MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — From the annual baby salmon release to innovative wastewater treatment, this northern Japan base’s environmental contributions are gaining national recognition.

The base recently won the 2004 Secretary of Defense Environmental Quality Award in the overseas category — the first time Misawa’s environmental programs have earned Defense Department recognition, said Brent Hefty, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron environmental flight chief.

“It’s a great honor to receive DOD-level acknowledgment for the environmental programs we have here at Misawa,” he said. “We’re a fairly small, remote installation but we’re high operations tempo and we have a lot of good programs going on here.”

Earlier this year, the base won the prestigious General Thomas D. White Environmental Quality Award in the overseas category, an Air Force award going to a base outside the United States demonstrating exceptional environmental achievement. Earning DOD honorable mention for environmental contributions was Misawa’s Takeshi Ukon, natural and cultural resources program manager, 35th CES environmental flight. Ukon also won at the Air Force level.

The award represents a base effort to maintain strong environmental programs at Misawa, Hefty said. The Air Force-Navy partnership at Misawa is “a benchmark for the rest of DOD,” he said.

After submitting a two-page packet with bullet-form items for the Air Force-level award, the base’s civil engineer squadron submitted a six-page document detailing environmental achievements for the DOD contest. “The wastewater treatment process was a big part of our write-up,” Hefty said, explaining that the base received permission from U.S. Forces Japan to treat on base 400,000 pounds of hazardous waste from more than 100 oil and water separators. Rather than sealing the material in drums and paying someone else to remove them, “we saved $200,000,” Hefty said.

The base was also recognized for solving a “four-decades-old problem” of depositing lead into the environment through weapons practice. Misawa built a $1.9 million Combat Arms Training and Maintenance facility, according to language in the award packet. The facility captures spent lead bullets from M-9, M-16, M-240 and M-249 weapons proficiency training and automatically deposits them into a drum for safe storage.

The base also was recognized for its numerous Earth Day activities, many of which it runs or does with the Navy at Naval Air Facility Misawa. That “really helped us seal the award,” Hefty said. The Air Force and Navy round up scores of volunteers to help and take part in off-base events such as the baby salmon release in March and rice harvesting in October.

Earth Day events on tap this week include the presentation of local artifacts and bilingual storyboards at the Torii Building. The exhibit, put on with the Misawa Board of Education, gives a “broad representation of what kind of cultural artifacts were found in this area,” Hefty said.

Also on display at the base exchange until Saturday are Misawa students’ drawings about what the Earth means to them.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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