The U.S. Army has long worn green. But, under its new generation of commanders, the Army is also looking for as many ways as it can to be green. And the Pentagon's many efforts to find new ways to power its bases, ships, aircraft and other vehicles with something other than petroleum products are a hopeful step.
These guys are not interested in symbolic steps or moral victories. They play to win and, once they figure out how to do these things, the rest of us can copy their successes.
The Army's dedication to alternative energy was demonstrated Friday at the Tooele Army Depot, when no less than Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared at the dedication of that facility's new array of 430 solar collectors. Dempsey is the leader of a new cadre of officers who know that American dependence on foreign oil, and on vulnerable electric grids at home and around the world, are not just abstract issues. They are matters of national security.
It is true on a small scale, such as the highly hazardous work of bringing supplies a great deal of it fuel into combat zones. The danger associated with keeping NATO troops in Afghanistan supplied is a prime example.
And it is true on a large scale, as one of the greatest headaches the military has is the protection of the Middle Eastern shipping lanes, through which a great deal of the world's oil passes.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, is one of the largest energy consumers in the country, gobbling some 340,000 barrels of oil every day. Its leaders want to use less. And they want more of it to come from domestic, and renewable, sources.
That's why Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is planning whole rounds of naval exercises that use domestically produced biofuels to power task forces. And why the Pentagon is defending those ideas from some members of Congress who want to block the plan. They say they are worried about the higher cost of biofuels, but may only be protecting Big Oil.
Of course, if the Navy becomes a big enough customer, the cost of biofuels will come down enough that the rest of us might be in the market, too.
The real or perceived need to take steps for the benefit of national security can go astray. Witness the Patriot Act, secret prisons and waterboarding.
But it can also inspire great accomplishments, from General and President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System and National Defense Education Act, to the space race and all the civilian technology spin-offs that it created.
The Army is going green, for its own safety, and for ours.
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