CAMP BUTLER, Okinawa — Marines on Okinawa are serious about protecting the environment.

So serious that, for the second year in a row, they’ve been awarded a Department of Defense environmental quality award for overseas installations.

Joe Vogel, environmental officer for the environmental branch of Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, and Maj. Eric Marble, the deputy environmental officer, received the award Thursday at the Pentagon.

Marine Corps Base Camp Butler encompasses all Marine bases in Japan.

On Okinawa, Charles Schulz, director of engineering and science for the environmental branch, credited Vogel with the Okinawa program’s win.

“The department has grown from three people in 1995 to 45 people today,” Schulz said. “In that time, ... we’ve made enormous improvements in both supporting the troops by maintaining a training environment and in protecting the environment of Okinawa.”

Among programs cited in the branch’s award:

• The quick formation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Response Team in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.• The creation of a training section that provides environmental education and professional development training for all U.S. services in Japan.

“We also do a lot of teaming and partnering with organizations outside the Department of Defense to bring in the expertise we need to manage our programs,” Schulz said.

The environmental branch has brought in experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forestry Service and Environmental Canada to conduct training and assess Marine environmental programs in Japan.

“Even though they have no jurisdiction, we invite them to come out here and take a look at us,” Schulz said.

Jose Garabiles, director of the of the environmental branch’s compliance and support section, said, “It’s important to have a minimum impact on the environment. We are leaders in Japan in addressing environmental problems like red soil runoff, pine bark beetle infestation.”

The bases also provide safe havens for endangered wildlife species that would be threatened if development were allowed in their habitats, he said. Marine bases on Okinawa contain some of Asia’s last large tracts of subtropical rain forest.

The branch also maintains a cultural resource management program. It’s headed by the only archaeologists employed by the DOD in the Far East.

Each year, the secretary of defense honors installations, teams and individuals for outstanding efforts by military and civilian personnel, at both domestic and overseas bases, who promote and make significant contributions to Department of Defense environmental programs.

Other winners of the 2002 Secretary of Defense Annual Environmental Awards Program, and the categories for which they were recognized, are:

• Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., pollution prevention.• U.S. Army HQ Forces Command, Fort McPherson, Ga., pollution prevention.• Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., environmental quality.• Texas Army National Guard, cultural resources management.• U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca, Ariz., natural resources conservation.• Hill Air Force Base, Utah, environmental restoration.• Karlene B. Leeper, 611th Air Support Group, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, cultural resources management.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now