Duty first: F-35 jets at Truax Field

Over the past few weeks there have been news articles concerning the draft report from the Air Force pertaining to proposed basing of F-35 jets at Madison’s Truax Field. The point of most contention has been with the noise level of the aircraft in certain areas nearest to the airport. While it is an issue that needs to be discussed, it also has to be placed in the larger context given the world in which we live.  There is a reasoned purpose the jets are needed, and the pilots trained.

Earlier this year, I had a nice conversation with a young man working for a local tech company. He lives in my neighborhood, is friendly and conversant, and given that the Madison isthmus bubbles with politics, we were soon covering all the issues. One of the topics we landed upon was the appropriateness of F-35’s flying in and out of Truax.

He was definitely opposed to the idea of military aircraft having a continuing presence in Madison. Since he had grown up in another state, I mentioned Truax, for many decades, has been a site for military preparedness. He was a bit caught off guard by that fact, replying that Truax sure did not feel like an active military facility.

And therein lies one of the truths as Madison and Dane County moves forward in our conversations about the F-35 jets. The military presence at Truax has proven to be a good neighbor for over 70 years. Currently, the 115 Fighter Wing flies F-16 jets, but those are to be replaced with 20 F-35 jets.

Since late 2017, there has been a constant refrain, from some, that Truax should not be home to the F-35s. If one digs a bit deeper into the mindset of some opponents, it is soon discovered a strong antagonism exists about the military and some of the policies of our nation. As we move nearer the date in early 2020 when a final decision will be made about these jets in Madison, it will surely feel as if we are in the vortex of a political storm, and that is a sad place to find ourselves.

After all, this area is filled with civic-minded people who care about current events. We are most fortunate to have UW–Madison in our midst. Most of us have talked or become friends with people from another country. The dinner table at my home has had guests from Pakistan, Iraq, and Turkey to name but three. The dialogues we all have in this regard help to underscore our nation’s role and responsibility in the complex mix of international relations.

There has been strong bipartisan backing for the F-35 jets from our state’s congressional delegation, and vigorous backing from the local business community. The choice of Madison, out of five Air National Guard base finalists, took years to bring to fruition, and underscores the importance this selection is to our region. I like to have a fast lunch at Hy-Vee on the east side of Madison. Each time, I see a number of military personnel wearing a uniform while spending money, which is a solid example why this fighter wing is a smart economic decision.

I am never sure if the average person in Madison knows the amount of money to the local economy that comes from Truax. This unit employs 1,200 men and women. Nearly 500 of them are full-time employees, while 700 are traditional guardsmen. The end result is a payroll of $62 million being pumped annually into our housing, auto, and so many other brick-and-mortar businesses. Those who calculate such numbers have placed the economic impact into this region at $100 million. Obviously, no elected official is going to spit on that powerhouse to our economy.



In spite of all that, however, I believe the most compelling reason to support the F-35 jets has to do with our duty as Americans to the larger world. Call me old-fashioned or out-of-step, but I view that role with absolute seriousness.

Shortly after moving into my home on the isthmus in 2007, I read on a local list serve how some were irritated concerning the noise of F-16s taking off and landing at Truax. One of my first postings was short but sincere. I simply asked how it might feel to be someplace in the world where a despot or war created conditions where it would be a godsend to have a military response to stop the carnage.

We take a whole lot for granted living in this great city and dynamic county. When talking to others about the F-35 issue, I ask them to consider the view from a bombed out town in Syria. I very much sided with those in Washington who called for a no-fly zone in that country. That never happened but had such a policy been put forth, it would have been the type of training at Truax that would have aided those frightened and bloody children we saw night after night on the evening news.

We must take our responsibilities as citizens most seriously. From voting, serving on a jury, or paying taxes, it is our duty to step up and serve in a variety of ways. That also applies to where the military trains, such as at Truax. I do not know any person on a first-name basis who is actively serving in our military. So, the least I can do is support the men and women who have accepted that role. If I am advocating policies such as no-fly zones in Syria, I then should also accept the placement of training for such missions near to where I reside. I am not one who suggests the F-35 be relegated to places like North or South Dakota.

Walking the talk matters.

For the record, I often hear the F-16s take off and land from Truax. I assumed when moving into an urban environment, with an airport and military facility only a few miles away, that there would be sounds from aircraft. I have now read, given that it made the news, the draft environmental impact statement from the United States Air Force, which shows there could be a significant increase in noise from the F-35 fighter jet when it operates from Truax. With over 70 years of proof, however, that Truax has been a good neighbor, I have more faith in the process that can make this plan work, than in the ones who oppose the F-35 jets because they do not like our military.

As a liberal Democrat and reader of history, it is clear the most important consideration about the F-35 issue concerns our national duty. This is one fight locally we must not lose.

Gregory Humphrey blogs under the name “Deke Rivers” at Caffeinated Politics.

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