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NEWS | Oct. 2, 2014

National Guard kicks off Energy Action Month

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. — October marks the start of Energy Action Month and the National Guard kicked off the month-long focus on promoting additional energy and water conservation practices with a ceremony at the Army National Guard Readiness Center here.

The event tied in with a larger federal government campaign that focuses on reducing energy consumption and shifting toward clean, renewable energy sources while encouraging individuals to make small changes that add up to big savings over time.

“Things like unplugging appliances, turning off lights, and taking the stairs as opposed to an elevator are all small steps we can take to reduce energy usage,” said Army Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons, the acting director of the Army National Guard.

Lyons added that those small changes have long-lasting impacts.

“It’s a lot more than feel good measures,” he said. “Energy efficiency and sustainability have broad national security, readiness and operational impacts. Nowhere is this more apparent – and more serious – than in theater.”

Reducing energy consumption, said Lyons, means fewer convoys to move fuel and supplies, which in places like Afghanistan can mean the potential for attack or setting off roadside bombs.

“How many Soldiers were pulling convoy security duty, or driving trucks, or clearing routes when they were attacked by the enemy?” asked Lyons.  “When you really think about it, how many of those Soldiers were, at the end of the day, trying to enable the secure movement of resources – food, water, fuel, generators, etc. – from one place to another?”

Many of those Soldiers were in harm’s way because the Army needs a certain amount of resources in order to do its job, Lyons said.

“So when we talk about energy efficiency, resource reduction, and sustainability, we are talking about real world, operational impacts,” said Lyons. “How many fewer convoys would we have needed if the (forward operating bases) were more efficient?”

Energy savings also translates into increased readiness as well.

“It improves operational effectiveness because we are able to spend less money on fuel and water and more money on training,” said Lyons.

Throughout the Guard, steps and programs are already underway that make large-scale changes in order to increase energy efficiency, said Lyons.

“The Minnesota National Guard recently partnered with (others) to build the single largest solar array in the state,” said Lyons. “Over 100 acres of solar panels (at Camp Ripley, Minnesota) will provide up to 10 megawatts of power, supplying more energy than Camp Ripley needs under normal conditions. The entire 53,000-acre training facility will be poised to operate without any connection to the conventional power grid.”

Building new solar arrays is only one part of reducing energy costs, said Lyons, who added that streamlining current working methods are also needed. As part of that, the Air National Guard has made changes in the way its aircraft are loaded and flown, which has resulted in greater energy efficiency.

“Between fiscal year 2011 and 2013, our Airmen have saved 26 million gallons of fuel by eliminating unnecessary cargo, flying more fuel efficiently, cleaning engines regularly and even loading cargo in a new way to better balance the aircraft,” said Air Force Col. Peter Sartori, director of installations and mission support with the Air Guard. “These initiatives translate into more capability allowing us to transport 27 percent more cargo using just 3 percent more fuel.”

As part of a larger Air Force program, the Air Guard has also made changes to the way it fuels its aircraft.

“We’ve certified our fleet on alternative fuel blends—50 percent bio-fuel and 50 percent petrol-based fuels,” said Sartori. “This will allow the Air Guard to be more flexible in the coming years.”

Additionally, Sartori said throughout Air Guard installations, more than 1,800 vehicles have been replaced with hybrid, electric or alternative fuel source vehicles, further reducing fuel costs. Other changes have been made as well.

“On our air installations Airmen and civil engineers have reduced energy (use) by 22 percent since 2003,” he said. “We’ve replaced inefficient light fixtures, upgraded uninsulated windows and doors and installed occupancy sensors that automatically turn off lights.”

Little changes also make a big difference, said Sartori.

“A lot of time we focus on the big,” he said. “We forget about the small. We forget about the little things that we can do.”

Those little things include simply turning off lights, computers and monitors when not in use.

“If you shut your lights off in your office or cubicle, it may not save a lot. Maybe it saves a dollar. But with a hundred people, it’s $100 and so on and so on,” said Sartori. “Take that little opportunity that when you leave your office or cubicle, shut the lights off. Shut your monitor off. It’s a little bit of savings, but it adds up.”

And those little things are all a part of the larger culture change, said Lyons, adding that in June he signed the Army National Guard Sustainability Policy, which establishes a metrics-driven, actionable plan to reduce resource use throughout the Army Guard.

“The answer is a culture change,” said Lyons. “We have to change the way we think and do business.”

That means, in part, focusing on projects that reduce energy use, which often have long lasting value, he said.

“These sorts of projects are the kind of win-wins that energy efficiency and sustainability can provide,” said Lyons. “It shows we take seriously the preservation of resources provided to us by the taxpayers. It shows that we are good environmental stewards and members of the community. And it improves operational effectiveness.”