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Green Warriors: Army Environmental Considerations for Contingency Operations from Planning through Post-Conflict

Green Warriors: Army Environmental Considerations for Contingency Operations from Planning through Post-Conflict by David E. Mosher et al. RAND Corporation, 2008, 252 pp.

This study caught my eye, reminding me of the time during my deployment to Iraq when I observed long, smoldering, 10-meter-high trash berms on our forward operating base. Although this seemed a logical way to deal with the mountains of garbage created by large numbers of American and coalition personnel, I wondered about the effects on the health of the deployed troops and the contractors manning the burn sites, as well as the long-term damage to the Iraqi environment. Green Warriors examines this problem together with other environmental considerations for contingency operations, as the subtitle indicates. RAND prepared this study for the US Army, but it applies equally to the Air Force, which runs contingency bases, deals with logistics issues, and, in any case, often manages disparate missions within joint operations.

Straightforward and logically organized, Green Warriors allows easy access to its discussions and recommendations. In the first two chapters, the team of researchers looks at the policy, legal, and operational context of environmental issues during contingency operations. They compare this context to similar situations at home bases, providing a meaningful parallel for individuals with experience in this area. Significantly, very few environmental policies apply to contingency operations (p. 27) although many environmental advocates assign responsibilities to military units (p. 35). This disconnect, when buried among the many missions of a deployed force, often results in the neglect of environmental issues.

The study then examines and analyzes contingency operations. Chapter 4 provides “nine insights that we [the authors] believe are central to understanding and ultimately improving the Army’s policy, doctrine, training, and operations” (p. 95). Even though some of these insights seem fairly obvious, such as the seventh one—“Country-Specific Conditions and Needs Should Be Considered” (p. 114)—the treatment of the topic is complete and offers a good reference for a commander who wishes to include these recommendations in premission planning.

The final chapter discusses seven findings and makes six recommendations concerning environmental considerations, specifying ways the Army can apply them at various organizational levels. The book proceeds logically, never leaving the reader wondering what the authors intend to communicate. The general conclusion is not too surprising: due to other, higher priorities and a lack of expertise, the Army does not do well in considering the environment during any phase of contingency operations. At best, environmental issues are only an afterthought in planning operations. If considered at all, they usually default to engineering or logistics, two career tracks that have higher priorities than the environment, especially during deployments abroad to bare-base situations that involve little guidance and wide-ranging responsibilities.

However, the authors contend that environmental matters should not take a backseat, examining operations from the tactical to the strategic levels and arguing that the environment plays a role from all vantage points. At the tactical level, key issues include complying with local environmental laws and ensuring the health of American troops. A commander can meet these objectives by choosing equipment and supplies having a relatively low environmental impact. However, doing so requires much planning prior to arriving in the theater of operations. For example, the extensive use of disposable products in dining facilities, the reliance on toxic industrial chemicals, or the disposal of motor oil may cause problems that one could avoid by formulating other options in advance.

At the strategic level, the Army must deal with how environmental problems might affect the “hearts and minds” of the local people and the health of the country’s ecosystems. For example, in Baghdad members of the 1st Cavalry realized that they encountered less resistance in areas where water, sewage, trash, and electricity services were functioning (p. 134). The American military can benefit from the public relations value of observing environmental standards and recognizing the importance of the environment for the locals, even if they themselves do not recognize that importance. Take, for instance, the often-cited example of the significance of date palms to the livelihood of Iraqi farmers, even if they present an operational or security hazard to American forces.

Green Warriors attempts to enlarge the conception and responsibilities of the American military by looking at warfare from a fuller perspective. As the military discovered in Vietnam and then forgot until Afghanistan and Iraq, the scope of its responsibility demands a change in the traditional Cold War force-on-force operational mind-set. The growing acceptance of counterinsurgency warfare and humanitarian assistance has led the military to embrace nation building and stability operations as true, worthwhile missions. The expansion into environmental considerations overlaps these areas and forces the military to focus upon yet another basket of responsibilities. The latter not only will help the mission succeed but also will allow the United States at least to maintain a contingency area’s environment or, preferably, improve it—a key to the long-term success of American policy.

The authors reach an unsurprising conclusion—that the US Army needs to do a better job of handling environmental concerns in contingency operations—but they go further by straightforwardly pointing out ways the military can do just this. To give substance to the discussion, the contributors augment the critique and suggestions with case studies that illustrate the Army’s past performance. Principally, the Army’s problems with environmental matters stem from its need to concentrate on other priorities and from its lack of environmental expertise. The fact that the service probably will not solve these anytime soon sharpens the necessity of interagency collaboration in which civilian experts from throughout the government accompany the military to help perform these tasks. Involving more than destruction and occupation, warfare includes a spectrum of environmental issues that the US military must accommodate in order to meet the policy goals of the US government.

Lt Col Robert Munson, USAFR

Camp Taji, Iraq

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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