U.S. military fosters environmental awareness, protection during training
Military exercises can be big, loud and destructive by nature. After all, when Soldiers train in the most realistic scenarios, they’re better prepared for missions.
But what consideration is given to the surroundings where troops conduct drills? Can military training and care for the environment coexist? In the United States military, they can, and U.S. service members enter a space mindful of the acceptable level of disturbance to land, sea and wildlife.
“Everyone recognizes the need for the military to train,” John Mosher of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, who led environmental awareness efforts for exercise Northern Edge in Alaska in 2021, said at the time. “What a lot of people don’t know is the lengths we go to make sure we do it correctly.”
(Pictured: U.S. troops conduct an air assault insertion during exercise Northern Edge 2021 in Alaska.)
The U.S. Army Environmental Command published a guide with key factors for mitigating risks to the landscape. Steps to ensure respectful environmental engagement include:
- Committing adequate staff and funding to ensure compliance with federal, state and local environmental laws and regulations.
- Implementing a hazardous material management program.
- Addressing concerns of federally recognized native tribes and indigenous communities.
- Supporting restoration efforts to clean up contamination caused by waste management and disposal practices.
- Training troops in environmental compliance.
- Informing the local community of military activities and addressing any concerns.
“Environmental degradation jeopardizes the well-being of the local population and can undermine host nation support for U.S. policies,” according to a 2022 U.S. Army report on environmental considerations. “Integrating environmental considerations also sustains resources, reduces the logistics footprint, promotes positive host nation relations and supports post-conflict stability efforts. These objectives contribute to mission effectiveness and serve as force multipliers rather than mission distracters when properly integrated.”
When more than 15,000 military personnel descended on Alaska in 2021 for Northern Edge, a biennial exercise typically held between April and October, the U.S. Navy understood the risk of potentially disturbing the host state’s enormous land and maritime ecosystems. Sailors collaborated with native Alaskan organizations, elected officials and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enact mitigation measures and limit environmental harm.
Since 2009, the Navy has focused on protecting marine and coastal environments in the Gulf of Alaska, including a $6 million investment in 2020 to monitor marine species, according to U.S. Pacific Air Forces. Scientific advances are also helping troops reduce their environmental footprint. Military officials say they will continue refining efforts to protect and conserve Alaska’s environment, as well as other locations where troops train.
IMAGE CREDIT: MAJ. JASON WELCH/U.S. ARMY