Vermont Air Guard picked to host F-35 fighter jets

Maj. Gen. Steven A. Cray, adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, announced Burlington was selected to receive the F-35 fighter jet Tuesday at the 158th Fighter Wing at Camp Johnson in Colchester. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Maj. Gen. Steven A. Cray, adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, announced Burlington was selected to receive the F-35 fighter jet Tuesday at the 158th Fighter Wing at Camp Johnson in Colchester. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

COLCHESTER — After an often-contentious three-year process, the U.S. Air Force has selected Burlington as a base for the F-35 fighter jet.

Maj. Gen. Steven A. Cray, adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, made the announcement Tuesday at the 158th Fighter Wing at Camp Johnson in Colchester.

“This is a milestone event for the Air Force and its the next step in securing the citizens of the United States,” Cray told a crowd of reporters and members of the Guard.

Timothy Bridges, deputy secretary of the Air Force for Installations, signed the record of decision choosing the Vermont Air National Guard as the location to receive a fleet of F-35A Lightning IIs to replace its aging F-16 jets. The first F-35As are scheduled to arrive in 2020, Guard officials said.

Three F-35A test aircraft, AF-2, AF-3 and AF-4, fly in formation over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Lockheed Martin photo

Three F-35A test aircraft, AF-2, AF-3 and AF-4, fly in formation over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Lockheed Martin photo

The base will receive 18 F-35As, which will replace the 18 F-16 Fighting Falcons currently assigned to Burlington. The Falcon is the oldest version of the F-16 aircraft and will be retired, Guard officials said.

The Air Force also announced Tuesday that Hill Air Force Base in Utah was chosen as the operational location for the F-35A and will begin receiving the jets in 2015.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger — all supporters of the F-35 — joined the Guard to make the announcement. Pam Mackenzie, chair of the South Burlington City Council, and Winooski Mayor Michael O’Brien were also present.

Leahy, Shumlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., issued the following statement:

“The Air Force decision to base its newest generation of planes in Burlington is a tribute to the Vermont Air National Guard, which is the finest in the nation. It reflects the Guard’s dedication to its mission and long record of outstanding performance. The Air Force has made clear that this aircraft, which will anchor our national air defenses, is the Air Force’s future. Now the men and women of Vermont’s Air National Guard have been chosen for a vital role in that future. The decision ensures the Vermont Air Guard’s continuing mission and protects hundreds of jobs and educational opportunities for Vermonters while securing its significant contribution to the local economy. We appreciate the Guard’s commitment to continue working with its airport neighbors to address legitimate concerns about noise and other environmental concerns.”

Leahy, who co-chairs of the Senate’s National Guard Caucus, said the Secretary of the Air Force called him Tuesday morning to say the Vermont Air Guard was selected because of its “superb” national reputation.

“You earned it,” he said.

Leahy said he has received up 12,000 letters supporting the basing at Burlington International Airport, calling it the “largest grass roots effort” of his tenure. During a news conference after the announcement, he said noise will be mitigated.

“I’ve talk to Gen. Cray and I’ve talked to the others here. They will do everything possible to mitigate noise,” he said. “But this is an airport.”

The record of decision calls for a noise study, but not until all of the 18 F-35As are deployed, a process that will not begin before 2020.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott also praised the basing.

“This is a decision that many Vermonters, myself included, have been advocating for since it was first contemplated,” Scott said in a statement. “It creates jobs. It bolsters the local economy. Most importantly, it keeps Americans safe. I am also thankful that the Guard is committed to working with airport neighbors to address noise and environmental concerns.”

Controversy acknowledged

Weinberger said the decision will continue the Guard’s “deep” relationship with the greater Burlington community, keep the 1,100 jobs in the area and secure the fire and rescue services that the Guard offers to the area.

However, Weinberger acknowledged that not everyone in the community supported the basing and said work needs to be done before the plane arrives. He cited, for example, planning for noise mitigation programs for the residential neighborhood surrounding the airport already dotted with vacant homes bought by the Federal Aviation Administration during prior expansions of the Burlington International Airport.

“As we move forward and we prepare for the arrival of the planes, I think that it is important that we do remember that during these long months, there has … has been, has been contention, there has been controversy, and that not everybody will welcome today’s announcement,” he said.

After the announcement, Weinberger said work is needed to ensure that the airport is a good neighbor with the surrounding communities.

“There has been disruption as a result of the FAA purchases,” he said. “There needs to be a solid planning process.”

The record of decision issued by the Air Force recognized possible negative impacts of the jet on the Burlington area.

“Certain F-35A beddown activities are projected to result in disturbance and/or noise within areas not previously or recently subjected to these effects. Some of the noise effect could be considered adverse or annoying to potentially affected individuals,” the record of decision states.

Lawsuit weighed

Weeks before the Air Force issued its final record of decision, opponents, represented by a Bristol attorney for the Stop the F-35 Coalition, prepared to file suit against the Air Force for selecting Burlington.

Rosanne Greco, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a South Burlington City Councilor, said the suit will expose the reason why Burlington was selected, which she has said was a deceitful process and involved the manipulation of the scoring sheets.

“The decision was a political one,” Greco said after the announcement. “There is a lot that has been going on behind the scenes that will be revealed when we challenge the decision and the whole scoring process before the court.”

Jim Dumont, the attorney representing the opposition coalition, said a lawsuit would be filed in January at the earliest.

After the announcement, the Vermont Business Roundtable, which has welcomed the jet throughout the basing decision process, issued a statement.

“To be recognized as the best of the best, the Vermont Air National Guard has secured its future for decades with the basing of the F-35 in Vermont. This decision by the Air Force will sustain a 50 million dollar per year resource for our community and continue a proud tradition of excellence by the Vermont Air National Guard,” wrote Lisa Ventriss, president of the Vermont Business Roundtable.

The Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce issued a similar statement celebrating the decision.

“Vermont, and our nation, has benefitted from the dedicated individuals who serve in the Vermont Air Guard and today’s announcement ensures that the Vermont Air National Guard will be able to continue their mission for decades to come,” stated Tom Torti, president of the Chamber. “From the beginning the Chamber’s support for basing the F-35 in Vermont was focused on keeping good jobs in Vermont and sustaining those who choose to serve and protect all of us.”

The back story

The decision caps three years of debate between a divided greater Burlington community. Since 2010, the F-35 debate has frequently pitted those who cite patriotism and support of the Vermont Air National Guard against those concerned about the jet’s potential impact on the health of working-class neighborhoods, the consequences of military spending and Washington deal-making.

Prior to the release of the Air Force’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which assessed the social and environmental consequences of basing the F-35 at the six proposed locations across the country, both sides geared up for a heated debate.

The tension mounted last summer as residents used the EIS’ public comment period as a channel to voice their positions on the jet to the Air Force. In one corner, proponents stated the importance of the Vermont Air National Guard’s life expectancy as a source of jobs, economic vitality and symbol of patriotism. At the other side, opponents battled what they considered to be a military “boondoggle” threatening the health and safety of the surrounding communities adjacent to the Burlington International Airport.

Opponents, backed by a vocal and organized coalition, made the most noise — staging protests, hosting hearings, news conferences and circulating comment cards to be sent to the Air Force.

Supporters, backed by Vermont’s congressional delegation, Shumlin and Weinberger, quietly circulated petitions and postcards, gathering a large number of signatures from residents from all over the state. The proponents, composed mostly of Burlington business leaders, real estate developers and the Vermont National Guard, played defense in response to the opponents’ offensive campaign to derail the F-35 beddown.

This summer’s debate kicked-off on a raining day in a derelict, boarded-up South Burlington neighborhood off Airport Parkway. Carmine Sargent, a 41-year resident of Elizabeth Street in South Burlington, became the early poster child of the debate highlighting residents’ inability to escape the encroaching noise of the current F-16 fighter jet that could be replaced by an even louder F-35. Sargent does not want to abandon her home that has been specially retrofitted for her daughter, who has spina bifida.

The concern grew when the revised EIS was released in May: 2010 census data showed that 2,000 more people in Chittenden County would be affected by high noise levels from the F-35 than was originally projected in the previous EIS.

The opponents took the debate to the Chamberlin Elementary School in South Burlington to highlight on the effects of noise on children’s health, an issue that was not analyzed in the EIS. Opponents said increased noise resulting from the F-35, as stated in the EIS, would damage children’s cognitive health and learning ability.

Shortly after, proponents reacted. Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, said that the issue of noise was a “red herring” in the F-35 debate. Nicole Citro, organizer of the Green Ribbons for the F-35 and vice president of the South Burlington-based insurance company Citro Agency, added there is no empirical evidence that noise harms children.

Proponents were circulating postcards and petitions, a campaign led by Citro, to provide supporters the “easiest and fastest” opportunity to communicate with the Air Force, she said.

The content of the proponents’ postcards, which stated that the F-35 would produce less noise than the F-16, was debunked by the Air Force. Citro claimed there was not enough space on the postcard to fully explain her reasoning, which was informed in part by officials at the Air National Guard, she said.

The Vermont Air National Guard became the token of F-35 support. Without the F-35, the Guard would have to either leave town or changed their current mission, proponents said. (To date, Air Force officials have said that the Block 30 F-16s, as used by the Guard, are not currently scheduled for upgrades. This means the Guard would have to change their mission when the F-16s are retired.)

“The future is basically unknown, that’s part of the risk of not bringing the F-35 here,” said Lt. Col. Luke “Torch” Ahmann, 158 Fighter Wing Plans and F-35 Program Integration Officer for the Air Guard. “There is no plan to upgrade the F-16s that we have here.”

The Guard, which held several news conferences throughout the summer, repeatedly stated that opponents had misrepresented the safety information in the Air Force’s EIS. Lt. Col. Chris Caputo of the Vermont Air National Guard, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force’s Safety School, said the data in the EIS has been misrepresented as part of a “scare tactic.” He offered his own data on the safety record of the F-16s flown by the Guard, which he said have a better safety record than the airport’s commercial planes.

These arguments came on the heels of a Sept. 30 report by the Inspector General at the Department of Defense assessing the quality assurance procedures of the F-35 Program, which found it failed to meet basic standards of quality when inspected last year. Opponents consistently stated the F-35 will not have adequate flight hours to ensure safety before arrive in the year 2020.

City Council fight

The opponent’s campaign then turned to municipal lawmakers in an effort to send a message to the Air Force. This summer, communities on either end of the airport’s landing strip stated opposite positions on the basing: Winooski voted unanimously not to support the basing and South Burlington voted to support the basing.
Shortly after, the opponents of the F-35 turned their attention to Burlington, the owner of the airport that they said has the legal authority to tell its tenant, the Air Force, not to base the jet on its property.

The simplicity of this premise was later derailed by the City Attorney Eileen Blackwood’s legal memo on the Progressive-sponsored resolutions opposing the basing. She stated in her legal opinion that the city would be liable for a potential lawsuit and the airport could face funding cuts from the Federal Aviation Administration if the city outright opposed the jet.

The Burlington City Council later voted against two resolutions that would have opposed the basing of the jet either permanently or in the first round during a special meeting in October that filled City Hall to capacity. The “compromise” resolution that would bar any plane that exceeding the current noise levels or safety record of the current F-16 would likely outlaw the F-35.

This condition worried business leaders because it could also prohibit future commercial aircraft from landing at the airport, they said.

“The airport provides Vermonters and Vermont employers and businesses the gateway to the world,” said Frank Cioffi, president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp, adding that the proposed resolutions “could have potentially economically devastating consequences if they are not thought through.”

During the council meeting, Gene Richards, director of aviation for the airport, said setting noise standards that are tied to the current F-16 would “cap” the future expansion plans of the airport.

This was a concern that hijacked what opponents considered to be a last-minute compromise that aligned with the city attorney’s legal advice on the resolution. This language, however, sunk the resolution.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 6:40 p.m. Tuesday.


  1. Matthew Choate :

    This is great news for the Guard and for Vermont. I’m pleased that people were able to voice support and opposition and thus were heard, but at the end of the day the decision favors Vermont.

  2. Chris Lewis :

    Congrats to the Green Mountain Boys.

    A great day for all Vermonters!

    Ice cream boy better get his checkbook ready.

  3. rosemarie jackowski :

    A very sad day for the innocent civilians around the world…..what’s next – a factory to manufacture Drones….
    Sorry, I forgot. War is good for the economy and we need the jobs.

    • Todd Taylor :

      You do realize over 60 countries manufacture their own drones, don’t you?

  4. rosemarie jackowski :

    WE are on the Eve of destruction.

  5. Patrick Cashman :

    “Rosanne Greco, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said an insider at the Air Force told her the decision had been made weeks ahead of the final announcement.”
    I guess it’s a true statement in that Ms. Greco actually said this. However “things Ms. Greco says” is not a synonym with facts.

  6. This decision stinks. It reeks of corruption.
    Vermont and Burlington will actually gain nothing from it, and I think we ought to begin
    a recall campaign aimed at Leahy, Sanders & Welch for their roles in this.

    And btw…….WHERE WAS THE VT AIR GUARD ON 9/11? And where is General Martha Rainville today? And will ANY member of VT’s establsihment media question ANY of this? No, they will not.

    2LT Dennis Morrisseau USArmy [armor - Vietnam era] retired. W Pawlet, VT
    802 645 9727

    • Craig A Corliss Jr. :

      To answer your question, The VNG responded to 9/11. Both in the air, shortly after the attack on the Twin Towers and were over New York City shortly there after. And on the ground supporting security in the City itself. But I am sure you already knew that. But to remind you of the service the VNG has provided over the years, in the 1980′s the VNG intercepted several Soviet bomber aircraft, and escorted them out of US airspace. The VNG has been the shield against our enemies in the past and the F35 will ensure that they will be there into our future.

  7. Ernie Hotchkiss :

    Congratulations to the Vermont Democratic Party for making Vermont into a first strike target. Thanks to you, and your luring of the F-35 to Vermont, Vermont will now be less safe. These nuclear bomb capable airplanes will make Burlington one of the first places to be incinerated in a nuclear war. When the air base in Plattsburgh was open, and had nuclear bomb capable planes, it was a known fact back then that Plattsburgh was one of the main targets on the east coast to be wiped out first in a war. And that missile defense base the Pentagon wants to put in Vermont? Probably to defend against all those missiles that will now be aimed at Burlington airport, to take out the F-35′s in the event of nuclear war. And where exactly will the nuclear bombs for these planes be stored? Will they be transported on Vermont roads and highways to get them to Burlington, or will they be flown in?

    Total hypocrisy for the VT Dems and Bernie. Out there touting their commitment to energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions, posing for photo ops with solar panels and fuel-cell cars, while at the same time ushering in a massive boondoggle of an airplane with massive design problems and a massive waste of money that we cannot afford. How many gallons per mile do these planes burn?

    Remember what Eisenhower said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron”

    And the same day that the F-35 basing was announced, another headline has this news from Leahy: “Leahy proposes tax incentives for businesses, restaurants and farms for donations to food shelves”.

    So the food shelves get thrown a few measly scraps, in the form of tax breaks for their donors, while the defense contractors gorge themselves at the bottomless feeding trough of defense spending. How many food shelves could be permanently eliminated by the $1.1 Trillion that will be pissed away on this giveaway to the military industrial complex?

    • Hooray for you, Ernie!
      Let the Buggers have it right between their much too close together eyes!

    • Chris Lewis :

      Wow, paranoid much?
      Or just fear mongering?

      Where did you get your information on nuclear weapons being stored here? Was it that attorney who misrepresents himself?

      • Ernie Hotchkiss :

        If you go back and read what I wrote, I did not say nukes will be stored here. I asked where they will be stored. It has been stated on many occasions that these planes are designed to carry nuclear weapons. If that is the case, then nuclear bombs would most likely be stored somewhere close to where the planes are. That was the case at Plattsburgh AFB. Maybe our politicians can clarify that question, since they are so overjoyed to be hosting the F-35.

    • George Cross :

      Thanks Ernie for laying out the true story. Too bad Vermont’s political leadership lacks your insight.

    • Bravo Ernie !

      I could not have said it better.

    • Jim Busch :

      FYI Ernie…. Our current F-16s stationed in Burlington are “nuclear capable”. So were the F-4 Phantoms before the F-16s.

      Nothing new Ernie. Do so more research next time.

      Pretty much all the aircraft the Air Force has is nuclear capable. It just requires a simple equipment install.

      • That is irrelevant. Our society should not be spending trillions of dollars on weapons of mass destruction.

        • Jim Busch :

          It is relevant because it nullifies your argument of having “nuclear capable” aircraft stationed at BTV.
          You have no clue what “nuclear capable” means. ANY aircraft, vehicle or conveyance can be “nuclear capable”. You can make a donkey “Nuclear capable” by mounting an appropriate pack saddle.
          A civilian Boeing 737 is “nuclear capable”.

          • I am opposed to spending huge amounts of money on weapons of any sort.

            .I conceed that even a strong human being can carry one of those small soviet era suitcase nukes.

            I feel there are better ways to deal with our differences than war.

            I would be happy if all the nuclear weapons were dismantled. They really serve no useful purpose on earth. The only use i can see for nuclear bombs would be to destroy an asteroid and even that is questionable as the pieces might be worse than the whole.

    • Dave Dempsey :

      I’m not sure, but I think the F-16s are also capable of carrying nuclear weapons. A relative of mine is a retired F-16 pilot and I thought he told me that they are. Does anybody know for sure?

      • If you imagine yourself as the designer of those aircraft… will be easier to see that you would probably, as a matter of economy and common sense, design into them a capability for delivering nukes……

        Always step into the shoes of the person or thing you are wondering about and ask: What would I do? It is usually an eye-opener. And it leads to much better questions to ask…that are hard for liars to answer.

  8. David Black :

    Watch out for those (Windmills) while flying east/west Boys. Oh, that’s right, they’re not there yet!

  9. timothy price :

    So Bernie, Welch and Leahy were strong supporters for the F-35. American politicians don’t represent “the people.” With a few honorable exceptions, they represent the the 1%. American democracy is being corrupted out of existence. Vermont is now, more than ever, the servant of the military dictatorship.
    Money talks and nobody walks. Sad day.

  10. Yep. A small minority of corrupt politicians was heard. As usual.

  11. Ralph Colin :

    To all of you who self-righteously oppose the basing of the F-35′s at the Burlington Airport and who, by the sounds of some of your comments, have an anti-military bias, I just hope that you all live long enough to realize that the fact that the aircraft will be based in your general area after 2020 may very well turn out to be the saving grace which ultimately protects your sorry asses.

    From a Lt. Col. USAF(R), ret.

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      Please tell us more. Who do you expect to invade Vermont?

      And here’s a thought…maybe if we closed our 700 bases in 130 foreign countries they would not be so angry with us. And we should stop killing their kids with Drones.

      I agree that others are angry… The CIA called it ‘Blowback’. Years ago the CIA warned that our foreign policy would lead to disaster.

    • I have many loved ones in the millitary.
      I have many friends who are ex-millitary.
      Come to think of it, people who have been in various services
      seem to have a better chances of being my friend.
      No anti-military bias here.

      On the other hand i have a great dislike for politicians and advisors that put our soldiers in danger through wars. I feel that the entire political process has been corrupted by money and by extension how the millitary is used. I feel that profits by military contractors often play a part in deciding whether the US should take action.

      This should never be. I feel there is a better way to do things that do not endanger our people in the military or civilians at home. An aggressive foreign policy only breeds more resentments and hatreds that our military will eventualy be called upon to combat.

      With a non-aggressive foreign policy there would be little need for nuclear fighter bombers. The money could be put into peaceful pursuits.

    • Liz Leyden :

      I actually lived near the Airport for 3 years. Hundreds of homes in the neighborhood are empty, rotting, and attracting vagrants and drug activity. Hundreds more are zoned “Not suitable for residential use” by the FAA, which means they are not eligible for FHA of VA financing.

      Perhaps you haven’t noticed this, but housing in Burlington is very expensive. The F35 will lead to the destruction of more affordable housing in an area that desperately needs it. Of course, since most of teh Green Ribbon Gang lives nowhere the area, they couldn’t care less.

      If the F35 was slated to fly over the million-dollar homes on Spear St. the F35 would have been rejected yesterday. As always, money wins.

      Up to 7,000 people will be displaced for the sake of less than 1,000 jobs. Where will they go?

      And before you call me a traitor, I have a sister who is active duty Army. Patriotism does not mean letting the military do whatever it wants, regardless of cost.

  12. Ralph Colin :

    And to respond to the comments (above) of Dennis Morrisseau who asks the question” where was the Vermont Air Guard on 911,” the simple answer, which Dennis should have known if he thought he was well enough qualified to run for governor a few years ago, is that pilots and aircraft from the 158th Fighter Wing were the ONLY air defense aircraft in the entire
    nation to be scrambled to fly over New York City immediately following and still flying for several days after the events of 9/11 and their operations were being coordinated for the Department of Defense by our own, now retired, Colonel Brian Dubie, USAF(R), later Lt. Governor of Vermont.
    So there, Dennis; now you know!

    • timothy price :

      You, sir, are obviously a true believer. I am surprised that you still have faith in the military, especially with the corrupt civilian leadership that control them. They were the ones that arranged the confusion on 9/11 and almost everyone is aware of that by now. Also, if we survive the gross waste of the military it will be a miracle…. unless we audit the Pentagon LOL. The real reason that they might need to save our sorry asses, as you put it, would be because they have real reason to hate us after the criminal behavior of our military across the globe. If you don’t grasp this, then you haven’t been paying attention.

      • Chris Lewis :

        Ok timothy. Please tell us more on how 9/11 was an inside job.

        • I am not saying one way or another that 9/11 was an inside job but given the nature of governments it is hard to believe the inside stories.

          Here are a few reasons why.

          Remember the Maine ? – The Maine was deliberately sunk to give a reason to go to war.

          The Lusitania was carrying munitions when it was sank.

          The attack on Perl Harbor was not a surprise to the higher ups.
          The US had broken the Japanese ‘Purple Code’ which was a variant of Enigma. They did not act for a couple of reasons – they did not want to tip their hand that the code had been broken. Some say the attack was permitted to draw the US into the Pacific war. (All of this is detailed in the book ‘Codebreakers’ by David Kahn)

          The Reichstag Fire was another example of a provocation.

          Have people forgotten the Gulf of Tonkin incident ?

          Where were the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ?

        • timothy price :

          Here are some links to follow that should dispel any doubts that you have about who did 9/11, how, and why.

          What Really Hit the Pentagon on 9/11?

          After 12 years of much independent research the probability the the government’s story is true is zero. The actual events are consistent with a military and government attack on the USA.



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