Niagara Gazette

April 2, 2014

Vigil targets use of drones as 107th starts new mission

Group protests outside air base as 107th starts new mission

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The 107th Airlift Wing began its new mission on Tuesday drawing the attention of peace activists who held a vigil outside the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station to voice their opposition to the operation of armed unmanned aircraft.

Charley Bowman, who attended the vigil with the Western New York Peace Center, stood outside the air base holding a sign evoking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his opposition to the use of armed unmanned aircraft, commonly referred to as drones.

Bowman said the use of drones in missions where people are killed denies the right to due process and amounts to the execution of people perceived to be enemies of the United States without a trial.

“It removes people’s right to access to the courts,” he said.

Bowman said that the use of the drones creates hatred for America around the world.

“I can’t think of another tool to create more hatred toward the United States than drones,” he said.

The new mission, the result of efforts by the local group the Niagara Falls Military Affairs Council and federal legislators, will help to ensure that the base, which has been considered a candidate to be shut down by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission over the years, will remain open.

The base, which houses two divisions, employs more than 3,000 military and civilian personnel and accounts for an estimated $88 million in payroll.

Bowman, a retired biologist and former director of the Western New York Peace Center, said with two conflicts coming to an end, base closures are going to have to happen eventually.

“We’re puzzled why we have to increase this capacity as the wars are winding down,” he said.

Victoria Ross of the Peace Education Project was also outside the air base Tuesday.

Ross, a certified social worker, said that in addition to the lack of due process involved with some drone missions the soldiers operating the unmanned aircraft can face a greater risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as the experience of being involved in an ongoing conflict while also being home can be jarring for soldiers.

“It’s a higher rate of PTSD than boots on the ground,” she said.

Ross said the close-up view that operators have of the people they are targeting and the graphic and clear view they have of the actual strike can be key factors in causing PTSD despite the often great distance between the soldiers and the battlefields.

“It’s just a very problematic direction to go in,” Ross said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257