Protecting the environment while projecting Airpower

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Sutton

U.S. service members participating in Operation Pacific Iron 21 on Tinian are making sure that protecting the environment is a priority while projecting airpower.

The military members have spent the past week working side-by-side with representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture and local officials in order to safely operate.

"It's critical we work with the military to preserve our environment," said Juanita Mendiola, 18th Tinian Municipal Council secretary. "This island is my identity, it's who I am. I have lived on Tinian most of my life. We have asked the military to work with us to ensure our environment is safe for everyone while they are here training."

The ecosystem on Tinian boasts vibrant plant and some animal life found nowhere else on Earth.

"I think my role here is important to ensure the environment is safe from invasive species," said Emily Selberg, USDA biological science technician and K-9 handler. "I'm here with my K-9, Toby, to ensure no snakes, specifically brown tree snakes, arrive on Tinian. These snakes can heavily and negatively impact the local environment and more specifically the local bird population."

Tinian has no native snakes and is home to the Tinian Monarch, a small bird found nowhere else in the world.

"Besides, myself and Toby, there are snake traps all along the fence line of the airport to ensure safety," said Selberg. "Along with snakes, if a rhinoceros beetle was to come to Tinian, it would be really bad for the palm trees here. Because of that, there are also beetle traps along the airport fence line that have a pheromone in them that the beetles are attracted to."

Selberg and Toby work daily inspecting cargo and aircraft arriving to support Pacific Iron.

"Toby was trained in the United States to locate snakes with his amazing sense of smell," said Selberg. "I have been taking him all around when aircraft arrive so he can help me check for any unwanted species. We have been thoroughly checking the cargo of every aircraft that lands and I have been checking the landing gear of jets as that's where the snakes like to be."

Tinian is a critical location for military operations and service members understand an important part of military readiness is environmental protection.

"Protecting the environment is vital for us out here," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Darren Albrecht, 366th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuel operations supervisor. It's basically Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants 101...don't spill a drop. We have been focusing on conducting our operations safely and in coordination with the USDA and local representatives here. We understand the importance of taking care of the environment and follow the guidelines to the letter."

Airmen deployed for Pacific Iron are honing their Multi-capable Airmen skills to include being good environmental stewards.

"Tinian is such a unique natural habitat," said Albrecht. "We want to make sure we do everything possible to ensure we have zero negative impact on the environment here while executing our mission as effectively as possible."