FORT POLK, La. — Situated in the dense woodlands of west central Louisiana, Fort Polk is the home of the Joint Readiness Training Center, the Army’s premier combat training center and a power projection platform for deploying combat units. The mission is “to train Soldiers and when ordered, deploy those Soldiers worldwide.”
Fort Polk encompasses 241,126 acres, and is home station for one brigade combat team and four separate, deployable combat battalions, with additional support units and organizations.
Nathan Broussard, the Fort Polk Environmental Resources Management Division storm water manager, said the JRTC supports 10 major U.S. Army training exercises annually, preparing more than 63,470 Soldiers for deployment.
“Through these efforts, the JRTC and Fort Polk increases the combat readiness of these units to successfully perform their deployments and national security missions,” he said. “The JRTC has integrated environmental values into its mission to sustain the training landscape, strengthen community relationships and provide a sound environment stewardship of all its resources.”
Richard Gatewood, Fort Polk environmental chief, said the installation works to build the nation’s vision for a cleaner and better-managed environmental future through new and efficient energy technology, energy and water conservation, waste reduction, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for new facilities, planning for carbon footprint reduction and environmental outreach.
“And those are just a few of the reasons the JRTC and Fort Polk has won the Secretary of Defense/Secretary of the Army Environmental Competition Award for Sustainability, a great honor for the installation,” Gatewood said. “JRTC and Fort Polk leaders are proud of the level of environmental stewardship the installation has achieved through development and implementation of new environmental technologies and environmental outreach initiatives on the installation and within the surrounding communities.”
The environmental outreach efforts provide consistent and continuous messaging, and achieve overarching goals of raising environmental baselines through sustainable practices. The JRTC and Fort Polk has established measures of effectiveness to determine if environmental outreach efforts are helping the installation to become a better environmental steward.
The Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and State of Louisiana have recognized Fort Polk as a regional leader in the conservation of natural resources, stewardship of environmental quality, net zero initiatives, sustainable practices and quality of life it provides for Soldiers, Family members and surrounding communities.
The Directorate of Public Works Environmental Compliance Team operates a recycle and reissue program that provides significant cost avoidance for home station and JRTC rotational training units. The Fort Polk Qualified Recycling Program sale of recyclables generates funds to pay for the QRP program costs, pollution prevention projects, energy and water conservation projects, installation community events and the development of new recycling and reuse practices.
Gatewood said fire has always been a part of the natural ecosystem at Fort Polk.
“The DPW Environmental Forestry Team suppresses wildfires resulting from training events and naturally occurring wildfires to protect military units during training,” he said. “To restore natural fire cycles, the forestry program uses aerial and ground ignition to perform prescribed burning. Prescribed burning maintains open maneuver corridors for training, reduces understory fuels and maintains native ecological habitat for endangered species.”
The DPW Environmental Conservation Team monitors natural resources throughout the JRTC and Fort Polk to ensure long-term sustainability of training lands, Gatewood said. The team implements management plans that monitor and mitigate impacts to soil loss, water quality, timber, general ecosystem health and endangered species such as the Red Cockaded Woodpecker and the threatened Louisiana Pine Snake. These efforts result in sustainable training lands and provide the community with a pristine landscape for recreational opportunities.
Josh Corley, Fort Polk’s DPW master planning chief, said his office focuses on defining a vision for future development.
“Planning is integral to Fort Polk’s sustainability program to develop modern infrastructure and maintain a clean environment that supports the mission while complementing the beauty of the local environment,” he said. “As part of continual efforts to integrate sustainability practices into master planning, Fort Polk and stakeholders meet every five years to participate in several master planning workshops, called Area Development Plans. The ADPs identify future program requirements and flexible, long-range development opportunities.”
Gregory Prudhomme, Fort Polk director of Public Works, said ultimately, most who call the JRTC and Fort Polk home are only here for a short time and share the responsibility to leave the environment in the best condition for generations to come.
“To do this, our installation’s past must be remembered and its total force team — including Soldiers, Family members and civilian work force — continue to use efficient technology and sustainable practices to build the future. We must engage in environmental outreach education to foster environmental stewardship,” he said.”