A provocative billboard expressing concern over U.S. military policy around nuclear weapons has drawn criticism from a supporter of the Vermont Air National Guard.
"I was totally appalled," Lisa Wood of Fair Haven, Vermont, said of a billboard installed on Route 4 in Whitehall, New York — not far from the Vermont border.
From a distance, the billboard appears to be a welcome to the state, but on closer inspection, it becomes clear it is a harsh critique. It depicts a pilot from the Vermont Air National Guard dropping a nuclear weapon near a terrified family, leaving buildings in ruins and a field of gravestones.
"As a veteran, I don't believe that our nation should be employing nuclear weapons," said James Ehlers of the group Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont.
The group opposes this fall's arrival of a fleet of F-35s at the Vermont Air Guard base in South Burlington.
Even though state and Guard leaders say the Vermont jets will not be nuclear-capable, the activists worry the military could, one day, retrofit them for a possible wartime mission.
"I think the idea of a nuclear bomber at the Burlington airport is pretty traumatic," Ehlers said.
Because billboards have long been banned under Vermont law, to protect its scenic views and rural reputation, the activists installed the large sign in New York state so they could reach drivers entering Vermont.
Responding to an inquiry from necn, a Vermont Guard spokesman refuted the claim made on the new billboard that Vermont is the "future home of USA's new nuclear bomber."
"The F-35s coming to Burlington will not have the hardware to be nuclear capable," Capt. Mikel Arcovitch wrote in an email. "The Vermont Air National Guard will not have a nuclear mission, nor are there any plans for Vermont to have a nuclear mission."
Lisa Wood, who lives on the Vermont side of the border near the billboard, is the mother of a member of the Vermont Air Guard. She recently saw the billboard for the first time, she noted.
In an interview with necn Tuesday, Wood said she considers the cartoon on the billboard to be a misleading smear.
"If I could have my own billboard, I think it would just say, 'We still support you. We support you and we're proud of you. You've worked hard and you've earned this. Bring on the F-35,'" she said
Ehlers said the group that put up the sign calls it a form of patriotism for Americans to have peaceful discourse with their government about policies they find objectionable or concerning for public safety.
However, Lisa Wood insisted displays like this do not speak for her — or for many Vermonters.