When reducing energy use, knowledge is power

FORT DIX, N.J. -- Here at our "center of excellence," the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, we impart knowledge to our students so they may be better able to perform their mission. Hopefully we are also absorbing the knowledge that is flowing all around us.

Recently, during an Air Force Week in Philadelphia event at the Wharton Business School in Philadelphia, a woman walked up to our Expeditionary Center booth right after we received a briefing by Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, U.S. Transportation Command commander from Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

She had submitted a question, but there wasn't enough time for the general to answer it. Normally people drop their "gotcha" question after they get you at ease, but I think this particular question was one she really was interested in having answered. She asked it to us almost immediately afterward.

Her question -- "What is the Air Force trying to do to reduce its carbon footprint?"

Immediately after she asked this question, I saw some of my colleagues draw away which is where I decided to step in. I stepped in not because I knew more about the subject than the others did, I just recognized the opportunity to influence public opinion on an important subject.

Sometimes one person can be the spark that ignites a firestorm, either for positive or negative. With the greater cost of energy these days, it was a question we should have expected.

Initially I described to her some initiatives right here at the USAF EC. I explained the Air Mobilty Battlelab's "Brighteye" initiative. Through this, the AMB took a light cart the size of a small vehicle and reduced it to the size of your desktop computer running on rechargeable batteries with a solar recharging unit, and not a gas or diesel engine. We also discussed the USAF EC's transfer of courseware to Web-based distance learning, which reduces the need for travel and saves money, time and fuel.

Then we discussed other Air Force initiatives. I told her how the Air Force is one of the largest recyclers in the nation, refurbishing and reusing parts, how there is Air Force research into alternative fuels for aircraft, and the use of non-traditional vehicles on base (bicycles on the flightline, Segways, and electric vehicles).

Someone else chimed in the discussion about how some Air Force installations act as natural safe havens for animals since hunting or fishing are restricted in these areas.

Another NCO also was able to discuss Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century, or AFSO 21, and how it is reduces waste. We discussed motion sensitive lighting and other alternative energy sources currently used in some buildings.

Our discussion was so diverse we were able to speak to this woman for more than 30 minutes on these subjects. Individually, we may have had trouble speaking about all this information, but together we projected great knowledge and professionalism.

I forgot to mention earlier this woman is the president of an influential architectural firm that designs government buildings, colleges and other large-scale building projects. She thinks reducing the carbon footprint is important because that is often the first question her customers ask on new architectural proposals. Initially, she didn't mention this until we started discussing things in detail.

It is the duty of all Airmen to be knowledgeable on Air Force policies and initiatives, but now more than ever that includes energy conservation. We can learn from published reports or even from our fellow wingmen.

Knowledge is the power to our minds that saves us from wasting the electrical power for our equipment and buildings. We must always stay informed on things that can make our Air Force better and energy conservation is certainly one of those areas. The day of my discussion with the president of an architectural firm proved that.