By Bonnie A. RobinsonNovember 30, 2017
[Editor's note: This article is part two of a series about the personnel at Dugway who work tirelessly to safely test and evaluate chemical and biological defense systems while being good stewards of the environment and complying with all established regulations.]
DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Protecting Dugway Proving Ground ecosystems and sustaining test and training ranges for future use is a critical task for the Dugway team. The partnership between the garrison environmental subject matter experts and West Desert Test Center leaders, project managers and test officers is a crucial part of the overall test center's environmental strategy to meet its mission today and into the future.
The primary test divisions for the WDTC are the Chemical Test Division and the Special Programs Division, with the latter also performing training in chemical and biological defense tactics, techniques and procedures. All chemical warfare agent testing is performed in laboratories, but much of the chemical testing and training conducted by Special Programs is performed outdoors on the test and training ranges using simulants.
Damon Nicholson, a program manager for Test Management Branch, Special Programs Division, takes his environmental stewardship very serious.
"Every test we conduct must follow strict, established environmental guidelines," he said. "We have signs on the test center that say 'Protecting the environment is also our business.' As a tester it's my responsibility to make sure I'm following the rules and regulations."
Nicholson noted that there are many overarching documents that are used as guides, such as Dugway's Environmental Impact Statement, which serves as an overarching environmental guide for land use by the test center for testing.
"Environmental Assessments or a Record of Environmental Consideration are typically programmatic or test specific. The test and environmental teams work together with a variety of federal and state agencies to ensure compliance with environmental regulations," Nicholson said.
He emphasized that the environmental planning process is followed for each new test. As a test officer of a program, he is ultimately responsible for providing the test team guidance and determining what test documentation will be needed.
"If one test is similar to a previous test, typically I will use an existing environmental checklist as the framework to evaluate the initial environmental considerations of the test," Nicholson said. "But if there are test requirements or issues that are new to the test center, I meet with members of the Environmental Technology Office, who write the National Environmental Policy Act documents."
Nicholson observed that to help provide for quick response tests, there is often an environmental analysis already completed that can validate a test. But new test documents can sometimes be tiered off these documents saving time and test dollars.
He further explained, "Sometimes a test is so new that it requires a more extensive review. A good example of this was the Jack Rabbit chorine series of tests that began in early spring of 2016." Nicholson served as a test officer on the team.
"It required an encompassing analysis," he said. "In that test, we needed additional chemical mounts and the criteria was so innovative that a new test grid (now named the Urban Test Grid) was built at the test center."
There were real challenges to work around in areas that had not be used for this kind of testing before, Nicholson revealed. For example, coordination was required with the Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range, which is adjacent to the test center land needed for the new test grid.
"Early communication in the planning process is critical to success and to ensure that all processes are in place and addressed," he said.
"It is a challenge to work around protected areas, but once the environmental documentation is in place, it's easier for the test officer to execute and oversee compliance with all the regulations required," he added.
And since land area used to build the Urban Test Grid had not been used for testing of this nature, it require a lot from the garrison environmental team. Nicholson was quick to express his gratitude for the cultural and wildlife specialist's assistance.
"It was really a team effort," he said.
Team effort in protecting the environment is also evident in all training events that happen at WDTC.
Lance Mcentire, Chief of the Counter Weapon of Mass Destruction Branch, of the Special Programs Division said, "Dugway's Special Programs has well over 100 different training events scheduled throughout the year."
Each of these training events involves a seminar to ensure every team that comes to the test center understands that protecting the environmental integrity of the ranges is critical to the future of Dugway's testing and training.
"It's a big job and it important for us to tell these units how to safely operate in a chemical or biological event," he said. "Each team has one of our training officers with them the entire time. That's part of our stewardship to sustain future test and training."
Other Dugway teams help with environmental conservation efforts.
Kent Sumsion, the lead Range Control Specialist at test center works primarily with Army National Guard and Reserve units located in Utah that come to Dugway for training events.
"Dugway is a real interest to these units due to cutbacks or restrictions for large training events closer to local communities," he said noting that there have been particular concerns about fires in an arid state like Utah."
"We start with scheduling the training event in available areas that will meet their training requirements," he said. "Once here, we ensure they review the safety and environmental rules of the test range and the parameters of the sites they have been assigned."
Sumsion stressed that his team ensures these Guard and Reserve teams are aware of the important cultural sites on the installation.
"We ask our cultural resource office to provide a brief class on how the artifacts are flagged or tagged and to stress the importance of protecting the wildlife, migratory birds and nests," he said.
After the training is complete, Sumsion and his team return to the training area and ensure it has been returned to its pre-use state.
"We feel that is part of our environmental stewardship too," he added.