By FRANCES LAMBERTS
They have barrels of oil air-dropped to them in some desert or other area in the countries where American service members are engaged in war-fighting or war support operations. They then must ferry the oil, in tanker trucks, to and around battle fields and bases out of which they operate.
In Afghanistan and Iraq during 2002 to 2008, the Military used nearly two billion gallons of fuel, service members say in a documentary film soon to be shown at East Tennessee State University.
At only 5 miles to the gallon, the tanker trucks’ fuel efficiency is extremely low and armored personnel carriers’ lower yet. As 50 percent of all convey loads involve fuel transport and their dangerous routes are preferred targets of improvised-explosive-device attacks, many soldiers have lost life or limb this way. The film’s title aptly points to the high “Burden” in servicemen lost when base- and warfare operations are thus chained to oil.
In it, Greg Ballard, a marine Gulf war veteran and now Mayor of Indianapolis, states this insistence that “our sons and daughters and friends no longer should have to die guarding oil. We had to fight to defend it 20 or 30 years ago, but American innovation has allowed us to move away from it now.”
His innovation? Cars in the Indianapolis motor race brandish a “sugarcane ethanol” fuel logo, and all city vehicles running on oil-based fuels are to be be phased out a few years hence.
Military leaders are applying and promoting energy innovation to make their operations safer and more cost effective. The navy pioneers in bio-fuels production to power its carriers; combat outposts are being made more effective through highly energy-efficient operations; bases are solarized to have their computers, radios, lights, and generators run without need for oil trucked in; the Air Force Academy aims to obtain all its electricity from renewable sources, soon.
The transitioning to home-grown and non-carbon based energy draws this remark from the Navy Secretary: “It helps address a military vulnerability from oil, it’s helping our farmers, entrepreneurs and our industrial base — but to make us better at war fighting is the main reason we are doing it.”
Through lessening its oil dependency, the military endeavors to protect troop operations and effectiveness in the field, as well as make the naval and other bases more secure and resilient from climate change effects. It often lacks understanding and support from the Congress, though, given that now only few — 19 percent — veterans serve in that body, versus 65 percent in 1973.
The Congress should — enthusiastically, not grudgingly — support the military leaders’ vision and efforts in these matters, to lighten the problems from oil dependence on the lives and performance of our service men, the national economy, and the climate.
Sponsored by the ETSU Department of Sustainability and the Northeast Tennessee chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, there will be a free showing of “The Burden” documentary, in Brown Hall Auditorium on April 18, at 7 PM, with post-film discussion by retired Air Force Major General Devereaux.
The public is invited.