By Rita Hess, USAEC ContractorMarch 6, 2018
Fort Bliss is a U.S. Army installation on approximately 1.12 million acres straddling west Texas and southern New Mexico. Managing more than 20,000 archaeological sites and 614 historic buildings, structures, and landscapes would seem insurmountable with a Cultural Resources Management Program (CRMP) Team of just five people. Yet the installation has a number of accomplishments that demonstrate the value of their efforts.
"Stewardship of the Army's cultural resources and its public outreach are cornerstones of the Fort Bliss philosophy," said Belinda Mollard, cultural resources manager, from Fort Bliss. "The team successfully locates, preserves, and shares aspects of the area's cultural heritage."
Part of the Fort Bliss CRMP success is due to a well-crafted Programmatic Agreement (PA) and an Integrated Cultural Resources Management Plan that streamline the review process. For example, the PA includes a quick, effective process for evaluating National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) sites, allowing for expedited training requests and construction projects. Indeed, since inception, the PA has saved approximately 75,000 review days per year, and other installations are adapting the document for their use.
Fort Bliss recently successfully completed nine archaeological projects via contracts through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), six historic architecture projects, and 20 in-house cultural resource projects. This resulted in almost 60,000 acres surveyed and more than 1,400 archaeological sites evaluated; also, 150 buildings were evaluated for NRHP eligibility--all with no disruption in training.
Additionally, the Fort Bliss CRMP Team has built strong relationships with on-post and community partners, which helps balance training activities with the area's diverse archaeological and historical cultural resources. The Fort Bliss Directorate of Public Works, Environment Office hosts quarterly training sessions with employees, contractors, managing partners, and USACE personnel to raise awareness of, and ensure compliance with, regulations pertaining to historic structures.
The two senior archaeologists on the team serve as tribal liaisons for seven federally-recognized tribes. Fort Bliss holds annual meetings with the Tribes, inviting them to the installation for consultations. At that time, field trips to tribally designated sacred sites are facilitated and tribal ceremonies are conducted. Other times throughout the year, the liaisons accompany tribal members on field visits, plant harvests, and survey or monitoring projects.
Outreach is an important aspect of the CRMP at Fort Bliss. In April 2017, CRMP Team representatives led members of the Dona Ana County Historical Society on a tour of the remote Soledad Canyon--an area not easily accessible. The area is historically important to the local community. The Beasley Family homesteaded there for three generations, running both cattle and goats in a desert environment, and a family cemetery still exists. The event demonstrated the Army's stewardship of cultural resources and its connection to the local community.
In June 2017, Fort Bliss archaeologists and Criminal Investigation Division (CID) agents and investigators participated in a training exercise in which they experienced the challenge of clandestine gravesite excavation and recovery. One session involved using archaeological methods and principles to map and record locations as investigators searched for a mock homicide victim (represented by pig carcasses) that were buried somewhere in the Fort Bliss training area. One of Fort Bliss' archaeologists is a trained forensic archaeologist, and assisted in the training of military police and CID officers to use proper archaeological methods in forensic investigations.
The CRMP Team conducts monthly training for military Environmental Compliance officers. Included are photos, hands-on displays, and real-life artifacts presented to spark interest and appreciation for the resources, as well as to ensure legal compliance. Another ongoing project--the High Altitude Mountain Environment Training Strategy--involves training helicopter pilots in challenging conditions. Pilots train day and night at Fort Bliss, at the nearby White Sands Missile Range, and in the National Lincoln Forest. The Fort Bliss CRMP team worked with U.S. Forest Service personnel in surveying the areas for cultural resources to approve the training missions.
Fort Bliss is careful to preserve the rich cultural resources--archaeological collections, associated site files, photographs, and historic maps derived from 1,039 projects--and use them for educational purposes.
This Army installation consistently contributes to public outreach with posters, photos, and hands-on exhibits at local gatherings. One example is the annual Cultural Fair at Hueco Tanks, a nearby state park that many Indian tribes consider sacred. Other efforts include visits to local schools and appearances at career fairs.