Since the 1950’s, the Vermont Air National Guard base across from Burlington International Airport in South Burlington has hosted several aircraft, from P-51 Mustangs to early supersonic jets, and even the famous — and really noisy — F-4 Phantom.
The Burlington City Council on Monday night passed a resolution calling on Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont congressional delegation to halt practice flights for F-35 fighter jets and divert more Vermont National Guard resources to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Citing “increased anxiety” and “intense noise associated” with F-35 training during Vermont’s stay-at-home order, Council members voted 11-1 in favor of the measure.
“We ask for temporary changes in the F-35 aircrafts’ flights from the Vermont Air National 14 Guard at Burlington International Airport,” the resolution said in part, “and to dedicate resources toward mitigating the local impacts of COVID-19.”
COVID-19 is the official name of the disease related to the coronavirus that first started to affect people at the end of 2019.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
In addition to the resolution, the Council drafted letters to the governor, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Prior to Monday’s vote, Col. David W. Shevchik, Jr., commander of the 158th Fighter Wing, spoke with the Burlington Free Press regarding the resolution.
Shevchik said the Guard’s responsibilities are two-fold: An obligation to fulfill state and federal missions.
“I think it’s important to reiterate that we have the capability and the capacity to do both. They are not mutually exclusive,” Shevchik said. “We can do both, we are doing both, we are built for both and we will proudly continue to do both.”
During Monday’s virtual Council meeting through Zoom, Councilor Perri Freeman, who brought the resolution forward according to a Seven Days’ report on Friday, made revisions to narrow the focus on “undue stress” the noise has had on the community.
One such resident is Drew Shatzer, an educator who is teaching his child from home during the pandemic. Shatzer spoke prior to the Council vote during public comment.
“When it happens, we have to bring our instruction to a grinding halt, we close all of windows, we wait it out,” Shatzer said of the flyovers. “I’m just one person with one kid and I can’t even begin to imagine the cumulative loss of the educational time across our cities.”
While the majority of those who participated in public comment were in favor of the resolution, Amy Magyar was one of three who spoke against it.
“Every time I hear those boys fly over — and I hope someday girls fly over — it actually makes me really feel safe. They are here to protect us,” said Magyar, adding she’s open to reducing flight schedules in a couple weeks if it’s necessary for additional COVID-19 aid. “They need to be flight ready because if they lose even a week of practice, they are not as strong and accurate as they should be.”
The guard operates 15 F-35s at Burlington International Airport in South Burlington, with five more arriving by the end of summer, the commander said.
Standard flying operations take place Tuesday through Friday, with takeoffs in both the morning and afternoon. Typically, a takeoff will consist of four to eight aircraft.
Drills sometimes also happen on weekends, usually during the first Saturday of each month in the morning and afternoon. Once per quarter, a flight will take place on a Sunday afternoon, the commander said.
The Vermont National Guard employs around 3,200-3,500 members currently, Shevchik said, and 1,000 of whom are the Air Guard. Of those Air Guard members, approximately 100 serve under Shevchik — which is a smaller unit since the COVID-19 shutdown began last month in observance of CDC guidelines and social distancing measures.
About 200 Guard members are contributing to the effort to combat the virus, said Shevchik. Last week the Guard turned Essex fairgrounds into 400-bed medical facility.
The Guard’s role in the crisis could potentially cost $12.7 million, according to an application for federal aid.
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