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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Earth Day Army, a greener mission

Earlier this month the DOD reported to Congress its budget review for 2005. Among other things, there appears a detailed report on the Army's on going marching orders to “green up,” and their commitment to sustainable environmental stewardship.

Tomorrow, on bases throughout the world, communities of army personnel and civilian populations will celebrate Earth Day 2006. We thought we would look at the military and in particular, the U.S. Army's Earth Day observance. A simple Google search returned 66,000 references, we chose the first on the list, the USAEC - US Army Environmental Center.

Since the early 70s when the first Federal Government initiatives for environmental management were implemented, the U.S. Army has committed itself to the establishment of a greener, more environmentally sustainable work place. Not limiting themselves to just physical buildings and infrastructure, the Army maintains sway over a vast and varied landscape of facilities and lands, everything from urban settings to remote wilderness, even active overseas theaters of operation must comply to set environmental standards of practice.

We contacted Aberdeen Proving Grounds, since 1917, home to the Army’s Weapons Testing Command, located toward the northern end of Chesapeake Bay and more recently, command for the USAEC. I spoke with Robert DiMichele, Public Affairs Officer with the US Army Environmental Center who told me that the Army takes very seriously its charge to care for the environment. In their role as peacekeepers and defenders of American interests here and overseas, the Army maintains stewardship of land that is home to 188 endangered species. Managing a staggering 15 million acres in the United States alone, the Army maintains Environmental Defense Coordination in one hundred and fifty locations worldwide exercising responsibility at those sites for environmental cleanup and compliance, natural resource management, pest management and pollution prevention, their budget is $1.3-Billion annually.

Aside from any federal mandate the military and the Army in particular has a long held, even intimate awareness of its dependence on the natural environment. An army trains in, lives in and sometimes fights in the environment, any army so embedded in the natural landscape must not only be keenly aware of the environment, they must be certain of its continued ability to, “Sustain the Mission – Secure the Future.”

To this end the AEC has, for example, developed a command wide Environmental Management System or EMS, which essentially integrates environmental protection processes with standard daily, military activities. The results have been spectacular by any standard. The Hazardous Material Control Center HMCC tracks and recycles hazardous materials essential to army command operations such as:

  • oils for vehicles and helicopters
  • recycled antifreeze
  • grease products
  • spray paints
  • adhesives and sealants
  • hydraulic fluids
  • gear oil
  • insecticides
  • various type of alcohols
  • vehicle starting fluids

Another initiative called ACUB or Army Compatible Use Buffer System, partners the Army with various NGOs, non-profits, local government organizations and private individuals in order to acquire lands adjacent to essential Army installations. This creates environmentally sound buffer zones between civilian communities and the training base properties, like this one in Olympia, WA with which they share a border.

We began this piece expecting to report a story of Army activities in celebration of Earth Day 2006, what we found in its stead is a story about environmental care taking, mission commitments to ecological remediation and sustainable, proactive, earth regenerating due diligence by the Army's new breed of "Eco-Warriors, which occurs not for one day or even a week but day in and day out the entire year as the men and women of today’s Army make E-Day a mission imperative.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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