By Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Installation Management CommandAugust 17, 2017
SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 17, 2017) - Bob Blaesing wanted to add the idea of leaving a smaller footprint to the culture of Army Environmental Command Headquarters.
He encouraged co-workers to collect coffee grounds and fruit peels and shared the concoction with the San Antonio Botanical Garden, just outside the gates of Fort Sam Houston. The garden, where Blaesing also volunteered to assist the children's vegetable garden program, converted the materials to compost to nourish the soil.
Blaesing's story could be a grass-roots example of one good deed leading to another, leading to another -- the premise of U.S. Army Installation Management Command's Service Culture Initiative.
The IMCOM SCI is a commitment to delivering programs and services with a sense of pride, professionalism, and in keeping with Army values.
Before embarking upon a year of temporary duty in Iraq, Blaesing received a Department of the Army certificate of appreciation from IMCOM Commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl for exceptional public service and support of the U.S. Army Environmental Command and the San Antonio Botanical Garden.
"Mr. Blaesing proactively integrated his personal commitment to environmental conservation and re-use values through public outreach by becoming a valued volunteer at the garden, particularly by supporting the children's vegetable garden program," read the certificate signed and delivered by Dahl.
Blaesing got his idea from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, which he referred to as one of the better composting operations in IMCOM.
"If anything, I'd call it grass roots," Blaesing said. "They take all the DFAC [dining facility] waste, or a good chunk of it, and they bring it by the truckload and recycle it on the installation."
JBLM blended the grass clippings and other assorted wastes into compost.
"It's done. It's cooked. It's good compost, and it's good soil," Blaesing said. "They use it all over the installation. But what's impressive about it is it's not rocket science. I think the guy just took advantage of a waste stream, unused resources, and a passion from people that wanted to do something."
Meanwhile, back at Fort Sam Houston: "All I wanted to do was recycle coffee grounds," Blaesing said. "I've got a little passion, we've got the resources, and I've got time. Maybe it means I stay at work an extra half hour to make up the time it takes to go over there."
Blaesing envisioned riding his bike to Fort Sam Houston's nearby horse stables to donate AEC's compost and was surprised when that search failed to materialize.
"I tried finding something on post, but I couldn't find anything on post," he said. "When Plan A fell through, I was thinking, 'OK, what's Plan B?' So I was thinking outside the box. Somehow the botanical gardens just popped into my mind."
Recycling is one thing, but composting might seem a tad extreme, even for environmentalists.
"It was an appreciative waste stream," Blaesing said of the coffee grounds, banana peels, apple cores, eggshells, etc., deposited in a special trash can at the AEC breakroom. "It was a noticeable amount. Every day."
Waste diversion is another benefit of composting.
"So what is waste diversion?" Blaesing rhetorically asked. "It's 50 pounds less a month that the cleaning crew has to pick up."
Since the AEC program gained steam, it's been more like 100 pounds per month.
"I used to work for waste management and I did landfill gas recovery," Blaesing said. "Landfills have capacity and they do try to divert waste to try to maximize the life expectancy of a landfill, but you touched an important word: culture. The culture of leaving a smaller footprint is important. Partnering is important, but the culture of 'Hey, are there things that we can do to change the Army culture? But, yeah, it's incredible the amount of waste we generate, so part of that is just a cultural change. It's a mind change.
"Yes, this is a very small step, but I think it plants a seed."
The San Antonio Botanical Garden children's vegetable garden program provides opportunities for eight- to 13-year-olds to plant seeds and grow vegetables and ornamental plants in their own garden plots. They are assisted by instructors from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Bexar County Master Gardeners, along with other volunteers, such as Blaesing. The fall 2017 program begins Aug. 19 and runs through Dec. 2. Visit http://www.sabot.org/education/childrens-education/childrens-vegetable-garden-program/ for more details.
David Wilcox, Susan James and Scott Aschenbeck are among Army Environmental Command's leading composters, along with Adrian Salinas, who volunteered to continue Blaesing's tradition of delivering AEC's compost to the botanical garden.
"When Bob leaves, I'll be taking over and coming over here every week," Salinas said after helping Blaesing pick a peck of sweet peppers. Salinas also volunteers on bass for Jammin' with the G Staff, a band of IMCOM musicians.
"I think we are influencing the Army's future," Dahl recently told a group of Army service culture educators. "If it's going to change, then we have a huge responsibility to assist in that change because we touch the whole Army every single day. And if there are aspects of the Army culture that are critical to our success to sustain and maintain, we have the responsibility to protect those and to sustain and to nurture them, because, as you know, culture does not just take care of itself."
Meantime, Blaesing, 54, a 30-year Army Reserve veteran environmental science officer, is headed overseas as an embedded liaison officer for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. During the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he firsthand witnessed the infamous Balad burn pits, which made an indelible impression. He's since shared many Army lessons learned, including the culture of leaving a smaller footprint.