Utahns’ feelings about the prospect of Hill Air Force Base landing the F-35A Lightning II jet fighter can best be summed up by the lyrics of a popular song: “It’s a beautiful noise.”
Air Force officials have tentatively selected Hill as the preferred home for the first three operational squadrons of the F-35, formerly known as the Joint Strike Fighter. Before that can happen, however, Hill must pass the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Secretary of the Air Force must make the final determination.
Based on the EIS hearings I attended this past week in Layton and Ogden, that should not be too much of a problem. Utahns’ fervor for hosting the F-35 was overwhelming. And the Air Force officials I talked with were impressed with the large turnout and heartened by the wholehearted support for having the new fighter jets at the base.
And why wouldn’t they be?
Hill was chosen because of the unrivaled skill and dedication of its hardworking men and women. Simply put, Hill’s workers put their love of country first, and their job performance is second to none.
Utahns are also first among equals when it comes to patriotism. We unabashedly love our country and count whatever sacrifice we make for our national defense of little cost compared to that made by members of the military and their families.
That’s why I and nearly everyone else at the public hearings – public officials, business leaders, the Utah Defense Alliance and residents alike – were so vocal in endorsing having these fifth-generation fighters in our state. We know that the F-35 is critical to our national security, and we know there is no better place to station and service it than at Hill.
Our U.S. Air Force is the best in the world. One reason for that is the caliber of our men and women within its ranks; another is that we have chosen to equip them with the best aircraft and technology possible to keep them and America safe.
For 32 years, since their introduction to Hill in 1980, F-16 fighters have performed admirably. But they are now too old and no longer capable of carrying out all the missions the Air Force requires. That’s where its successor, the F-35, comes in. It is a 21st-century warfighter designed to meet the ever-evolving threats to our nation.
Of all the effects of the having the F-35 at Hill, the only negative the Air Force identified in the draft EIS it presented to Utahns is a marginal increase in noise on 47 acres in Layton- about the same decibel increase already generated by the F-22 Raptors flying in and out of the base. But I have no doubt that Air Force and Layton residents will, just as they have in the past, resolve that or any other issue that may arise.
After all, supporting the Air Force and its mission is second nature to Utahns. We know the roar of jet fighters means our pilots are training to defend our homes and nation. And we know and are proud to say that America will continue to reign supreme in the skies because of the training and testing that take place over and near our communities.
Some cynics in other places may say not in our back yard. But we Utahns can be counted on to support and stand up for our men and women in uniform. You can also count on me and other members of Utah’s congressional delegation to continue fighting for Hill.
An F-35 flying overhead may be so much noise in other states. But to our ears here in Utah, it is the sound of freedom.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah