Field trip energizes environmental effort for USARHAW leaders

| July 27, 2017 | 0 Comments
Kimberly Welch, an environmental outreach specialist with the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program, conducts a tour of an Army greenhouse filled with rare and endangered plants on July 13.

Kimberly Welch, an environmental outreach specialist with the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program, conducts a tour of an Army greenhouse filled with rare and endangered plants on July 13.

Story and photos by
Karen A. Iwamoto
Staff Writer

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — More often than not, U.S. Army Hawaii leaders learn about preservation and the environment through quarterly meetings of the Environmental Quality Control Committee.

Kapua Kawelo, USAG-HI's natural resource manager, explains how the Army stores the seedlings of rare and endangered plants in carefully temperature-controlled environments at the USAG-HI seed lab on July 13.

Kapua Kawelo, USAG-HI’s natural resource manager, explains how the Army stores the seedlings of rare and endangered plants in carefully temperature-controlled environments at the USAG-HI seed lab on July 13.

They gather inside the Post Conference Room, here, and sit through briefings accompanied by PowerPoint slides, disconnected from the cultural, historical and natural resources they are tasked with safeguarding.

“I would look at the faces of the people in attendance and see blank stares,” Rhonda Suzuki, chief of the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works, said of the effect of PowerPoint.

She and her colleagues decided to try something different.

“We wanted to get the message across (to the Soldiers) that we are just the subject matter experts, but this is your program, we need your help, we need your participation,” she said.

Sean Cusick, a Clean Water Act support officer for the USAG-HI Directorate of Public Works, explains the importance of preventing toxins from polluting water sources, July 13.

Sean Cusick, a Clean Water Act support officer for the USAG-HI Directorate of Public Works, explains the importance of preventing toxins from polluting water sources, July 13.

So instead of meeting in a conference room, her office arranged a July 13 field trip to USARHAW’s Natural Resources Baseyard, where about 70 USARHAW leaders and their staff got face time with some of the Army’s cultural and environmental experts; they were also given tours of an Army greenhouse and an Army seed lab, both of which house rare plants endemic to Hawaii.  Should a disaster, such as a wildfire, destroy native foliage on Army training grounds, the plants stored on the baseyard could be used in repopulation efforts.

“This really beats sitting in the Post Conference Room doing death by PowerPoint,” Col. Stephen E. Dawson, commander of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, told those gathered at the baseyard. “I think you’ll be really impressed by what you see here. Right behind me are hundreds of indigenous Native Hawaiian plant species that you’ll learn about; they’re found nowhere else in the world. A couple of them were thought to be extinct in the wild but they are here.

“They’re also out in the training areas,” he continued. “So you’re going to learn about what (our subject matter experts) do day in an day out to ensure the Army in Hawaii is complying with environmental protection laws, the Endangered Species Act, cultural preservation laws and everything else we have to do to preserve the natural resources and cultural resources that are important to the Native Hawaiians so that we can train in harmony with everything that is around us.”

The attendees were divided into smaller groups and rotated between seven informational stations, where they learned about water quality, recycling, cultural resources and environmental threats. They got to see the seeds of rare endemic plants and the cryogenic tank, which preserves some of the seeds in sub-zero temperatures.

For most, it was an eye-opening experience.

“I’m leaving more energized, wanting to put more effort into supporting the environment,” said Col. William Nutter, commander of the 9th Mission Support Command (Theater).

Col. Christine Lang of Tripler Army Medical Center said she had not known that the Army had a greenhouse and a seed lab to preserve rare and native species.

“These plants are found nowhere else in the world and we are protecting them,” she said.

Christina Vicari, a contractor and environmental project specialist with the 9th Mission Sustainment Command (Theater), said, “I didn’t realize that fire could be such a serious threat. I’ve been working here for 5 1/2 years, but I’ve learned a lot today.”

Suzuki considers the trip a success, saying that those who attended left with a better sense of what’s at stake and a resolve to become more involved.

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