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Two AF bases take top DOD honors for environmental work

  • Published
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the Defense Department's environmental awards for fiscal 2012 May 1 and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and Hill AFB, Utah, were among nine Department of Defense installations selected for top honors.

Each year since 1962, the secretary of defense has honored individuals, teams and installations for their outstanding achievements to conserve and sustain the natural and cultural resources entrusted to them.

A panel of judges representing federal and state agencies, academia and the public make the annual selections in installation, team and individual categories.

Vandenberg AFB's 30th Space Wing, located on California's Central Coast, was recognized for its cultural resources management, and Hill AFB's 75th Civil Engineer Group for its environmental restoration.

Headed by the team of Kelli Brasket, Dr. James Carucci, Bob Peterson and Christopher Ryan, Vandenberg AFB was lauded for its efforts in protecting and preserving more than 1,500 prehistoric resources including 14 rock art sites, five named historic Native American villages, 12 unnamed village sites, numerous cemeteries and hundreds of shell midden sites, which includes the oldest dated archaeological deposit on the Central Coast mainland.

The base also has 26 known paleontological sites across the base and, among the more than 300 historical resources, a national historic landmark, a national historic trail, 118 historical archaeological sites, and historic buildings and structures ranging from adobes to the site of the nation's first intercontinental ballistic missile to be put on active alert.

"We were delighted and honored to represent the Air Force, Air Force Space Command and the 30th Space Wing within the Secretary of Defense Environmental Excellence Awards program," said Ryan, the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron team lead. "It's great to be recognized for our accomplishments over the last three years, but we share that recognition with many other people, like the 30th CES horizontal shop, the 30th CES Hot Shots, our contractors, the Chumash Tribe, base command and others."

During the award period, Vandenberg AFB's cultural resources management team successfully programmed, planned and budgeted to support the diverse range of cultural projects at the base and foster cultural resources awareness across the base and in the local community.

Of specific note was the team's efforts in improvements to trails, constructing natural stairs, reducing fuel loads around sites and removing invasive eucalyptus trees to restore line-of-sight between Window Cave and Tranquillon Peak, allowing the Chumash Tribe to observe a sacred solar event.

Bob Peterson, a 30th CES prehistoric archeologist, said one of the most gratifying things he worked on last year was the removal of the eucalyptus trees in front of the Window Cave rock art site.

"For the first time in about 15 years, the sun once again shines into (Window Cave) as it sets over Tranquillon Peak during the winter solstice," Peterson said, "casting a beam of light onto a sun-sign petroglyph.

"This is probably the only time I'll ever do restoration on a sacred event," he added.

When it comes to environmental restoration, Hill AFB has proven for the third time that it has a superior program after wins in the same category in 2003 and 2010.

During the award period, Hill AFB's restoration team led the way in identifying, developing and implementing innovative techniques and technologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of remediation efforts while leaving behind the smallest possible environmental footprint. The team also embraced several projects that led to cost- and time-saving measures such as cutting energy consumption by 35 percent, reducing its carbon footprint by 30 percent and saving the Air Force more than $250,000 in energy costs annually.

According to the award nomination, the success of Hill AFB's restoration program can be directly attributed to innovative program management, an extremely high level of technical expertise, regulatory partnerships and stakeholder involvement.

"Hill has some tough cleanup challenges," said Bob Elliott, the 75th CEG Environmental Management Division chief. "That said, our restoration branch has a unique group of extraordinarily capable engineers who not only address technical issues very well, but they recognize the value of input and involvement from our stakeholder community and regulatory agencies. It's truly a team effort for them."

The program is focused on fixing past mistakes, Elliott added.

"I am hopeful receiving this recognition helps all those involved with or affected by our cleanup program to recognize we are working hard to address the problems of the past and that they truly have an 'A' team working to this end," he said.

"It's a huge accomplishment for our staff and it validates what I've known for a long time -- our restoration branch staff is some of the finest professionals in this business," said the 75th CEG Restoration Branch chief, Mark Loucks. "This award recognizes their hard work at doing the right things to protect public health while utilizing precious Air Force resources in the most judicious way possible."

A ceremony honoring Vandenberg AFB, Hill AFB and the other 2012 winners is set for June 6 at the Pentagon.

(Courtesy of Air Force Center of Engineering and the Environment Public Affairs.)