Former bases offer communities earth-friendly education opportunities

  • Published
  • By Scott Johnston
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center Public Affairs
As one of 10,000 students at Arizona State University's Poly Technic campus at the former Williams Air Force Base, Ariz., Theodore Betkie heard about the Air Force's soil cleanup at his campus.

Since he knew past military operations caused some problems from fuel spills and leaks, he also had a few questions and wanted to see the Air Force Civil Engineer Center's cleanup up efforts in action.

Coordinating with Air Force representatives, Betkie's curiosity was satisfied with a site tour allowing him and classmates a close look at the soil vapor extraction unit right under their feet.

"We felt it would be better for the class to come out and take a first-hand look at some of the equipment," said Betkie, who is studying environmental technology management. "It was very educational. We wanted to get a better understanding of the process taking place out here and I feel more knowledgeable with what's happening here because of it." 

Michelle Lewis, an AFCEC engineer, explained the various cleanup technologies in place at the campus site to remedy problems from the former base gas station to the college students.

"We have students coming out that are actually studying the remediation process," said Lewis. "This gives them an opportunity to see what's going on, to learn about the process and to be involved instead of just sitting in the classroom and not really being able to interact. It's a great way for the Air Force to give back to the community."

Site tours are one example of AFCEC's efforts to educate and foster good environmental stewardship among community members at former bases across the country.

Another example is found at the former Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., where military open space -- once off limits to the public -- is now home to the Splash Education Center. Today the non-profit group helps children explore a 1,000 acres of vernal pools on the closed military site.

Splash offers local school children a chance to step into the wild, fostering environmental awareness using Mather's rare wetland ecosystem, unique to California.

Across town at the former McClellan Air Force Base, an annual Creek Week event offers another opportunity to explore and learn about creeks and aquatic wildlife. Volunteers pick up litter from two major creeks as part of the greater Urban Creek Council's awareness campaign.

"It's a great event for people who live and work in the surrounding community to come out and learn more about McClellan," said Steve Mayer, environmental coordinator at McClellan.

At former bases all across the country, students like Betkie are putting information provided by AFCEC to good use in their pursuit of earth-friendly education.

"We are grateful to the Air Force for allowing us this opportunity," said Betkie. "It's one thing to talk about soil remediation in the classroom with PowerPoint slide shows and lectures, but it's a whole other thing to see it up close and personal."