Pro-OLF rallies build in numbers

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Roy Dietz rallies in support of OLF operations Saturday.  - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Roy Dietz rallies in support of OLF operations Saturday.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

The number attending Outlying Field Coupeville support rally Saturday more than doubled from the previous weekend.

“For me, I’m tired of the squeaky minority getting the oil,” said Kathy Garey, an Oak Harbor resident who served 20 years in the Navy. “The majority needs to come out.”

“There is power in numbers.”

The group swelled to about 70 people, in part because of a growing online presence for the movement.

With signs reading “Honk if you (heart) OLF,” the sounds of vehicle horns at the intersection of Pioneer Way and State Highway 20 often drowned out conversations between those rallying.

Smaller groups peeled off during the rally to wave signs in Coupeville and in front of the display aircraft at the intersection of Ault Field Road and State Highway 20.

While organizers said they continue to prefer to remain anonymous, others attending the event said they aren’t hesitant to share their support of the Navy and its operations at OLF.

Operations at OLF Coupeville were suspended in June until the end of the calendar year. The Navy hasn’t divulged the reasons for that suspension.

The move, however, came in the wake of complaints by some Central Whidbey residents about the noise levels produced by the Navy’s new EA-18G Growler during touch-and-go operations at the outlying airfield.

Saying they didn’t think the Navy was acknowledging their concerns, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment filed a federal lawsuit in July asking for a new environmental impact study by the Navy.

In response to that lawsuit, a growing number of island residents are siding with the Navy, taking to the streets with signs expressing their support of OLF operations.

Mitzi Mielke and her husband, Ken, who is retired Navy, have lived in Oak Harbor since 1976.

“I’m worried about the safety of our country and the safety of our pilots,” Mielke said. “They’ve got to have the best training possible. How would they feel if we had an incident because those pilots weren’t properly trained?”

Burt Corson, who lives under the flight patterns in Coupeville, said he’s not disturbed at all by the jet noise.

Coming from a military family, Corson said he’s lived near aircraft operations all of his 77 years.

“It isn’t even a factor for debate,” Corson said. “It’s shortsighted of these people to take on the Navy.”

Pro-OLF support first started with Bonnie LaForest of Oak Harbor, who, on June 21, was sitting alone with a sign at the corner of Pioneer Way and Highway 20.

“I just got so mad one Sunday,” LaForest said. “I got good response, so I told coworkers and they told others. I grew up my whole life around bases, and my hearing is just fine.”

A Facebook page was created June 28 in efforts to create a space for organizing events and support efforts. The administrators of the site said they want to remain anonymous.

Two more rallies are planned, one for 10 a.m. Saturday Aug. 10, in Oak Harbor, and the other at 11:30 a.m. that day in Coupeville.


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