July 31, 2008 in City

Martial music hits sour note

West Plains neighbor wants Fairchild to turn down volume on thrice-daily recordings
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Rajah Bose photo

Lisa Long says the music played at Fairchild Air Force Base several times a day is loud even from inside her home in Airway Heights.
(Full-size photo)

Living just outside Airway Heights for the past 12 years, Lisa Long has learned to accept the roar of planes and the rumble of trains. She has even survived 2 a.m. rifle practice by her neighbor, Fairchild Air Force Base.

But none of that compares to the martial music that recently blared from the base on weekdays at 7:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.

“This is worse,” Long said. “It interrupts nap time, and it’s irritating.”

Apparently motivated by an Air Force colonel’s chagrin over lack of base decorum during reveille and retreat, Fairchild cranked up the volume on its public address system a month ago.

“A few weeks ago, it got extremely loud,” Long said. “So bad you couldn’t talk on a cell phone. You couldn’t talk to somebody standing next to you.”

Long lives on Marlette Lane, just off Highway 2, less than a quarter-mile north of Fairchild. The offending speakers are well inside the base perimeter.

“We called the base and asked them to turn it down,” Long said. “An operator told me to buy a set of earplugs.”

After a couple of more calls, she said, a base spokesman told her the commander ordered the sound turned up “because people on base weren’t respecting it.” Reveille and retreat are daily military ceremonies that signal the start and end of official duty. Taps indicates “lights out.”

A base spokesman acknowledged that the public address system had been turned up recently in part of the base speaker system on the recommendation of the Chief’s Council, a group of senior enlisted leaders.

The council was “concerned that the music could not be heard very well on base proper,” said Lt. Tristan Hinderliter, of base public affairs. The music was turned down in the past few days in response to a neighbor’s complaint.

“We take these noise complaints seriously,” Hinderliter said.

Long said Wednesday she had noticed the change.

“Taps last night was beautiful,” she said, “not as loud as ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ ” the previous afternoon.

But Long said the 4:30 broadcast is still loud enough to hear in her home with the windows closed. She would like the volume returned to its level a month ago.

In April, a commentary by Col. Roger Watkins, 92nd Air Refueling Wing acting commander published on the Fairchild Web site bemoaned the lack of adherence to “military tradition, customs and courtesies” on base.

“It is a shame we can take the time to enjoy a beautiful sunny afternoon, but many of us won’t take the time to honor our nation’s flag and the sacrifice it symbolizes,” Watkins wrote.

The colonel said he was running on base when retreat sounded.

The brief trumpet piece is followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“It blew me away when the bugle sounded and cars continued to drive past me while I was standing at attention,” Watkins wrote.

“When the first note of the national anthem is played, military members in uniform will stop, face the flag or music and render the appropriate salute until the last note is played.

“If you’re driving, pull over, stop and don’t proceed until the music is over.”

Lately, it is Long who has been blown away. Though she is spared reveille because of an early-morning job, she can’t avoid retreat, which comes during nap time.

“It sounds like somebody setting a needle on a record, and you can actually hear the scratching,” she said.

Two weeks ago, a visiting friend, Rita Lebsock, spent several days in a camper outside Long’s home. She described reveille as “an alarm clock you don’t want.”

“I’m patriotic and support our troops and everything, but I don’t think it’s right for them to play it that loud,” Lebsock said. “My husband called me and it was so loud I couldn’t hear him on the other end of the line.”

The last time she called Fairchild, Long said, an Air Force spokesman said base personnel would come to her home to take decibel readings.

Hinderliter said Fairchild strives to be a good neighbor and will continue to evaluate the volume of its public address system “to ensure we fulfill our mission requirement on base while not disturbing our neighbors in the surrounding community.”

Long, a former Air Force wife who has a large U.S. flag on her barn, insisted she is not anti-military, but what she has been enduring is beyond the call of duty.

“If I let this go, how much worse is it going to get next time?”

Contact Kevin Graman at (509) 459-5433 or kevingr@spokesman.com.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email