Vermont’s top General Seeks to Shift the Blame for the F-35 Training Flights over Winooski
The attempt to shift the blame to the federal government for the F-35 flights is flawed
Brig. General Gregory Knight, the top commander of the Vermont National Guard, issued an email Friday seeking to shift the blame to the federal government for the F-35 training flights that blast the city of Winooski with 115-decibel noise hundreds of times a month.
The General’s email parallels similar blame-shifting attempts by Governor Phil Scott and Wing Commander David Shevchik last month, as described in the article, “Vermont Governor’s spokesman and Wing Commander caught at sleight of hand.”
But the General gets more specific, blaming federal law, federal mission, and the conditions the federal government placed on federal funding for Vermont National Guard training operations.
However, the arguments the General raised fly in the face of US constitutional provisions and US Supreme Court decisions. This article will show that power has not shifted and that the federal government is prohibited from using funding to coerce the state to train with F-35 jets in a densely populated area. Along with the governor and legislative leaders, the General remains responsible for the F-35 training flights over Winooski, and these top Vermont political and military leaders have all the power necessary to order a stop to them. Moreover, this article will show that they must do so to satisfy their constitutional obligations.
The General sent his email to Winooski resident Marguerite Adelman who had sought his response to the city-wide vote on the F-35 on Town Meeting Day. By a margin of two to one, the voters of City of Winooski adopted a resolution urging “the state to halt F-35 training flights in a densely populated area, such as Winooski.” Adelman had been one of the leaders of the petitioning campaign to put the resolution on the ballot, and she campaigned for its adoption.
Winooski is the most densely populated city in Vermont with 7,200 people packed into its one-square-mile area. It is also the state’s most ethnically diverse, with 20 languages spoken. Minority enrollment at Winooski High School is 62%. 98% of the children in the Winooski school district are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
The runway at Burlington International Airport (BTV) aims directly at the center of Winooski, only one mile away. Half the city is within the 1.2-mile-by-5.2-mile-oval-shaped area centered on the runway that the Air Force Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) says is “unsuitable for residential use” because of the 115 decibel F-35 noise.
The Air Force EIS provided numbers showing that the F-35 would be more than four times louder than the F-16 jets that previously roared over the city. Measurements by a sound engineer using a calibrated recording sound meter confirmed a 114-decibel noise level just outside the city’s post office as F-35 jets took off over the city.
The General admits F-35 training is causing harm to civilians
Notwithstanding the blame-shifting that is the main subject of this article, it is important to give General Knight and his May 21, 2021 email credit for acknowledging that Winooski homes are so “impacted” by the F-35 training that he is “working in concert with our congressional delegation in an attempt to secure additional noise mitigation funding.” While the admission of such severe impact is welcome, as the FAA has pointed out, home insulation that would be installed at great expense will not be effective when windows are open or when children are playing outdoors.
The General provides reasons
Here are the words from the General’s email arguing that the state lacks authority. (The full text of his email is below): “The governor’s authority to halt training flights may be limited, . . . constrained by the purpose of the Federal appropriation (i.e., the funding that pays for the training).” He further wrote, “pursuant to Federal law the 158th Fighter Wing has a mission to conduct flight training and is funded by the Federal Government to do so. That mission comes from the Federal Government and the leadership within the Vermont National Guard is not at liberty to refuse to execute this Federal mission in response to local objections.”
Did you notice what the General did not say?
The General did not mention the word “F-35” or the words “city location” or “densely populated area.”
Nor did the General assert that a federal law, federal mission, or any condition for federal funding requires that F-35 flight training take place in a city location.
Thus, even if every word the General said is, for the moment, accepted as absolutely true, the General did not actually shift responsibility for the F-35 training flights over Winooski to the Federal government.
Money does not always rule
Furthermore, even if we assume for the moment that a federal law or a condition on federal funding did indeed coerce the Vermont national guard to conduct its F-35 training flights in a densely populated area, such a federal law or condition would be unconstitutional as “commandeering,” as described in Murphy v. NCAA, 138 S. Ct. 1461, 200 L. Ed. 2d 854 (2018).
Federal funding can certainly be used to encourage states to voluntarily participate in a federal program. But not always. The Supreme Court articulated four limits on such use of federal funding in South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987).
The same four limits are also described in a report issued by the Congressional Research Service in 2017, “The Federal Government’s Authority to Impose Conditions on Grant Funds,”which states that the plan of the constitution and the 10th amendment prohibit the federal government from encroaching on areas of state sovereignty unless each of those four limits is met. Absent satisfaction of each and every one of them, the US Supreme Court reiterated in the 2018 Murphy decision that the “commandeering” of state officials by the federal government to carry out federal programs is unconstitutional.
At least one of those four limits is not satisfied by the F-35 training flights in densely populated area: The federal government can impose no condition that would violate a US constitutional provision.
The F-35 training flights in a densely populated area violate the US Constitutional mandate that the training of the militia (now called the national guard) be “according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”
The discipline prescribed by Congress protects civilians from military operations. It includes (a) the Universal Code of Military Justice, (b) the US War Crimes Act, and three Senate ratified treaties: (c) The Hague Convention, (d) The Fourth Geneva Convention, and (e) The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
Although they don’t drop bombs in Vermont, by taking off and landing for training with F-35 jets from a runway in a densely populated area, commanders and pilots converted the 115 decibel F-35 into an indiscriminate non-lethal weapon that exposes thousands of civilian families living near the runway to ear and brain blasting noise hundreds of times a month.
The Air Force EIS says that repeated exposure to military jet noise at that level can permanently damage the organs responsible for hearing and can impair the learning and cognitive development of children.
The Air Force EIS said that the homes of 6,663 civilians are located within the 1.2- mile-by-5.2-mile-oval-shaped area around the BTV runway that is exposed to extreme F-35 noise. Hundreds of Vermonters have reported pain, injury, trauma, anxiety, distress, and suffering in online report and complaint forms, such as this latest one that so far has 317 responses since April 6. The charts and the in-your-own-words statements show that the F-35 training flights in a populated area are physically assaulting civilians and causing suffering in violation of multiple provisions of the laws and treaties in the discipline prescribed by Congress.
As the F-35 training flights in a city violate a constitutional provision, the federal government is forbidden from conditioning federal funding on the Guard conducting the F-35 training in a densely populated area. Doing so would be held unconstitutional as “commandeering.” Thus, the blame-shifting in the email from the General is flawed. The argument that federal funding coerces Vermont to conduct the F-35 training in a city collapses.
Vermont therefore retains its full constitutional authority over the F-35 training of the Vermont National Guard. The state also retains the obligation to conduct the training from a location that conforms to the discipline prescribed by Congress.
As the facts reported in hundreds of F-35 complaint and report forms confirm mass suffering in three cities and several towns around the BTV airport, the discipline prescribed by Congress requires the state to immediately halt the F-35 training in a densely populated area, such as Winooski.
The federal government would still be required to provide the federal funding for national guard training even if state political and military officials properly exercised state authority over the training of the Guard according to the discipline prescribed by Congress and used that authority to protect thousands of Vermont civilian families by halting F-35 training flights in a densely populated area.
Every one of the 50 states, plus several US territories, has an active Air National Guard. As Vermont’s Air National Guard is tied for the country’s smallest, a different mission is likely to be no smaller, and could be larger. Thus, the federal funding would continue. The scare tactics fail. Vermont does not need to train with F-35 jets from the state’s most densely populated area to receive the federal funds for its Air National Guard training.
The pain, injury, and distress suffered by thousands of Vermont families illustrates the tyranny and persecution that results when the power and the responsibility the constitution reserved to the states is ignored, denied, suppressed, concealed, violated, and left unenforced by state political and military leaders. The state leaders who have authority to abort the F-35 training in a densely populated area include the governor, legislative leaders, Vermont National Guard commanders, the Chittenden County States Attorney, and the Vermont Attorney General.
As illustrated by the General’s email--and by the Governor’s and the Wing Commander’s similar blame-shifting remarks last month--top Vermont political and military leaders suddenly now wish to shirk their own responsibility for the F-35 flights in a city and shift all blame to a distant, unreachable, and detached federal government so they can continue the F-35 training from BTV and continue blasting thousands of civilian families with 115 decibel noise. All while making the public feel that the campaign to abolish F-35 training flights in a populated area is hopeless. In other words, Vermont’s top leaders are gaslighting and displaying depraved indifference to the suffering they knowingly and deliberately inflict.
The one positive feature of the flawed attempts at blame-shifting is the revelation that Vermont’s top political and military leaders feel a need to shift the blame instead of taking credit for the F-35 training flights in a densely populated area. Thus, they signal their awareness of the growing opposition to the F-35 training flights in a populated area.
But their continuing failure to issue the order to halt the training flights over populated areas, and now the bogus attempts at blame shifting, mean that Vermont’s top political and military leaders must be removed from positions of responsibility, investigated, prosecuted, and incarcerated for the injuries they inflicted on Vermonters, and that they continue mercilessly inflicting with hundreds of F-35 training flights each month.
New leaders are needed to replace them. Leaders who will respect the constitutional mandate that provides Vermont with full authority over its Vermont National Guard training. Leaders who will use that constitutional authority to protect Vermonters. Including by immediately halting all F-35 training flights in a populated area, as requested by a huge majority of Winooski voters two months ago.
Here is the entire email from Adjutant General Gregory Knight
5/21/2021 5:26 PM
Good afternoon Ms. Adelman and Mr. Novak,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the city's vote and your concerns, I do apologize for the delay. I was aware of the results and that Col David W. Shevchik, 158th Fighter Wing Commander, was in contact with Mayor Kristine Lott in December of 2020 when the petition was added to the ballot, prior to the vote. After conferring with his legal team to ensure accuracy, Col Shevchik explained to Mayor Lott that:
"The Governor's [or other local] authority to halt training flights may be limited because VTANG personnel are not training for state missions and their training is more constrained by the purpose of the Federal appropriation (i.e., the funding that pays for the training) than it is by the command and control. The 158th Fighter Wing flying mission supports a federal capability and is federally funded, and therefore the extent of authority at the state level may be limited. But as always, we proudly serve our civilian population and communities, our civilian leaders (like yourself), and uphold our oath to support & defend the Constitution."
In other words, pursuant to Federal law the 158th Fighter Wing has a mission to conduct flight training and is funded by the Federal Government to do so. That mission comes from the Federal Government and the leadership within the Vermont National Guard is not at liberty to refuse to execute this Federal mission in response to local objections. Nevertheless, the Vermont National Guard remains committed to balancing those federal mission requirements with the impact on our local communities.
To that end, the pilots of the 158th FW have made several tactical changes to reduce what would otherwise create even more of an impact on the community. These include taking off with afterburner as little as possible (in fact this has happened only once since the F-35's arrived in VT nearly 18 months ago); reducing climb angles allowing for lower power settings; landing from 500 feet higher than with the F-16's; avoiding Winooski high school to the greatest extent possible; and finally performing as much training as possible, including landing practice, outside of Chittenden County airspace.
In addition, we are participating in several noise studies over the next 12-24 months that will provide us with the data we need to validate the noise modeling initially used in the Environmental Impact Statement. I am also working in concert with our congressional delegation in an attempt to secure additional noise mitigation funding for homes impacted by the training.
The Vermont Air National Guard has been proud to serve Vermonters for 75 years, and especially over the last year through supporting the state in responding to COVID-19 so effectively. It is important to note that it is our federal mission that enables us to serve our communities in times of crisis. Without the funding, equipment and training we receive to conduct our federal mission, we would not have been able to deliver meals, construct COVID-19 sample kits, assist State Emergency Operation planning, work in the National Strategic Stockpile warehouse; conduct mass COVID-19 testing and contact mapping; construct and staff a 450 bed Alternate Healthcare Facility; and now finally, vaccinate over 50,000 Vermonters in under 3 months.
Maj. Gen. Greg Knight
MAJ J. Scott Detweiler
Acting State Public Affairs Officer
Vermont National Guard
he, him: mypronouns.org/what-and-why
Desk: (802) 338-3434