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Environmental teams answer ‘Call to Future’

  • Published
  • By Michael Briggs
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center Public Affairs

As the Air Force takes a 30-year look ahead in the recently released strategy document, “America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future,” environmental teams are already helping ensure installations are prepared for operations in 2045 and beyond using the Environmental Management System.


EMS is a holistic system that takes a proactive approach to provide continued access to a base’s natural and built infrastructure.


“The Air Force must have land, air, water and built infrastructure to train and operate today and into the future,” said Kathleen Ferguson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics. “Work we’re doing now in stewardship and remediation, combined with other aspects of installation sustainability, prepare us for emerging ‘over the horizon’ operations that will lead America’s Air Force into the second half of the century.”


The 2014 DoD-award-winning natural resources team at Eglin Air Force Base provides a prime example of how an integrated EMS team can accomplish its stewardship mission while allowing the training, testing, research and other missions at a major installation to continue.


The 32-member team’s stewardship of Eglin’s 464,000 acres of land and 120,000 square miles of water ranges maximized mission capability and readiness while meeting regulatory requirements and enhancing the habitats of endangered and threatened species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, loggerhead turtle and black bear, according to the DoD award summary.


In addition, the Eglin team restored more than 12,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat by removing invasive sand pine and hosted interagency fire experiments that allowed renowned fire science experts to fully measure fires in a controlled environment. The experiments not only served as a model for multi-disciplinary fire research, but also provided data to improve wildland fire operations at Eglin.


“This award winning team highlights how people-centered EMS programs can provide big impacts by educating and training our workforce in the use of environmentally conscious practices no matter what their role,” said Teddy James, Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s EMS subject matter specialist. “Everyone on an installation is responsible for protecting the environment, and we all benefit from their efforts.”


While the Air Force takes action to protect and sustain today’s environment, it also invests in cleaning up environmental damage from past activities. Remediation of ground and water contamination plays a role in not only protecting a base and surrounding community from health hazards, but it also helps by returning cleaned sites to mission or other future use.


The Air Force has a successful history of cleaning up contaminated sites, such as at Joint Base Cape Cod, where one of the service’s largest cleanup efforts has spanned three decades. Sixteen plumes and 80 locations were originally evaluated as part of the cleanup effort. Today, 77 areas have been remediated and more than 50 billion gallons of groundwater have been cleaned, said Douglas Karson, AFCEC community involvement lead at JBCC. Over the years, the Air Force has also replaced impacted drinking water supplies located off base and connected more than 1,100 homes in the area of the plumes to municipal water.


“We take our remediation responsibilities very seriously,” said Ferguson. “Ensuring we have the future environment we need requires that we not only act responsibly now, but also take decisive and aggressive action to remediate past damage.”


(Jennifer Schneider of AFCEC Public Affairs contributed to this story.)