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Environmental stewardship, sustainability top focus throughout the Guard

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy | National Guard Bureau | March 21, 2016

ARLINGTON, Va. — From making use of wind and solar power to incorporating geo-thermal heating and using energy efficient lightbulbs, the National Guard continues to be a leader in conservation and sustainability efforts within the Department of Defense, reducing energy usage and environmental impact while maintaining the ability for Guard members to train, respond at home and deploy worldwide.

"The National Guard is really good at managing resources," said Air Force Col. Scott Chambers, chief of the National Guard Bureau's Strategic Logistics Division, which oversees many sustainability programs throughout the Guard. "When we talk about energy and sustainability, it's about managing resources and it's so multi-faceted you have to have multiple lines of effort."

And the Guard has incorporated a variety of lines of effort to reduce its energy usage and promote sustainable activities, said Chambers.

For the Michigan National Guard, one small change to its recycling program at Camp Grayling— one of the Michigan Guard's largest training sites, that also hosts units from throughout the region— brought big results.

"We didn't have any recycling bins at Camp Grayling until two years ago," said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Stone, the assistant adjutant general for installations with the Michigan National Guard.

The installation was still recycling, said Stone, just that its sorting procedures needed adjustment. Rather than sorting recyclables at the source point, the sorting was taking place at the installation's recycling center.

"We have an employee who runs the recycling center who was manually helping to sort things," Stone said. "If you do that at the point-of-source, you'd be surprised at how much waste you reduce."

But, Michigan Guard officials have other, larger goals toward sustainability efforts at Camp Grayling: becoming a triple net-zero installation, or one whose energy use, water use and waste production is effectively zero through recycling and use of renewable and green resources.

Stone said plans are underway for Camp Grayling to be triple net-zero by 2017, adding that Camp Grayling has been net-zero for water usage and waste water production for more than 20 years.

"Because of its aquifer, our engineers figured out back in the '90s how to create a water system and a waste water system that is sustainable," he said. "So, since the mid-1990's Camp Grayling has been a net-zero [for water] installation." 

The effects of that can be seen in the results of water quality testing of Camp Grayling's Lake Margrethe, which has been used as a water source since the installation opened in 1914, said Stone.

"The state Department of Natural Resources does water quality testing and Lake Margarethe was rated as one of the ten cleanest lakes in the state of Michigan," he said. "That's great that we've been operating for more than a hundred years on a water source and aquifer and have it rated so highly."

Throughout the Guard other efforts are underway taking advantage of wind and solar power to provide electricity, reducing both energy costs and reliance on the local power grid. The Utah National Guard has used wind to generate power at Camp Williams, located just outside of Salt Lake City, since 2000 when wind turbines were installed. In 2014 solar panels augmented those turbines.

"We are very proud of this, and all of our green-energy projects," said Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, adjutant general of the Utah Guard, during the unveiling of the new solar panels. "We seek to be good stewards of our precious resources and will continue as an organization to seek innovative ways to conserve and reduce our footprint."

The new panels, along with other solar projects, generate enough energy to power the equivalent of 330 average American homes, said Guard officials.

Solar power has been built into a number of Guard facilities throughout the country, said Chambers.

The New Jersey Air National Guard has incorporated solar arrays at a number of its facilities, with those arrays providing approximately 17 percent of electricity needs. Plans are underway to include solar power at other New Jersey Air and Army Guard facilities.

The Michigan Army National Guard has scheduled construction of a solar array at Fort Custer, Michigan, and the New York Air National Guard has used solar power at Stewart Air National Guard Base, near Newburgh, New York, as part of a micro-grid system. The system allows the base to balance its power needs from the local power grid while also providing the ability to support mission-critical requirements should power be knocked out in the area.

The Minnesota National Guard has taken solar power a step further by working with local power companies to build a large-scale solar farm at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, said Chambers.

"It's a major solar project that's going on at Camp Ripley right now," he said.

Scheduled to be completed this year, the solar farm is designed to produce 10 megawatts of power and will be among Minnesota's largest single-site solar arrays. The site was developed to produce more electricity than the camp normally requires, said Chambers, and during non-emergency operations the solar energy produced will flow into the local power grid.

That also works to build a greater partnership with the local community, something equally as important as reducing energy demand and consumption, said Chambers.

"If you show you're a good community member then that community is going to support you when you need that support," he said.

Building partnerships is also an integral element to completing a large-scale project such as the solar farm at Camp Ripley.

"You can't do it without partnering with others and building those relationships," said Chambers, adding that Camp Ripley officials worked not only with the local electric utility company on the solar project, but also the state environmental department and a number of other state and federal regulatory agencies.

Those relationships with state and federal officials also allow the Guard to be better prepared to respond to federal missions overseas, but also to emergencies and other disasters in the local area by building redundancy into the infrastructure.

"An electrical generator is an example of redundancy, but so is organic energy production," said Chambers. "If you can produce power from solar or geo-thermal or wind onsite and you're connected to the grid, you've got a redundant source of energy and you've shortened your supply lines to nothing, essentially."

Tying into renewable and sustainable energy sources, the Guard has also been focusing on environmental stewardship programs and efforts as well.

"If you're doing something renewable, but you're not being a good steward and contaminating the environment, it doesn't really make sense," said Monsoor Rashid, the special projects and strategic plans manager with the Army National Guard's Environmental Directorate at the NGB. "We're trying to be good stewards of the environment."

At Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania—the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's only live-fire maneuver training area and an installation that each year hosts training for approximately 230,000 Service members from all branches—that commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability resulted in top honors in the 2015 Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards program.

"Sustainability is instilled in all departments and directorates, promoting organization-wide accountability and ownership," said Army Lt. Col. Robert Hepner, the garrison commander, adding that recycling and reusing materials has been one of the key focuses at the installation.

Those recycling efforts go beyond separating bottles and cans and includes everything from batteries to kitchen grease. The goal, said FIG officials, is to limit and reduce items going to the landfill, which meant making changes to training areas.

Rubber backstops have been incorporated behind targets on firing ranges to capture lead rounds. That prevents the rounds from entering and contaminating the ground and when the blocks become unserviceable, they're sent to a specialty smelter who grinds the block, recovers the lead residue and recycles all the components. The Pennsylvania Guard pays to transport the blocks, but spends about 70 percent less than disposing of the hazardous waste or having to clean up ground contamination, said Pennsylvania Army Guard officials.

"The whole point of environmental is to be here to help commanders train realistically," said Rashid. "We're all here for the same mission, which is to train Soldiers the most realistically, and our job in environmental is to find ways to do that while protecting the environment."

Rashid said sometimes it can be tough getting others to see the environmental office in that light.

"We get some people in the mindset that environmental is here to stop training," he said, adding the opposite is true.

 "We're enablers," he said. "We want commanders to look at us as being able to help them do their mission. We may have alternatives or may even have a better way for you to train. When we're working together, many times you get the better solution."

That focus on finding ways to balance realistic and tough training with environmental stewardship and protection has also seen the Army Guard's Environmental Directorate provide best practices information in other countries as part of the NGB's State Partnership Program, which pairs up National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide.

The SPP often focuses on building relationships through shared military training, but in El Salvador, Honduras and other areas environmental stewardship was one of the items identified as a need by the partner country.

"We went to El Salvador because they had a drinking water well issue," said Rashid. "Honduras is more of an outreach. We met with the military and talked with their staff—they have an entire environmental staff—and worked with them on soil contamination and air quality issues."

For Rashid, it's all part of sharing information.

"Our programs here in the Guard are robust and mature and we're taking those same best management practices and showing that this is one way how it can work," he said.

Back at home, that also means making smart choices and seeking out alternative ways that leave less of an environmental footprint, such as limiting use of hazardous materials and incorporating green technology into construction projects.

"If they're putting in a big boiler there are all these laws and regulations that need to be met," said Rashid. "If you're putting in solar then you don't have to worry about many of those emissions compliance issues."

That may mean a little more upfront, said Rashid, but long term it's an investment that pays for itself in cost savings.

Small changes also have big results. For the Nevada Air National Guard, implementing "no heat, no cool" weeks at its facilities during the spring and fall months and maximizing use of natural cooling and heating resulted in a reduction of energy usage by 36 percent in 2014, said Army Maj. La'Shawna Waller, the environmental officer in the joint logistics office at the NGB.

"Basically, depending on the temperatures, there's no air conditioning or no heat," she said. "That small change meant they reduced their energy consumption for the year."

Sometimes small changes are all that are needed. 

"Carpooling, turning off the lights, recycling—those are the small things that have big impact," said Waller.

Incorporating those and other things into planning has become more streamlined.

"I think the Soldiers and Airmen get it," said Rashid. "The young folks, they get it. Sustainability and stewardship are important and we're seeing a lot more of a focus on that."

It simply comes down to good stewardship, said Rashid.

"You've got to be not just an environmental steward, you also have to be a steward of the taxpayer's money," he said. "And in the Guard, we do a really good job with stewardship and sustainability."