Vermont Public Radio’s F-35 Podcast deeply misleading

The program’s stated purpose was to answer the question “why are the F-35 training flights located in the most densely populated region of the state.” It failed.

The VPR program is certain to mislead: A listener will come away thinking that virtually all power regarding the F-35 is federal. That the state of Vermont has zero authority over its own Vermont National Guard training operations. That the results of the town meeting F-35 votes in Burlington and Winooski are not even worth mentioning. That the military’s own regulations that protect civilians are also not even worth mentioning. And that thousands of Vermont families will just have to suffer with ear and brain damaging 115 decibel F-35 noise or move somewhere else.

All such conclusions are false.

VPR’s“Brave Little State,” July 22 program billed itself as answering the F-35 question submitted by a resident of Winooski whose question had been selected following an overwhelming vote of VPR listeners: “What events led to the decision to base the F-35 in Vermont, and why are they located in the most densely populated region of the state?”

The Winooski resident, who sold his house and is moving away with his wife and 5 year old daughter in August “to get away from the noise,” put his question directly to Brig. Gen. Hank Harder of the Vermont Air National Guard.

General Harder described the 2013 federal decision-making. Never mentioned was that the authority over training the Guard belongs to the state.

Nor did Brig. Gen. Harder say why the Governor and Guard commanders continue the training in a densely populated area in the face of reports of pain, injury, distress, and suffering from hundreds of civilians.

Under the US Constitution, the “arming” of the militia (now called the state national guard) is one of the enumerated powers of Congress. The basing of the F-35 jets in Vermont fell under this arming of the militia power. Therefore the basing of the F-35 was indeed a federal decision.

But the US Constitution goes on to say, “reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Vermont, therefore, has current decision-making authority. As to when, where, how, and even whether to use the F-35 jets for daily training in a densely populated area. The decision whether to use or not to use the F-35 jets for training in a densely populated areas belongs to the state. First, with the governor, who the Vermont Constitution designates as commander-in-chief. The legislature, the states attorney, the attorney general, the commissioner of public health, and ordinary Vermonters and their selectboards and city councils can take action to change the state’s decision.

Furthermore, because the discipline prescribed by Congress includes laws and treaties that protect civilians and civilian property, the state is prohibited by the express words of the constitution and by those laws and treaties from recklessly conducting the F-35 training in a manner or at a location that injures civilians or that damages civilian property.

Thus, the state not only has the authority to halt the F-35 training in a city. It has the obligation to do so in order to uphold its constitutional requirement to conduct the training according to that discipline, which protects Vermonters.

The F-35 training in a city can be halted in either of two ways: (1) The federal government can use its “arming” the militia power to remove the F-35 jets from the airport in the City of South Burlington. (2) The State of Vermont can use its authority over the training to order a halt to the training from the runway in the City of South Burlington. This check and balance is exactly as intended by the founders to prevent just the kind of government abuse that Vermonters are now being subjected to.

As for the Air Force decision in 2013, noteworthy is that the US Air Force Environmental Impact Statement actually provided decibel data showing that the F-35 would be more than 4 times louder than the F-16. The VPR program acknowledged that the F-16 was itself so dangerously loud as to cause the FAA to fund the demolition of hundreds of affordable houses in the Chamberlin School neighborhood in 2015. The Air Force wrote about the ear and brain damaging effect of military aircraft noise at that 115 decibel level in Volume II of its Environmental Impact Statement. Yet, the Air Force failed to order the F-35 basing to be located away from the most densely populated region in the state. To its credit the VPR program notes political influence from Senator Patrick Leahy as the reason for this flawed 2013 basing decision.

The program featured VPR archival footage with Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, General Harris, General Cray, and Col. Caputo, each giving a different set of reasons for the F-35 training flights. None of the reasons given for basing the F-35 in Vermont required it to be from a runway in a city instead of, for example, from one of Vermont’s 18 other airports that is sufficiently remote from populated areas.

None of the state’s top political or military leaders voiced objection to the suffering of Vermonters that was predictable from the information in the US Air Force EIS. None of them called on the federal government to supply Vermont with equipment compatible with the location in a city, even if it would be a non-flying mission. None of them called on the state to use its authority over Guard training to refuse to use the F-35 for training in a densely populated area.

Even now, in his recent written statement to Seven Days, Vermont Governor Phil Scott continues to ignore human rights, laws, and military regulations that protect civilians. The governor announced that unspecified “benefits” from the F-35 training outweigh the “costs” to civilians. A calculation that demonstrates a lack of decency and that contradicts the rule of law.

If you listen to the 39 minute VPR program, you will notice how General Harder successfully changed the subject to noise mitigation, a future noise modeling program, and the Environmental Impact Statement. The General avoided mention of a densely populated area. He provided zero military reason for training with F-35 jets from the runway in the state’s most densely populated region instead of from one remote from populated areas.

Nor did General Harder mention the fact that the military’s own regulations, if observed, provide solid protection to civilians, far greater than federal laws and regulations that apply to civilian government agencies.

Federal environmental law illustrates the weak protection for civilians offered by non-military federal regulations: No protection at all so long as the danger is disclosed in the Environmental Impact Statement. Even if the danger is merely touched upon, the court restricts itself from considering it, no matter how dangerous for civilians. Federal environmental law is about disclosure and process. The court does not review the decision itself, no matter how bad it is, unless the danger was not disclosed, with very limited exception.

Military regulations have no such easily circumvented restrictions. If a commander knows of a disproportionate danger to civilians or civilian property, the military operation he is planning must be canceled. Or, if already underway, aborted. Proportionality allows only limited exception during combat when seeking to destroy a sufficiently high-value enemy military objective, and then only if feasible precautions have been taken in advance to protect civilians. Mere training in Vermont does not offer this exception. In fact, the rules protecting civilians are “even more exacting in peace than in war,” according to the authoritative US Department of Defense Law of War Manual (p. 72).

The military regulations require a “military necessity” for any military operation that may harm civilians. Mere convenience cannot justify endangering civilians for training in Vermont. Such as the convenience of using an existing base in a city instead of going to the trouble of extending or building a runway remote from populated areas.

Under no circumstances whatsoever can civilians be targeted. Yet, thousands of Vermont families are indiscriminately targeted by the daily 115 decibel F-35 training flights.

Military forces must maintain distinction (separation) from populated areas. A rule flouted by training with F-35 jets from the Burlington International Airport (BTV), which is located in the City of South Burlington with nearly 3000 affordable homes in the Air Force designated noise danger zone. And flouted by using a runway aiming at the center of the City of Winooski, one mile away.

Military forces must not be located so close to populated areas that civilians are inherently used as human shields. Yet 3000 civilian airport passengers, thousands of residents, and schools full of children are located within a few hundred yards of the F-35 base.

Using a weapon in a manner for which it was not designed that causes unnecessary suffering is banned. Such as taking off and landing with the 115 decibel F-35 in a city hundreds of times a month.

All of these fundamental military rules are violated by training with F-35 jets in a densely populated area. Each one of them requires an immediate halt to the F-35 training at BTV.

The regulations are not obscure: The Department of Defense requires all US military personnel to be trained and retrained in these “law of war” regulations every year and yet again before any deployment.

A detailed description of the specific Department of Defense and US Air Force Directives, Instructions, Policies, Doctrine and Orders, that, under a Vermont law, are also applicable to the Vermont National Guard, was included in a Complaint to the Inspector General submitted on October 22, 2020 that was signed by 657 Vermonters and circulated widely.

Brig. General Harder failed even to mention the military rules he is required to follow during his interview with VPR. Instead he diverted to the much weaker environmental law that imposes no restrictions whatsoever.

And VPR went right along with it. As if trying to quell growing public awareness of the state role in the current military onslaught on Vermonters. And as if vying to distinguish itself as the most obsequiously compliant to power of all the news media 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

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>