TAMPA - When you think of environmental activists, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace may come to mind. But some argue the U.S. Military is doing more to lead us toward energy independence than any other institution in America. A new breed of so-called “greenhawks” may be leading the way toward energy independence.
Colonel Dan Nolan remembers the day in 2006 when the Marines, fighting a bloody insurgency in Al Anbar province, requested a hybrid electric power station.
"I looked at the request and said, 'when did our Marines become Birkenstock-wearing tree-huggers?'".
Nolan was an military advisor at the time and soon realized why the Marines wanted to save gas. "It was because the most dangerous thing to do in the Anbar province at the time was drive 5 gallons of fuel to the border site on the Syrian border to power up the generators for the electronics" explained Nolan.
Since then, Colonel Nolan, a Bay Area resident has been spreading the message that green is the most patriotic color of all. "I believe this isn't a Democrat issue. It's not a Republican issue. It's an American issue and we want to take a stand" said Nolan.
The Pentagon is getting the message. MacDill's own recently installed commander, General James Mattis was quoted as saying, "Unleash us from the tether of fuel."
Today, base commanders are under orders to find ways to conserve. Plug-in electric cars are in use at Fort Bliss, Solar panels power operations at Ascension Airbase in the South Atlantic. Tents in Afghanistan are being coated with a tough, insulating foam that dramatically lowers the cost of air conditioning.
Nolan is a vice president of a Tampa firm called Capture Energy Solutions. The energy development company is seeking to build solar, methane, and geothermal energy plants at military bases around the world.
But the savings transcend money. Army Specialist, Robin Eckstein drove fuel trucks across Iraq after deploying in 2003. She shudders at the recollection of friends killed in roadside attacks. The slow-moving, thin-skinned vehicles used to transport fuel and water are favorite targets of the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After leaving the Army, Eckstein joined other veterans in an organization called "Operation Free." The group supports a comprehensive energy bill that would reduce the flow of american dollars to oil rich countries. "The fact that when we go to the gas pump that I'm helping to fund terrorists who are firing back at my friends over in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's just unacceptable" Eckstein said.
The estimated one billion dollars a day the United States spends on foreign oil prompted the former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, to say, “This is the first time since the Civil War that America has funded both sides of the conflict."
The Pentagon has also identified global warming as a threat to our national security - citing the floods in Pakistan that put thousands of refugees on the move. "They're not going west to Afghanistan. To the east is India. Now you've got the potential for conflict between two nuclear armed neighbors," said Colonel Nolan.
The urgency is not shared at all levels of the military. A bureaucracy that size doesn't change quickly, but Nolan believes a groundswell of support for alternative energy is growing.
"There are an awful lot of folks who are coming back from having fought wars over oil who want to see a change."
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