Over the past few years, our nation has faced many challenges. While there have been military actions across the world, it has been decades since we have watched the horrors of war on the evening news. The atrocities of the war in Ukraine are a harsh reminder of the fragility of peace in our world.
This Russian invasion has provided a window into what the military actions of the future will look like. Here at the Sound Defense Alliance (SDA), we seek to find the balance between national security and the protection of the people and places of Northwest Washington.
We fully support the national security mission of the EA18-G “Growler” electronic attack aircraft and the robust training that enables our pilots to be the best in the world. We also recognize that the national security mission to protect U.S. citizens should not simultaneously put our own people and places at risk.
There is a lot to learn from this war. News reports make it clear that drones and missiles are the main defensive armaments being used by both sides. Manned aircraft are vulnerable and, therefore, have played a secondary role. At the same time, the deployment of one Growler squadron to Germany spotlights the inefficiency and danger of single siting all Growlers on the West Coast at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI). Growlers need to be based closer to where they will be needed.
The single-siting policy raises other questions locally. The massive increase in the number of Growlers, and corresponding flight operations at the OLF from 6120 in 2018 to 23,800 in 2022, harms our area while not furthering the military mission of the U.S. Navy.
At the SDA, we are advocating for Growler pilots to train in safe locations that, additionally, avoid negatively impacting civilians, fragile environments, and wildlife. We have experienced and seen the research that documents the physical harm caused from jet noise, including increases in cardiovascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks. The intermittent, high volume, and high frequency reality of Growler noise causes stress and hearing impairment, impacts children’s learning, and can trigger PTSD in people trying to recover from trauma. We need to come together to find a solution.
The appropriateness of basing military jets at NASWI was last reviewed by the Department of Defense in 1998, at which time it was determined that Whidbey was not an appropriate site because of significant deficiencies at both Ault Field and the OLF.
In 2019, the Navy decided to expand the Growler presence on Whidbey without addressing those deficiencies and despite Navy documents stating that NAS El Centro provided a “higher quality of training than could be achieved at either Ault Field or Coupeville … .” [GRR 121559]
Even the Navy itself has recognized that there are more appropriate places for Growler training. Growlers should not train over civilians. Training should not take place over the Olympic National Forest or our federal, state, and local parks, or over historic or natural treasures. Training should take place where the weather does not regularly interfere with training schedules, unlike Central Whidbey where training schedules are regularly canceled because of weather conditions.
We believe that the base should remain open but the Growlers should be relocated to allow NASWI pilots to train more safely and the base to expand its focus to include technological innovation.
Washington state has a long history of being on the leading-edge of innovation. Our Congressional members should be taking advantage of our preeminent scientific and aeronautic industries. The base on Whidbey could be a focal point for the development of Next Generation military equipment like the drones and missiles being used by the Ukrainian army.
This plan could produce a win/win where we attract cutting edge businesses to support the new technologies necessary to build a thriving economy while reducing the noise impacts threatening it.
We live in uncertain times. We must learn from the horrific circumstances in the Ukraine. We encourage our elected officials to recognize that it is time to evolve our military practices toward global national security while protecting the health and well-being of people in the United States.
Please join us by visiting sounddefensealliance.org.
Anne Harvey is board chair for the Sound Defense Alliance.