Their passion and focus may be on preserving Redstone Arsenal's past, but the Army's accolades to the Garrison's Cultural Resource Management team are all about the work being done in the present.
Redstone's own Cultural Resource Management team is the recipient of a Fiscal Year 2014 Secretary of the Army Environmental Award, thanks to their cost-effective approach to accomplishing the mission and promoting the importance of their work, as well as their findings, in the community.
"You see how fast the Huntsville area is developing -- all that private development, historic sites aren't protected," said Ben Hoksbergen, Garrison cultural resource manager. "Most of the laws only apply to federal facilities, or in cases where federal money or federal licensing is involved. Redstone is an island of preservation in the middle of this rapidly developing world, and we're a big enough facility where we provide a really good cross-section of the types of archeological sites, and the types of historical sites that you might run into in the Tennessee Valley. It's a nice outdoor laboratory to address some of these questions about what happened in the past, and to preserve everyone's heritage."
Spanning about 38,000 acres, Redstone currently has up to 972 archaeological sites, making for a lot of work for the three-person Cultural Resource Management team. One of the innovative, cost-saving methods the team has employed to ensure the work gets done is the creative integration of volunteers from the community in their work. All volunteers are carefully vetted through Hoksbergen.
Working with the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Hoksbergen has set up a public history internship, which provides the team with at least one intern every semester, and has also created an archaeological field school through UAH, which allows him to work with professors to balance their research goals with needs on the Arsenal. Last year, a team of volunteers excavated a historical site just south of the EUL that needed to be evaluated in the event it needed to be avoided with upcoming Gate 9 construction.
"Public involvement with cultural preservation efforts is a fundamental aspect of the Cultural Resources Team," Garrison commander Col. Bill Marks said. "By raising awareness of the importance of these sites, we can generate participation from people within the community to help preserve our past for future generations. Public promotion of interest in the preservation of historical and environmental areas of significance has been a key factor in meeting Redstone Arsenal goals."
One of the recent interesting finds Hoksbergen and his team have uncovered has been near Martin Road and Indian Creek, where field work was just completed in an area once inhabited by Native Americans around A.D. 670. The Cultural Resource Management team's work is leading to the discovery that while the area was briefly occupied, it was heavily occupied, with much warfare and famine, as evidenced by the scalp marks on skulls, trophy skulls and blunt force trauma in the skeletal remains they've uncovered.
"We do a lot of archaeology out here, and a lot of people are interested in archaeology in the community," Hoksbergen said. "There's always a certain subset who have a passion for the past -- people who are history buffs, who enjoy the thrill of discovery. A lot of people come into it with glamorous visions of archaeology and Indiana Jones -- some of them I crush their dreams, some found out that the real nitty gritty archaeology is even cooler and more interesting than the fantasy version."
Wanting to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money, Hoksbergen strives to share those discoveries with the community, as part of his team's public outreach. The group publishes as much of their archaeological data as possible, donates reports to public libraries, provides outreach to schools and even organizes tours of historic sites on the Arsenal.
"Our immediate boss is Redstone Arsenal, our big boss is the Army, but our overarching boss is the taxpayer, and ultimately they should be getting something for their money," Hoksbergen said. "Not only do I want to responsibly take care of the money they give us, but I also want to give them something in return."
The team won the 2007 Army Environmental Award, and just recently qualified to compete again. They will go on to represent the Army in the Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards Program later this year.
"It's a great recognition for us," Hoksbergen said.