Madison’s Truax Field chosen for F-35

    F_35 fighter jet
    Image provided by the Ministry of Defence of a Royal Air Force F-35 Lightning. (Photo by Ministry of Defence via Getty Images)

    U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett officially designated Madison’s Truax Field, home of the 115th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, as one of two sites that will receive the next-generation F-35A aircraft in 2023.

    The proposal to base F-35s in Madison has stirred significant controversy in the community, with proponents claiming the military jets will generate and preserve millions of dollars in revenue and opponents citing noise and pollution that will disproportionately affect low-income residents and children who go to schools within a few miles of the airport.

    “We are excited that our friends and neighbors who serve in the Wisconsin Air National Guard have received this mission and will be able to continue the 72-year legacy of the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison for decades to come,” Marvin Siegert, chairman of the Badger Air Community Council, a group that supports bringing the F-35 to Madison, said in a statement. He added,  “We are very grateful for the overwhelming community engagement and support in this very lengthy process.” 

    Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon, also celebrated the announcement.

    “The F-35A basing decision is much-needed positive news for Greater Madison,” Brandon said in a statement. “From generating $100 million in annual economic impact to their extraordinary work responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, time and again we have seen firsthand the tremendous value the 1,200 Airmen of the 115th Fighter Wing bring to our community. We look forward to Greater Madison continuing to be their home for decades to come.”

    But state Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Congressman Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth) raised concerns about the impact the F-35 will have on the community.

    “Despite the Air Force’s own findings that siting F-35 military jets at Truax Field would have ‘significant adverse impacts’ that will disproportionately affect children, people of color and families earning low incomes, they have made the unfortunate and harmful decision to move forward in basing noisy F-35 fighter jets in Madison,” Taylor said. “The Air Force’s own environmental impact statement showed that out of the five locations under consideration, the people, land and water of Madison would suffer the worst impacts.”

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    “I’ve sent multiple letters to the Air Force, submitted public comments, and been on at least three calls with the Air Force about my main concerns around how they will make community members whole if they chose Truax,” Pocan said, “whether that’s property value, environmental and noise issues and other ways our community would be impacted by this.”

    Pocan also pointed to the Air Force’s environmental impact statement, which found that more than 1,000 homes around the airport will be exposed to higher noise levels because of the F-35s.

    “I have requested that the Appropriations and Armed Services Committees ensure the Air Force provides funds to communities impacted by the noise of military jets, and am also drafting legislation to address these concerns myself,” Pocan said. “However, this needs to be a unified call from the community towards this effort.”

    Four members of the Madison Common Council — Syed Abbas, Grant Foster, Rebecca Kemble and Marsha Rummel —  issued a statement noting that the council passed a resolution on March 17 opposing the F-35 at Truax, based on the adverse effects including PFAS contamination, reduced low-income housing stock and “significant adverse health effects that disproportionately affect children, residents who are low income and people of color.”

    “Residents of our Districts have overwhelmingly opposed this action in writing by submitting thousands of comments to the Air Force and Common Council, and in person at listening sessions, community meetings and Common Council sessions,” the alders wrote. “They have expressed serious concerns about their health, quality of life in the neighborhoods, quality of education for children in nearby schools, the quality of their drinking water, and their major investments in their homes.”

    Community members, they wrote, “will likely be pursuing legal action.”

    Ruth Conniff
    Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.