How Green is Camouflage?

2005 Army Earth Day poster (Source: U.S. Army Environmental Center)The U.S. Army celebrated Earth Day this year with a special campaign called "Sustaining the Environment for a Secure Future." The effort's website features links to an Army Earth Day message, an Army Earth Day video promo, computer screen wallpaper, and a commemorative poster.

"We are a nation at war. The need to protect our homeland has never been clearer," the Army's message states. "The Army's Strategy for the Environment establishes a long-range vision that focuses efforts that sustain our mission. For success in the global war on terrorism we must carry out our responsibilities for the long-term. The land, air, and water resources we work and train on are vital to both our present and future missions. We must use those resources wisely in a manner that reflects our devotion to duty and respect for the needs of tomorrow's Soldiers."

The Army's message may be in response to last October's budget cuts from environmental projects on military bases, a consequence of Iraq war funding priorities. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reported in October 2004 that military training exercises on Army bases were in "potential jeopardy" because of the cuts. In the name of national defense, the Army has been exempted for the past three years from certain environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as long as the Army has prepared plans that "addresses special management consideration or protection." But with the funding cuts, the Army may no longer be able to create the required plans for critical habit areas contained in its 11.8 million acres.

In a September memo obtained by PEER, Major General Larry Gottardi wrote, "Forces Command no longer has visibility of the installation funding submissions, but we understand the magnitude of this policy change is to reduce the FY 06 proposed distribution of conservation program funding from over $60M to about $40M. The policy change also places the training mission in potential jeopardy by providing a sound legal basis for private parties or conservation activists to obtain court-ordered injunctions and effectively shut down all training operations."

Threatened with earlier budget cuts, Col. Joseph W. Aldridge of the Installation Management Agency sent a memo on "Natural Resources Management" to the Director of Environmental Programs in May 2004. "Sustainability of the US Army Reserve's training areas is crucial to the ongoing military mission. Proactive rather than reactive measures to natural resources compliance and management are both cost effective in the long term and the basis for current Department of Defense and US Army policies," Aldridge explained.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Army Environmental Center engages in self-promoting intra-Army PR, providing a "civilian correspondent to Soldiers Radio and Television staff to ensure that senior Army leaders, soldiers and their families are kept up to date on environmental issues." SRTV, itself a military PR channel, has daily broadcasts that "search out and tell the Army story to a growing audience of active, reserve, and retired components plus the Army's extensive civilian community."

Meanwhile, military funding bills are working their way through Congress. On Earth Day, Armed Forces News Service reported the Army sat before a Senate subcommittee, explaining its $419.3 billion fiscal 2006 budget request, highlighting recruitment, retention and equipment funding needs. The day prior, the Senate approved its version of an $81.26 billion supplemental emergency military spending bill.

Bush GreenWatch reports that Ft. Hood in Texas -- a recent stop on the President's road show -- "contains habitat for two endangered migratory songbirds, wintering bald eagles, peregrine falcon, whooping cranes, and a variety of other rare plant and animal species." But among the many "Hoo-ah!"s, nature-loving Bush's first priority was not acknowledging the critical wildlife habitat surrounding him. Instead, he recast history, declaring the taking of Baghdad "one of the great moments in the history of liberty."

"As both a matter of law and moral responsibility, the Army cannot shirk its duty to defend the lands and wildlife entrusted to its care," said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch. But, Ruch added, "The Pentagon is practicing bait and switch tactics by baiting Congress to exempt the military from environmental protection laws and then switching away the money that was used to justify the exemptions."