523rd Engineer Co. fights wildfires, Guinea grass

| October 15, 2010 | 0 Comments

Story and Photo by 
Spc. Jason Murphy
523rd Engineer Company, 84th Eng. Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command

(Left to right) Sgt. Ronnie Kenedy, a construction equipment mechanic; Spc. Jason Duncan, an armorer; and Pvt. Courtney Ligibel, a construction equipment operator, all assigned to the 523rd Eng. Co., 84th Eng. Bn., 130th Eng. Bde., use weed wackers to control alien plant invasion at Kuaokala Forest Reserve, recently, as part of an environmental outreach program.KUAOKALA FOREST RESERVE — Five Soldiers from the 523rd Engineer Company, 84th Eng. Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, teamed with members of the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program,  here, recently, to help mitigate the spreading of wildfires.  

The project was coordinated through the unit’s community outreach program.

The team, armed with weed wackers, embarked on a 45-minute drive up the rugged, mountainous terrain to the ridgeline of the Kuaokala Forest Reserve, at the northwest corner of Oahu. 

Their target was Guinea grass. While Guinea grass is not native to the Hawaiian islands, the species thrives, here. Guinea grass grows in thick mats and suppresses other plant life, often dominating large areas and forcing other plants to die. Dead plants are the foremost contributor to wildfires. 

The live Guinea grass plant, however, is fire tolerant. So, after a fire, Guinea grass thrives, continuing a dangerous cycle.

The team arrived at the Nike station, an old radar station that has been converted into a plant nursery, where more than 50 species of endangered native plants are being preserved. The area is fenced to keep predators from destroying the endangered plant species, and a dirt road serves as a firebreak for the protected area. 

However, the Guinea grass had nearly overrun the firebreak. Now, it was up to the Army to clear a path to protect the sanctuary.

After unloading the gear, a call came over the radio stating that a wildfire had been spotted about eight miles from the team’s current location. 

“From where we were, we could see the smoke from the wildfire, and I realized how important the job was,” said Spc. Jason Duncan, 523rd Eng. Co., 84th Eng. Bn., 130th Eng. Bde.

Smaller teams branched off and made their way down the road, cutting down large patches of the invasive grass. Carrying only a weed wacker and his water, one of the Soldiers commented that the work was akin to getting an entire week’s worth of physical training — in one day.  

After five hours of clearing, it was time for a new challenge: the hike back up to the top of the ridgeline.  

Members of the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program informed Soldiers that the dead plants would quickly decompose and give native plants an opportunity to thrive in the area again.  

“I really feel like I have accomplished something today,” said Spc. Nicholas Weisner, 523rd Eng. Co., 84th Eng. Bn., 130th Eng. Bde.

The Soldiers witnessed firsthand the effects of introducing foreign plant life into an ecosystem, and how something as simple as Guinea grass can drive multiple species of plants to near extinction. 

“Without projects like this, Hawaii would be at risk,” explained Sgt. Michael Johnson, 523rd Eng. Co., 84th Eng. Bn., 130th Eng. Bde. “It feels good to help.” 

Category: Community

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