by the results of the town meeting referendum in Winooski earlier this month: 67% voted to approve ballot question 6, “to urge the state to halt F-35 training flights in a densely populated area, such as Winooski.” And also by the results of the vote in Burlington in 2018: 55% voted “to request the cancellation of the planned basing of the F-35 at Burlington International Airport, and request instead low-noise equipment with a proven high safety record appropriate for a densely populated area.”
Members of the Vermont National Guard
As provided in Department of Defense regulation 1344.10, members of the Vermont National Guard can engage in non-partisan political activities so long as they are not in uniform or on duty (page 13). Speak out to demand that Vermont officials respect the rule of law. Speak out to demand that Vermont respect democracy and not exhibit hypocrisy. CancelF-35.substack.com will publish your statements and your articles related to the F-35 training flights. We will respect your request for anonymity.
What is needed now
To protect the rule of law, to protect democracy, to protect the health and safety of the public, and to protect the integrity and honor of our Vermont service members, continued public campaigning remains needed. We demand respect for the will of the people, as expressed in the town meeting votes. We demand an end to the obsequious subservience to the military-industrial complex exhibited by certain state and certain municipal government officials, certain business leaders, and certain news media. We call on the states attorney and the attorney general themselves, or in view of a conflict of interest, by appointment of an independent and impartial special prosecutor, to enforce the laws protecting civilians from the state-sponsored violence inflicted by the illegal F-35 training flights in a populated area. We demand a halt to F-35 training flights at BTV, and in any populated area, now.