Vt. Air National Guard celebrates F-35 arrival

Cropped Photo: mashleymorgan / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 / MGN
Cropped Photo: mashleymorgan / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 / MGN(KALB)
Published: Oct. 19, 2019 at 7:03 PM EDT
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Vermont's first F-35s touched down in Burlington last month, but this weekend, the Air National Guard celebrates the milestone with officials from across the country who made it happen.

"Of all the people we recognize today, our leaders, our supporters, our community stakeholders, by far the most significant attendees today are our airmen," said Adj. Gen. Gregory Knight. "You make the aircraft fly."

Airman Lt. Col. Nate Graber says the fifth- generation fighters put our country one step ahead of our enemies.

"The threats that are out there to the nation are becoming more technologically advanced. They're becoming graver threats, if you will," Lt. Col. Graber said. "It's an amazing honor to be part of the force that really is out there to be able to kind of combat those growing threats."

"The information provided to the pilot in the F-35 is right in his helmet. So as he turns his head or moves his vision around, all that information moves with him. So it really allows him very high situational awareness," added Greg Ulmer, the Vice President and General Manager of the F-35 Program out of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

As the first fighter wing to receive the F-35 Lighting II, Guard officials say Vermont is paving the way for stronger partnerships between the Air Force and the Air National Guard, ultimately better protecting the United States from adversaries.

"We've created the template that we've shared with the states that will follow us," said Col. David Smith, Commander of the 158th Fighter Wing.

And Government officials claim the jets improve Vermont's economy.

"The Air Guard and the F-35 are an essential part of enhancing the vibrancy and vitality of the region and the state," Gov. Phil Scott said.

"I supported this basing because I believe in you. I believe that you are the best," said Sen. Patrick Leahy.

But some Vermonters continue to protest the basing. Opponents plan to stand outside Senator Leahy's Burlington office every weekday for the next few months, demanding an investigation into the decision. Still, airmen like Lt. Col. Graber express gratitude for those who stand behind it.

"We weren't picked for no reason," Lt. Col. Graber said.

For many of the guardsmen, this weekend is their first opportunity to get up close and personal to the F-35. The 158th Fighter Wing will house a total of 20. The next 18 will continue to arrive about every month until June 2020.