An Eglin wildland firefighter lights up straw to create a fire around a simulated helicopter crash prior to a mass casualty exercise Oct. 3 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The community-wide exercise deep in the Eglin range encompassed 96th Test Wing first responders, 6th Ranger Training Battalion personnel and Okaloosa County first responders among others. The exercise evaluated Ranger actions and base and local responses to both a lightning strike and helicopter crash. The wildland firefighters are responsible for the large-scale controlled forest burns throughout the Eglin range. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
Eglin’s Natural Resources Management, known as Jackson Guard, recently won the 2019 Secretary of Defense Natural Resources Conservation Award.
The Department of Defense established the Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards to celebrate military service members and civilians for their exceptional commitment to protecting human health and the environment while advancing the military mission.
This is the fourth DOD award Eglin’s Natural Resources Management Branch claimed in the last nine years. In all, Eglin’s Environmental Management Division also won the DoD Sustainability Award in 2017, the DoD Environmental Quality Award in 2016 and the DoD Cultural Resources Management Award in 2011, bringing their total to seven DOD awards in nine years.
“Being recognized seven times out of the last nine years as the best in the Department of Defense reflects the truly exceptional team we have guiding Eglin’s environmental stewardship. I am proud of their dedication and for demonstrating we can execute our military mission while making environmental conservation a high priority,” said Brig. Gen. Evan Dertien, 96th Test Wing commander.
Eglin was recognized for relocating 1,030 gopher tortoises to avoid its listing under the Endangered Species Act and potential mission impediments. The unit also conducted 160 prescribed burns across more than 145,000 acres on base, removing 290,000 tons of hazardous fuel biomass, and reducing wildfires caused by mission activities on test areas by 20 percent.
Jackson Guard consists of nearly 50 civilian and contractor biologists, scientists, foresters and fire management specialists. They are responsible for managing a vast assemblage of distinct natural community types, the largest forested military reservation and over 120,000 square miles of water ranges, while enabling essential DOD missions.
Credit for the accomplishment goes well beyond the team at the 96th Civil Engineer Group, said Maria Rodriguez, 96th CEG environmental management chief.
“It’s definitely a reflection of the base leadership’s commitment to being good stewards of the environment. Understanding that the military missions here can thrive because our stewardship, not in spite of it, is key to having total buy-in to our management practices,” she said.