By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Pitted against every branch of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Minnesota Army Nation Guard’s (MNARNG) environmental team won the top environmental award Aug. 27. The team was presented the 2014 Secretary of Defense Environmental Award for Environmental Quality by an Individual Team.
The Honorable Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army, installations, energy and environment, and Adjutant General Richard Nash presented the award to the team.
Hammack said that the award was a significant achievement which reflected the dedication and efforts of the Minnesota Army National Guard’s environmental management team in the areas of energy efficiency, sustainability and environmental training.
The award was presented to those individuals, teams and installations on the forefront of effort to protect and sustain the environment while ensuring sustainable training opportunities for all soldiers utilizing Camp Ripley.
Instrumental in accomplishing this feat was Jay Brezinka, Camp Ripley’s environmental supervisor and part of the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program.
Marty Skoglund, environmental program manager for the Minnesota Army National Guard, said the mission of the MNARNG is to support the highest possible environmental standard. The team’s commitment to environmental quality is demonstrated from training to pollution control efforts, resource protection and conservation.
He said that recycling, waste stream reduction and energy conservation all help to stretch the MNARNG’s resources further and make the organization more self-reliant.
“The team is an independent, self-sufficient organization using minimal outside services,” said Skoglund.
“They are effective in complying with laws, going over and above what is required. They set the standard for the model,” he said.
The environmental quality team ensures the MNARNG’s program is considered one of the most effective and efficient in the nation. It also ensures that training sites and facsimiles remain fully compliant and unimpeded by regulatory concerns. It makes sure soldiers and staff meet benchmarks and perform their jobs safely and efficiently.
A sample of the accomplishments of the environmental quality team are:
•Establishing online training courses for soldiers and staff;
•Developing a proposal for three wood biomass heating systems covering 58 buildings;
•Completing a plan with a goal of achieving net zero in the areas of energy, water and solid waste;
•Preparing a sustainability plan to meet a state mandate regarding pollution prevention;
•Being one of the first in Minnesota to update its wellhead protection plan which is now used as a model by the Minnesota Department of Health. The plan will ensure a safe supply of water for camp and its surrounding communities.
•Helping to reduce water usage throughout MNARNG by 26 percent which surpassed the 2 percent annual reduction goal;
•Achieving a landfill diversion rate of 53 percent of all solid waste generated by MNARNG facilities in 2012;
•Being involved in one of the top ACUB programs in the nation. It has received the most funding and accumulated the most acreage than any other program. Some of the land acquisitions have become Wildlife Management Areas such as the Little Nokasippi (670 acres) and soon the Gull River (1,200 acres);
•Leading the way in providing hunting and fishing opportunities for disabled American veterans, soldiers and youth groups. The team worked closely with Dennis Erie from the Veterans Administration in St. Cloud; and
• Being recognized more than 20 times for its environmental stewardship including four times as winners of the Department of Defense Environmental Security Award.
The award was three-tiered. First it was winning the National Guard competition against 54 states and territories. Then the MNARNG was asked to represent all Army National Guards.
“The Army then said the Minnesota National Guard should represent the Army against all branches of the service which included the Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard,” said Skoglund. “Secretary of Defense Ron Hagel then chose the MNARNG as the top environmental team in the world. It was an inspiring moment.”