Retired Air Force Col. and former South Burlington City Council Chair Rosanne Greco, as well as retired Lt. Col. Roger Bourassa, were arrested by Burlington Police Monday evening following a sit-in at U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Office. Their demonstration joins a movement against the basing of F-35 jets at Burlington International Airport. The planes are expected to arrive this month.
Greco and Bourassa entered Leahy’s Burlington office in the late afternoon on Monday, Sept. 9. They carried a list of six demands they hoped the senator would sign, directing the U.S. Air Force to delay the arrival of the F-35 until all conditions are met.
The conditions included delaying the basing until:
• the F-35 has at least 1,000,000 flight hours –comparable to the number the F-16 fighter jets had when they arrived in Vermont.
• the Air Force, FAA and Burlington City officials conduct a public hearing to answer questions and elaborate on several statements.
• funding is secured to purchase all 2,963 homes in the F-35 65 day/night average noise decibel level zone and moving all households who wish to relocate to comparable homes.
• a public hearing on the health impacts of noise on children and adults and other risks associated with the F-35 is held – with qualified health experts.
• the U.S. Department of Defense provides detailed information on the nuclear role of the F-35.
• investigations have been completed into the falsification of data and other improprieties associated with the F-35 basing selection process for Burlington, Vermont.
A key figure in Washington and longtime member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy advocated strongly for the basing of the F-35 jets at Burlington International Airport with the Vermont Air National Guard.
“The only reason we were in his [Leahy’s] office was because of what he did,” Greco told The Other Paper. Documents from Greco and Bourassa’s sit-in claim Leahy lied repeatedly to U.S. Air Force officials and to his constituents, and pushed the Air Force to falsify the level of support for F-35 basing in Vermont, among other offenses.
“Many of us have always thought the F-35 basing was a social injustice,” Greco said. “[We thought] maybe, maybe that would be something the senator, both senators … would react to.”
To that end, the duo brought a document outlining the “immorality” of basing F-35s at Burlington International Airport.
“The F-35 basing in Vermont is immoral because it needlessly harms – by U.S. Air Force estimates – 6,663 people in the Burlington Area,” their “Declaration of F-35 Immoralities” states. The document then cites harmful health effects associated with repeated exposure to F-35 noise, the possible negative impact of F-35 noise on home values and how noise levels could potentially make some homes unsuitable for residential use, forcing some people to move out of the area. The document also cites the plane itself as immoral.
“The F-35 is immoral because it is a weapon of mass destruction,” the document reads. It notes that the aircraft perpetuates militarism and war, validates nuclear weapons and siphons money away from human needs, among other factors.
The senator was not present at the time of the sit-in, Leahy’s staff told Greco and Bourassa. Leahy’s State Director, John Tracy, appeared two times during the demonstration – addressing them less than five minutes, according to Greco.
Tracy listened to their one-minute speech on the immoralities of the F-35 basing at Burlington International Airport, took their list of demands and other documents, then departed. Roughly 45 minutes later, he returned to read a prepared statement that said the Air Force did a comprehensive job, that there were some people for the basing, some against it, and that the F-35 would not carry nuclear weapons, Greco said. Tracy noted that Leahy would oppose the basing if it entailed a nuclear mission, she added. He then asked Greco and Bourassa to leave, adding that it was possible he might have time to meet with them the following day.
“The points he raised were just general statements not related to anything we raised, we were raising the immorality of the aircraft, its basing,” Greco said. “We were not there to meet with Tracy, we were not there to meet with Sen. Leahy. The days of meeting are long over. We want action.”
Tracy said in a phone interview Tuesday morning that his understanding of Greco and Bourassa’s goal was that they would remain in the office until the senator signed their demands. He said he looked at the documents and shared the information with the senator’s office in Washington D.C.
Burlington Police arrived on scene at about 6 p.m., according to Deputy Chief of Operations Jon Murad. There was no struggle, he said. Indeed, the police were “polite and respectful,” according to Greco. They entered the office and sat down with the duo for about 30 minutes. During that time, officers asked about Greco and Bourassa’s reason for being there, why they took that course of action, and more. One officer said he didn’t believe it was necessary for the duo to get arrested in order to make a point, Greco said.
“We tried to explain why we felt such moral obligation to be there,” she said.
According to Murad, it was both Greco’s and Bourassa’s first offense. They left the building with officers, without handcuffs, and were cited for trespass. They’ll be due in court to answer charges. Since Greco and Bourassa are first-time offenders with “distinguished service records” “the likelihood anything [penalties et cetera] would happen is small,” Murad said.
“I am not the kind of person who goes out to protest. I like to stay behind the scenes. I’ve never been arrested,” Greco said. “I didn’t want to be arrested. … I just felt a moral obligation to do something more.”