Two retired Air Force officers were arrested this week after a sit-in protest at Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office in Burlington, Vermont. The pair demanded a delay in the arrival of F-35 fighter jets at the Vermont Air National Guard base at Burlington International Airport, according to local media reports.
The Vermont Air Guard is poised to accept its first F-35 jet later this month.
Retired Col. Rosanne Greco and retired Lt. Col. Roger Bourassa were armed with a list of demands they want Leahy to approve as they headed into his office an hour before closing Monday, NBC 5 reports.
They want Leahy to intervene to postpone the F-35′s arrival until the jet has booked at least 1 million hours of flight time and until funding is secured to purchase 3,000 homes that Federal Aviation Administration noise maps have identified as in the “unsuitable for residential use zone.” The F-35s are louder than the F-16s that the Vermont Guard has been flying.
They are also pushing for an investigation into the F-35 basing process and for the Pentagon to issue additional information regarding the F-35′s nuclear role, according to Vermont Digger, an investigative news outlet focused on Vermont. They have requested public hearings on the matter.
“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,” according to Greco and Bourassa’s document of requests, Vermont Digger reports.
Greco’s opposition also stems from her belief that the “weapons of mass destruction” will harm neighboring residential areas, the Digger reported.
Greco served in the Air Force from 1973 to 2003 as an intelligence officer, according to Air Force Personnel Center records. Her last duty station was Fort Meade in Maryland. The Air Force also said she earned multiple awards, including the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, among others.
After she retired, she served as a city councilor for South Burlington, according to the Burlington Free Press. During her time on the city council, she was an outspoken critic of basing F-35 jets in Vermont.
Bourassa, 73, served three years with the Marine Corps, then served 13 years in the National Guard in Vermont, New York and Maine, according to Seven Days, an alternative newsweekly in Vermont. He was an Air Force Academy liaison officer for 13 years before retiring.
The Vermont native took part in the invasion of Lebanon in 1958 and flew wartime transport missions to Vietnam. He also served as a navigator on a variety of fighter planes, including the F-89 Scorpion and F-101 Voodoo, according to Seven Days.
Multiple media outlets have reported that Leahy actively sought to influence the basing process, but Leahy has rejected those claims.
Although Leahy was not present in Vermont when the sit-in occurred, John Tracy, Leahy’s state director in Vermont, spoke with the protesters before they were arrested.
“The point of this was to have Senator Leahy to do something,” Greco said, according to NBC 5. “I didn’t want to be arrested. That wasn’t the goal. But, if he won’t listen to us, what recourse do we have?”
Despite her arrest, Greco was at it again Tuesday and Wednesday to protest, according to local media reports.
She has also come under scrutiny from former military service members for wearing her Air Force service uniform on Monday and Tuesday, NBC 5 reported. The former service members argued that the display could violate the service’s personal appearance policy.
Meanwhile, Leahy’s office said the senator would not meet the retired officers’ requests, and characterized the demands as “misleading.”
“There is no nuclear mission for the F-35s that will be stationed in Vermont,” Tracy said in a statement to Air Force Times. “There are no facilities in Vermont to store nuclear weapons, and Senator Leahy would not support any such mission.”
“This list of misleading demands is not something that he can or should sign,” Tracy added.