Hurlburt Field takes action every day for a greener tomorrow

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
As April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, millions of people around the world will commemorate the occasion in their own unique ways. Those who plant a tree or host a highway clean-up will be preserving their surrounding's natural beauty as well as raising awareness about the day's purpose.

But as important as this date is, looking after our environment should never be limited to a single day.

Since last year's Earth Day, Hurlburt Field has taken numerous bold actions to keep its commitment for a better, greener tomorrow. Throughout the year, the 1st Special Operations Wing leadership underscored efficiency and responsibility in energy conservation, recycling, wildlife protection and waste management to the base at large.

"We've been working on an aggressive environmental and energy-use awareness campaign including hazardous waste disposal, educational programs and the beautification and clean-up of our surroundings to make our Earth Day visions into year-long actions," said Col. Greg Lengyel, 1st SOW commander.

The success of that campaign depended on the regular contributions of the base community toward each of its goals.

For example, the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron noted in May 2009 that the base installed more than 1,500 energy-efficient, compact fluorescent bulbs as part of "Operation Change Out." The change is projected to save nearly $50,000 on energy bills and prevent more than 1.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over the lifetime of the bulbs.

In that same month, the Youth Center began a six-month construction of an outdoor classroom where children could play and learn in nature. It went on to become nationally designated as the first Nature Explore-certified classroom in the state of Florida, the Air Force and on any military installation.

For the first two quarters of fiscal year 2010, the base diverted nearly 2.5 million pounds of material from landfills to other projects like creating fertilizers from sludge and using old tires to make new ones. Craig Overstreet, 1st SOCES pollution prevention program manager, said the base is set to surpass the previous record of four million pounds diverted during fiscal year 2008.

"If you look at our base as a city, which it is with the basic supplies and processes, we don't pollute, except very, very minimally," Mr. Overstreet said. "We have cut pollution down so far through buying green products that it'd be hard to find any city in America that does a better job of taking care of the environment."

During the same two quarters, the base recycled more than 160,000 pounds of metals, papers, glass and plastics thus saving more than $110,000 in cost avoidance.

Hurlburt Field also took the environmental opportunity to educate personnel about encountering wildlife on base during the annual Family Fest and Egg Hunt at the Community Park April 3. The 1st SOCES team partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to teach children about discouraging bears from entering their neighborhood by properly disposing garbage, which can create an unintended food source.

"Wildlife education is important because the bears can get used to eating garbage and it's harder to stop them doing it once they're habituated to it," said Philip Pruitt, 1st SOCES natural resource element chief. "The focus is on finding ways for us to better coexist within their natural habitat."

The base also participated in Okaloosa County's Earth and Arbor Day celebrations at the Fort Walton Beach Landing April 16. According to Mr. Overstreet, more than 1,000 children visited his team's booths complete with educational storyboards and models of solar-powered cars.

"Events like that show the community that we really care about the environment and take recycling and energy conservation seriously," he said. "Of course, these are things the community talks about, too, so it shows we are committed to being a really good neighbor."

The base hazardous material co-op also partnered with Okaloosa County for its collection program at the hazardous waste facility April 16. The teams collected thousands of pounds of stale gasoline, paint, pesticides and computer monitors to keep them out of landfills and the water supply.

"We collected more than 24,000 pounds of hazardous waste from residential folks and employees on base and that was a record amount," said Randy Trent, 1st SOCES hazardous waste management. "The county was so pleased with the turnout that they scheduled another event for October."

The base will also observe Arbor Day with a clean-up event at the Youth Center April 29 and a tree-planting ceremony at the base library April 30.

"We've made a lot of progress since Earth Day was established in 1970," Mr. Pruitt said. "A lot of endangered species have come off the list, and we've made big strides with respect to reducing river and air pollution. People are becoming more aware about how we can all do our part to make our world a better place."

As this year's Earth Day comes to a close, Hurlburt Field will continue to lead the way in making the day's theme a year-round mission.

"I challenge every person on base to take Earth Day's message to heart not only for today, but every day to make a better, greener future a reality," Colonel Lengyel said.