SERE: Man is the environmental impact

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"You want to know what an environmental impact is? Man. Man is the environmental impact."

With detailed site surveys and overlook of permits for 43 geographically separated pieces of land over a four-state area, Todd Foster, 336th Training Group training area manager, knows the environmental impact of the U.S. Air Force Survival School and the resources consumed to meet Air Force training requirements for students.

By compiling historical data, visual field sight inspections and surveys, Foster has created a detailed catalog of information about the training area land.

"Part of my report is a detailed record of the land," said Foster. "I know what happened before we were out there, so I have no question of whether or not we did it."

Foster said he knows the history of the land, if any hazardous materials were dumped by the public, and if it is still a safe area for students to continue training. For instance, a whole town formerly on the coast of Oregon once existed in a current training area but was washed away due to jetties being installed by the local community to create a more accessible dock for ships.

Foster has not only backtracked the land history, but is constantly thinking about the natural resources used and the future of the training area land.

Rick Hall, Air Force liaison to the U.S. Forest Service and a prior Marine, who attended the Marine Survival School, came into his position with an open mind and ideas he shared with Foster.

"When you start taking resources, you start losing training land," said Foster, who is a retired Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist with more than 20 years of military experience. "It wasn't until Rick came along with his ideas and listened to my concerns that we started making changes."

Together, they began implementing changes.

Knowing that resources don't last forever, Foster and Hall developed a plan to combat resource depletion.

At $1 a tree, they began planting trees to replace the trees used during U.S. Air Force Survival School training. By getting on the contract that the Forest Service uses to replace trees, the Air Force is effectively planting between 500 and 1,200 trees per training area when they move to a new training area.

"By replanting trees when we pull out of an area, we are effectively jumpstarting nature by 10 to 15 years," said Foster.

Hall said the biggest difference has been the mindset toward conservation, not thinking of just 'this training cycle for students,' but thinking five to 10 years down the road and the conservation of the resources - namely the training area land.

"From the lowest guy to the top guy, they get the big picture of 10 or more years down the road," said Hall, who ensures the school and its students are in compliance with forestry standards and presenting the Air Force plans to the Forest service. "The relationship with the Air Force and the Forest Service is very good, and we're going in a good direction."

"It's never been he and I, it's always been us," added Foster referencing the relationship between Foster and Hall and, subsequently, the Air Force and the Forest Service. "We need to do this, us. Not you, not me. Us."

From visual site and close out inspections, archiving and analyzing historical data, planting trees, maintaining the training area roads, working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Air Force, Foster and Hall are always one step closer to their goal.

"I think we have done everything we could have done to ensure the longevity of our training area," said Foster. "It's nice that the Air Force recognized the importance of that, because when this all started they could have easily said 'no' to making the conservation changes."

[This is part two of a six part series covering the men, women and mission of the 336th Training Group]