JACKSONVILLE, Fla. –
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for the Environment (DASN-E) visited Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS Jax) Oct. 21-23 for ground and aerial tours of the station, Outlying Field (OLF) Whitehouse and the Pinecastle bombing range complex.
Donald Schregardus is the Navy's principal policy advisor on environmental programs, including conservation of natural and cultural resources, compliance with environmental laws and regulations and cleanup of contaminated sites and programs for pollution prevention.
He attended a number of briefings centered on resource sustainability and encroachment partnering - as well as the integration of P-8 multi-mission patrol aircraft and MH-60R helicopters into the fleet.
After a safety briefing in the HSL-44 paraloft, Schregardus boarded an SH-60B Seahawk helicopter with Pinecastle Range Complex Manager Don Heaton for an aerial tour of facilities in the NAS Jax Area of Responsibility.
OLF Whitehouse is a 2,400-acre facility located west of the station, where squadrons from the Atlantic and gulf coasts use the runway for field carrier landing practice (FCLP) and helicopter training. Schregardus learned that the surrounding community is notified by the Navy when FCLP operations (conducted under both daytime and nighttime conditions) will occur.
Heaton also pointed out environmental initiatives such as the burrow relocation program that moves endangered gopher tortoises from operational areas to restored longleaf pine acreage at OLF Whitehouse with higher wildlife habitat values.
The aerial tour continued toward the Ocala National Forest south of Palatka. The Pinecastle Range is the only place on the East Coast where the Navy can do live impact training. The day-night, live and inert ordnance delivery area consists of the Lake George Water Range (for helicopter training), the Rodman Urban Target Range and the Pinecastle Impact Range where the ordnance drops of pilots are plotted and graded.
After getting the big-picture view from the Seahawk, Schregardus and Heaton landed at the Pinecastle operations center and disembarked for a 'boots on the ground' briefing led by Site Manager Clyde Colley of Northrop Grumman.
"We maintain the facilities, equipment, scoring system and targets - all in addition to cleaning the range of debris and live ordnance that didn't explode," said Colley. "When aircraft carriers are training off the coast of Florida, we get a lot of traffic from F/A-18 Hornet pilots eager to display their bombing, missile strike and strafing skills on our target ranges. Pinecastle also supports electronic warfare training missions for Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers, as well as close-air-support training for Air Force A-10 Warthog pilots."
NAS Jax Natural Resources Manager Christine Bauer briefed Schregardus on the various endangered and threatened species that inhabit the 300,000-acre complex.
"A key to this success is the mutually beneficial partnership between the Navy and the U.S. Forest Service to protect the natural and cultural resources on the Pinecastle Range - while enabling realistic training for military pilots," said Bauer.
District Ranger Mike Herrin agreed that the Navy presence in the Ocala National Forest is beneficial to preservation of forest resources, watershed and recreation areas.
"It's been my experience that the people who run the Pinecastle Range Complex support a close working relationship with the Forest Service in order to balance national security with ecological and economic objectives," said Herrin.
Operational Range Clearance Manager Lee Shults described the ordnance and range residue removal process to the secretary.
"Since 2006, we've removed more than 8,600 tons of blown up targets for recycling or disposal," said Shults. "We also regularly go through the range, grid-by-grid, to recover hundreds of Mark-76 practice bombs and other man-made materials."
DASN-E and his hosts boarded four-wheel-drive vehicles to traverse the deep sandy roads of the target range. They drove past burned out hulks of tanks, trucks and aircraft that dot the range.
Schregardus said he was pleased to visit NAS Jax and its facilities to see how they are implementing the Defense Environmental Restoration Program.
"In particular, the Pinecastle range munitions response program for the clearance and remediation of unexploded ordnance looks very successful," said Schregardus. "To really understand the challenges of operating within a tight regulatory framework, you have to get out in the field and get your shoes dirty. Pinecastle is a prime example of a project 'you've got to see to understand.'
"During my tour, NAS Jax Environmental Department Director Kevin Gartland and his staff have shown me smart solutions to storm water issues, as well as successes in natural resource programs, including parks and nature trails with 'watchable wildlife' areas. They've done an outstanding job working with local, state and federal environmental regulations - as we work to support our warfighters," said Schregardus.
Schregardus also participated in the Oct. 21 Navy League of the United States Annual Convention in Jacksonville. He not only observed the Oct. 22 NAS Jax Air Show -but also was a passenger in Fat Albert, the C-130 support aircraft that opens the show for the Blue Angels Navy Flight Demonstration Team.
"Fat Albert was a lot of fun, adding to the experience was meeting 91-year-old Al Taddeus, the last Blue Angel from the original team formed at NAS Jax in 1946," said Schregardus.