Politics

Retired Air Force officers arrested for F-35 sit-in at Leahy’s Burlington office

rosanne greco and john tracy
Retired Air Force Col. and F-35 opponent Rosanne Greco show a list of demands to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s state director John Tracy at Leahy’s Burlington office. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — Police arrested two retired Air Force officers Monday evening for refusing to leave Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office in downtown Burlington, as part of an ongoing protest against the basing of F-35s at Burlington International Airport. 

Retired Col. Rosanne Greco and retired Lt. Col. Roger Bourassa delivered a list of requests to Leahy’s office late afternoon, pledging to stay until Leahy agreed to them. Greco and Bourassa arrived at Leahy’s office at 4:30 p.m., an hour before it closed at 5:30, and were arrested just after 6:45. 

Leahy and his staff played a central role in the decision to base the jets in Burlington, VTDigger reported last year.

While Leahy has denied working to sway the basing process, his staff worked with military officials on media messaging and other issues. This frustrated military officials, some of whom believed the result had been predestined for political reasons, according to internal government documents. 

Two F-35s are set to arrive at Burlington International Airport this month, and two more are scheduled to arrive every two months until the full fleet of 18 reaches the region next summer. 

Greco and Bourassa demanded that Leahy “direct” the Air Force to delay sending the F-35s to Vermont until the F-35 has 1 million flight hours; public hearings are held; funding is secured to purchase all the homes in the “unsuitable for residential use zone”; the Department of Defense provides more information on the F-35’s nuclear role and there is a full investigation of the basing process.

Greco and Bourassa’s document accused Leahy of influencing the basing decision and lying repeatedly to the Air Force and the people of Vermont. 

“Senator Leahy, in spite of ‘overwhelming evidence’ that led the Air Force to conclude that Burlington was the wrong place to base the F-35, exerted so much pressure on the Air Force leadership that they ignored the facts, over-ruled their experts, and chose Burlington,” the document states. 

While Leahy has been steadfast in his support of the F-35 basing, Greco said she was trying to appeal to his morality by pointing out the “immoralities” of the basing. Greco said the F-35s are a “weapon of mass destruction” which will have a major impact on the neighborhoods around the airport.  

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“We know Sen. Leahy is a good, moral man, and we are hoping by pointing out the immoralities of this, it will prompt him to do the right thing,” she said. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy speaks at a news conference in Burlington on June 21. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Greco and Bourassa arrived at Leahy’s Main Street office just after 4:30, and spoke with John Tracy, Leahy’s state director. Tracy said that Leahy was not in the state and said he would send the documents to the senator. 

“He’s not inclined to request that the Air Force delay the F-35,” he said. “I wouldn’t agree with the language you used, some of the terminology.” 

Tracy reemerged at 5:38 p.m., informing the duo that the office was closing and requesting they leave. 

Tracy read a prepared statement that said the Air Force had conducted an Environmental Impact Statement on the basing. He said that the F-35s coming to Burlington do not have nuclear mission, and there are no facilities to store nuclear weapons. Leahy would be opposed to the mission if it was nuclear, Tracy said. 

“The Vermont National Guard has remained committed to working with the community as the Guard transitions to its new mission,” Tracy said. 

Tracy offered to meet with Greco and Bourassa Tuesday, which they declined.

Deputy Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad and another officer arrived just after 6:10 p.m. and engaged Greco and Bourassa in a lengthy discussion in an attempt to have the duo exit the building on their own volition. 

Murad argued that the group would get just as much media attention to their cause if they left the office without an arrest. 

“I think now that you’ve gotten the majority of what you are looking for, which is an airing of your grievances and the ability to talk about your position in front of cameras … and be able to have your story told by all these outlets, I’m hopeful we can all take that elevator downstairs together,” he said. 

Greco and Bourassa refused, and were both cited for unlawful trespass. 

Greco said after her arrest that she would be willing to get arrested again. 

rosanne greco and burlington police
Rosanne Greco, left, and Roger Bourassa were both cited for unlawful trespass. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

“What’s been going on here with the F-35s has been a series of immoral acts, culminating with a possible immoral impact on close to 7,000 people in this area,” Greco said. “It demands of me a little more.” 

The amount of households affected by average noise levels of more than 65 decibels will triple with the arrival of the F-35s, from 819 dwelling units in 2015 to an estimated 2,640 in 2023, according to the airport’s noise map. Areas with that average noise level are considered “unsuitable for residential use” by the federal government. 

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Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a recent interview with VTDigger that concerns about the increased noise impact have been unfairly amplified in the media. 

Leahy, Weinberger and Sen. Bernie Sanders argue that cancellation of the mission would have a negative effect on the region’s economy. 

Leahy’s involvement in the basing decision has been the focus of media scrutiny in the past. 

One Pentagon official told VTDigger in 2018 that “the Air Force was forced into the Burlington decision” by Leahy. The official also said Leahy staff “intentionally got involved with making sure the operational data and inputs were as least severe as possible.”

Months before the official decision to base the jets in Burlington was set in June 2013, Leahy staffers reached out to the Air Force after a news story reported 65% of public comment was against basing. Leahy staffers said the Air Force “should have characterized some of the public comments differently” to reflect more support, documents show. 

The Boston Globe reported in 2013 that a pentagon official said the base-selection process was “fudged” to ensure the basing of the jets in Leahy’s home state. The decision raised questions about “whether the Air Force deliberately sought to reward a key friend in Congress with a squadron of advanced fighter jets for his state,” the Globe reported. 

Leahy, in a 2018 interview with VTDigger, denied he played an outsized role in the basing decision. 

“If I was advocating, I was doing what everybody else was doing,” Leahy said. “I don’t think a senator from a state of 600,000 people is going to be able to tell the Air Force what to do.”

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roger tubby

Bravo for the stalwarts like Rosanne Greco that stand up for the positions of the people of Burlington, Winooski, and surrounding areas.

We’ll hear from the Chamber of Commerce folks that talk about the job losses if we don’t put even deadlier/noisier war machines in our midst. What about the job losses if families don’t even want to be within a 10 mile radius of the airport?

Andrew Simon

I salute these two retired officers for acting for the good of our entire community. Senator Leahy needs to answer their questions and tell the truth about how the F-35 basing decision was made. Thanks to VTDigger for continuing to pursue this story with tenacity and integrity.

Pete Novick

The photo accompanying this article appears to show retired Colonel Greco in uniform,
“peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” *

* US Constitution, First Amenrment

The military services extend the privilege of wearing the uniform to retirees and defines those occasions when it is permissible and not permissible for a retired person to wear the uniform.

“Wear of the uniform is prohibited for all retirees:

— in connection with the promotion of any political or commercial interests or when engaged in off-duty civilian employment. ”

Quoted from:

https://www.retirees.af.mil/Portals/53/documents/LIBRARY/RETIREE%20UNIFORM%20WEAR.pdf?ver=2016-10-28-142537-733

I am all for folks supporting the causes that are near and dear to their hearts, but one would think a colonel would want to lead by example.

Cheers

Robert Skiff

At last someone in the military with the integrity to question the basing decision that Leahy, Welsh and others forced on us by falsifying reports and records. VTANG is awesome but “just following orders”is going to destroy the state you live in.

sandra bettis

Good for them! Apparently, no one dares to tell the truth until they retire!

Bruce Wilkie

Maybe we in Vermont can participate in the bombing of refugee camps and hospitals throughout the third world. How Fabulous!
After all, we must do our part to enhance the status of our autocratic president and his fascist minions.
As for P. Leahy, selling your soul to the highest bidder is very trump like.
Must be the conversion therapy worked.

Bud Haas

Excellent reporting. It would be interesting to have a similar event take place at the junior Senator’s office.

Tiffany Summers

I wonder if Greco is enjoying her monthly Air Force pension that we all pay for. Hypocrisy is ripe on this one!

Keith Potvin

But what about all the screams for Coexisting, Inclusion of all, and diversity? disappointing that we all can’t just live and let live, support one another in whatever your “gig” is and just relax a little bit. . Let it go people and find something else to occupy your time with please.

Jan van Eck

That demand for one million flight hours sounds pretty good to me. Remember that the City of Winooski is sitting right smack at the end of the runway, and if that monster loses its computer control on take-off, well……..

Brian Hanbridge

A rare display of true courage was displayed yesterday by Rosanne Greco and Roger Bourassa.

George Cross

Let’s remember what the United States Air Force states in its Environmental Impact Statement:

“The 65 db day/night average zone is considered incompatible with residential use.”

“Property values usually decrease from .5 to 2 percent per decibel increase in cumulative noise exposure.”

“The F-35A will be 3 to 4 times louder than the F-16.”

“With 18 (the number designated for BTV) planes there will be no increase in jobs and with 24 planes there would be an increase of 266 military personnel primarily comprised of part-time traditional guardsmen…  Any increase in secondary employment as a result of the increase in personnel would be minor…”

“If the F-35A does not come to Burlington the current mission will continue.”

“Other basing factors (related to base considerations) include, but are not limited to, aircraft production, government budget constraints, national defense policy and political considerations.”

Those last two words read Leahy, Leahy, Leahy!

ArtSpellman

From one Vet to another,my hat is off to you both. Thank you Col.Greco and Lt.Col.Bourassa for standing up for the people of the greater Burlington area who’s voices have been ignored by the Government’s Arrogance. This Aircraft does not belong anywhere near a “Civilian” “Residential” Community. Period.

James Marc Leas

If the Vermont National Guard leadership were “committed to working with the community,” the leadership would join with the community in calling for cancellation of the F-35 basing in a city and requesting instead a mission for the Guard compatible with location in a city.

At Town Meetings in Burlington and Winooski citizens issued these requests with their votes– and by large margins. As did city councils in Burlington, Winooski, and South Burlington. As did the Vermont Senate.

If indeed, the Vermont National Guard leadership is “committed to working with the community,” the leadership would invite Guard members to join with the community in demanding that the democratic votes of the people be respected. And that the plan to base F-35 jets in a location that will harm civilians and civilian property be aborted.

Gary Murdock

The retiree’s wearing of her uniform for this event is a clear violation of Air Force Instruction 36-2903. Odd behavior for someone that bases so much of here argument on the Air Force not following their own rules.
Follow the link, read it for yourself.

https://www.retirees.af.mil/Portals/53/documents/LIBRARY/RETIREE%20UNIFORM%20WEAR.pdf?ver=2016-10-28-142537-733

Bob Schwartz

Commercial airliners don’t typically reach 1,000,000 flight hours until they’ve been in revenue service for several years. Perhaps the Colonels could explain the logic behind how they arrived at that figure, and which communities they believe should be put at risk while they work towards achieving it?

Chuck Lacy

“I wonder if Greco is enjoying her monthly Air Force pension that we all pay for. Hypocrisy is ripe on this one!”

Ms Greco earned her Air Force pension. It is not a payment for silence.

Silence in exchange for an Air Force pension would be actual “ripe” hypocrisy.

Scott Beck

I hope they weren’t expecting special treatment because they are retired military.

Bob Johnson

Normal conversation noise level is 60-70 dB, 65 dB is not loud. Please stop misleading people

Jenny Kingsbury

Nice to see the “inmates” not “running the asylum.” Just when it seems the anti-military/ anti-F35 crowd has run out of stunts, they try again. Kudos to the senator’s staff for handling the situation appropriately. Betting that the trespass citations get thrown out …

Jim Christiansen

It would be great if VT Digger and WCAX could do a statewide poll on the level of public support for the basing of F-35’s in Vermont.

Neil Johnson

EB-5 and F-35…….”Official” reply from the Senators office, “we just can’t seem to find any of those papers you are requesting. ” “our computer crashed”, “it got deleted”, “my dog ate them”

Kathy Callaghan

Good for them for having the guts to do this.

Miriam Fried

Leahy should hang his head in shame for not properly engaging these retired officers.

If he was anywhere close to being as sharp as he is credited as being he would have simply left the 2 officers to sit as long as they wanted in his office and just set the door to lock when they left.

John Briggs

Sad. John Tracy lost his way long ago and mouths his platitudes now without much caring about underlying truths.
I commend Digger for staying on this and hope you take a close look at the economic benefits which accompany the F-35s, and how those benefits differ from the benefits associated with another plane and mission.
Sanders, Weinberger, Leahy, Welch, the Guard, the Chamber, governors, et al, have pointed to the economic benefits for years, but details are scarce.

Spencer Smith

Thanks to Roseann and Roger for their courage in taking this stand. All of us who voted against the F35 basing here appreciate their principled decision.

Robin Burton

Retired Col. Rosanne Greco and retired Lt. Col. Roger Bourassa stood up for Vermont today, and I am deeply grateful to both of them for their courage. In particular, Col. Greco truly understands the ramifications of this dangerous basing on the health and well fare of our citizens. We know that Senator Leahy made this decision because he had the power to force the Air Force to put those planes in Vermont, against their own mandate, and studies. Those who naysay the protest of this insanity need to understand and admit that this was NOT a US Air Force decision. It was Leahy’s. Now I want to hear HIM admit the reason why he made it.

Robin Burton

Retired Col. Rosanne Greco and retired Lt. Col. Roger Bourassa stood up for Vermont today, and I am deeply grateful to both of them for their courage, and their service. Col. Greco’s excellent military record shows that she truly understands the ramifications of basing these flawed aircraft in our State.

Senator Leahy used his power to override the Air Force’s decision not to base the F35s in densely populated areas, per their own mandate and health related impact studies. After years of asking, we are left to wonder what Leahy’s reason for doing such a risky thing might be. The Senator still won’t face the people of Vermont and explain himself, instead he is hiding behind his office again.

Those who naysay the protest of this insanity should recognize that this basing was NOT a US Air Force decision, and it has NOTHING to do with National Security.

Karen Ryder

None of our Congressional delegation has been willing to answer the questions their constituents have about the basing of the F35 at BTV. Whether one supports or is against the F35, we are the people who pay them to represent us and to whom they owe their livelihood. To deny us a hearing on such an important decision as bedding down this plane in our neighborhoods is reprehensible, particularly on the part of Sen. Patrick Leahy who is reliably reported to have pressured the Air Force to put the F35 in our midst. I thank Greco and Bourassa for their courage and tenacity in trying to get the Senator to respond to our questions by directly facing him at his VT office. Unfortunately, Leahy is still unwilling to respond to us and this is truly not what his representation of us should look like. The reported history of this decision spells out contradictions, lies and forced decisions in spite of credible information indicating that the F35 and its basing location is full of problems.

jude hazelton

““If I was advocating, I was doing what everybody else was doing,” Leahy said.”

That’s disappointing, Leahy was elected to act in the best interests of Vermonters, not follow the herd.

william Farr

This woman is a disgrace to the uniform, which she should NOT be wearing while protesting against the very service paying her
comfortable pension… She deserves NO camera time… However, this is the LIBERAL state of Vermont, therefor she gets front page coverage.

Mark Lundie

If there was a vote in Chittenden Country I believe most people would vote yes for the jets. I don’t know anyone who is against having them here. I’m actually sick of hearing about a handful of people acting like they speak for everyone. PS the federal government doesn’t care what you think so find something else to complain about.

Sally Ballin

Senator Leahy has done many great things for Vermont and the country in his long career in the US Senate, but his involvement with getting the F-35 fighter jets based in Burlington is not his finest moment. It’s abundantly clear that residents of the surrounding towns to not want the Air Force bombers in our local airport for a long list of good reasons. Instead of locking his office doors against retired Air Force officers and other respected community members, Senator Leahy should at least support a delay in bringing the F-35s here, as requested by Retired Col. Rosanne Greco and retired Lt. Col. Roger Bourassa.

 

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