Magazine article National Defense

Obligation to Preserve Land Shapes Army Training

Magazine article National Defense

Obligation to Preserve Land Shapes Army Training

Article excerpt

I were found dead in a wetland area near Anchorage, Alaska Army Scientists assumed their proximity to a military firing range was the cause.

Eventually, scientists extracted sediment from the area for further analysis. As the sediment dried, and just before it was placed under a microscope, a scientist saw a puff of white smoke.

It was phosphorous--most likely deposited as a result of firing-range testing during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Ducks would eat these little pellets, which unfortunately didn't agree with them. The Army had a big cleanup problem on its hands.

To address similar concerns, several projects over the years were completed under the auspices of the U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency. In 1993, to emphasize the military services' commitment to environmental restoration and to preserve natural resources, the agency was retooled at the Army Environmental Center (ABC).

Now a custodian of 12 million acres of training areas, 29 ammunition activities and arsenals and 3,000 fuel storage sites, the ABC also preserves 36,000 cultural sites, more than 12,000 restoration sites, 55,000 archaeological areas and even 12,000 historic buildings and other structures.

A much different animal than its name may suggest, the agency is not staffed by a crop of environmentalists sitting on one side of the fence, while the U.S. Army is on the opposite side, battling over training limits and nationwide live-firing restrictions. Instead, the ABC covers everything from pollution control to development of environmentally friendly equipment--but it is concerned with one main objective.

"The whole point of the [AEC] is to help preserve training areas," says Col. Stan Lillie, the AEC's commander.

Assuming command in August 2000,: Lillie quickly began moving the AEC into the 21st century. During an interview at ABC headquarters, he explains that the center is being restructured to better support the Army, capitalize on new growth areas and realize its strengths.

The realignment is designed to accommodate the center's three main divisions-Environmental Technology, Environmental Quality and Environmental Restoration.

Equipment development issues lie with the Environmental Technology Division. It provides support to the Army to ensure major weapons systems are incorporating environmental requirements. Not to be mistaken as a hindrance to new technology, this division works with its eyes on budgets.

"What we're trying to do is affect the beginning of the process versus fixing the problem at the end," says Dean Hutchins, an ABC environmental engineer.

By reviewing costs that major weapons systems generate and interviewing people at all levels, even down to those working in motor pools, the division can better determine where upgrades can take place and predict environmental costs early in development stages.

Thanks to new procedures and attitudes, the ET Division is much more organized than before, says Erik Hangeland, an officer of the technology transfer branch of the ET division.

"In the past couple of years, the Army as a whole, has been putting together a more corporate orientation on their technology program to make it more responsive to user requirements and user needs out in the field," he says.

In addition to this expanded scope, some older, more-established tasks remain priorities for the ET Division. Hangeland says the top cleanup requirement is the "identification and discrimination of unexploded ordnance." This includes cleanup of installation landfills.

In the late 1970s, contaminated soil was a problem, especially near ammunition plants that operated as far back as World War II. When the Army began looking at the cleanup procedures around those installations, the prescribed cure was to incinerate the soil.

Using portable incinerators, the process would take a year or more in some areas, and the end result was sterile soil. …

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