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AFCEC support sections empower Air Force mission

Jared Kwitowski, a 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist, processes a potential Green Sea Turtle nest July 12 on the Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, beach. The Tyndall natural resources office helps protect these endangered sea turtles during the hatching process to ensure their survival. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Eglin Installation Support Section helps bases in the Florida Panhandle identify requirements and develop permits and plans to execute environmental and civil engineering projects. (U.S. Air Force photo/Shannon Carabajal)

Jared Kwitowski, a 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist, processes a potential Green Sea Turtle nest July 12 on the Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, beach. The Tyndall natural resources office helps protect these endangered sea turtles during the hatching process to ensure their survival. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Eglin Installation Support Section helps bases in the Florida Panhandle identify requirements and develop permits and plans to execute environmental and civil engineering projects. (U.S. Air Force photo/Shannon Carabajal)

Contractors install a directionally drilled, horizontal sparge well under an airfield at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, to clean up a fuel contaminated groundwater plume. A sparge well injects air into a groundwater table which bubbles up through contaminated water, stripping contaminates out and restoring the site to regulatory levels. In addition to helping the base develop a work plan and obtain necessary permits and waivers, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center installation support section on Robins oversaw the construction and long-term operation of the remediation system. (Courtesy photo)

Contractors install a directionally drilled, horizontal sparge well under an airfield at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, to clean up a fuel contaminated groundwater plume. A sparge well injects air into a groundwater table which bubbles up through contaminated water, stripping contaminates out and restoring the site to regulatory levels. In addition to helping the base develop a work plan and obtain necessary permits and waivers, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center installation support section on Robins oversaw the construction and long-term operation of the remediation system. (Courtesy photo)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Florida -- Across the Air Force, environmental specialists from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center are working behind the scenes to ensure long-term suitability of environments for military operations. Their job may not be glamorous, but it is important and serves one purpose.

“(We) enable the mission,” said Henry Birdsong, a member of the AFCEC Installation Support Section at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

Part of the AFCEC Environmental Management Directorate at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, 18 support sections are located throughout the U.S. supporting installations by planning and programming requirements, developing permits and plans, and executing projects. The sections act as base advocates, addressing regional issues and leading Air Force initiatives for environmental quality and restoration issues. The teams also develop, acquire and oversee contracts in their regions.

At Eglin, that support enables important environmental and civil engineering projects such as a solar farm development and installation, the gopher tortoise rehoming initiative, and habitat restoration and management for the red-cockaded woodpecker, the Okaloosa darter, sea turtles and other endangered species animals found on installations in the Florida Panhandle.

“Developing habitat offsets habitat loss so the mission can continue; the net benefit to the habitat and endangered species is actually far greater,” Birdsong explained.

Support sections range in size from 9 to 22 people and support up to six installations each. The Eglin section supports Eglin, Tyndall and Hurlburt Field in Florida.

“Our subject matter experts know the Air Force’s position, rules and requirements and work closely with the installations’ environmental and civil engineering specialists. A successful day for us includes getting answers for the bases, moving projects forward and keeping the mission going,” Birdsong said.

AFCEC installation support sections stood up about five years ago to centralize and standardize environmental support and ensure bases around the Air Force receive equal funding for their environmental programs. A typical day for a team includes developing budgets and plans, initiating or renewing environmental permits, and reviewing projects to ensure natural and cultural resources are protected while rules and regulations are followed.

Birdsong has been part of the Eglin installation support section since it stood up and worked directly for the installation prior to joining the team.

"There are many benefits to the (support section construct). Centralization and a standardized approach is providing resources to some 'have-not' bases, reducing overall costs and achieving efficiencies," he explained.

A strong relationship between support sections and the installations is one reason for that success.

“The relationship is the first part of making sure we’re successful. We help each other and (the Eglin installation support section) makes sure I get all the rules and information from AFCEC on what’s required, anything new, that kind of stuff,” said Tim Langley, Eglin’s fuel storage tank program manager.

The teams work together to help the Air force fly, fight and win.

“The environmental piece keeps (our Airmen) doing the mission – supports the warfighter – while protecting the environment. It’s a team effort to maintain that balance,” Langley added.

“Mission first, no doubt. Environment always.”