Capt. Russell Destremps, commander, 86th Engineer Dive Team, was presented with the 2008 Coastal America Partnership Award and a letter from President Obama by Lt. Gen William Webster, commanding general, Third Army, at Camp Patriot, Kuwait, Aug. 10.
Webster, also recognized the other members of the team by presenting them with the Third Army commanding general's coin.
"Here in Third Army we are no strangers to teamwork, partnership efforts, and cooperation among the joint services," said Webster. "Coastal America's efforts in the Florida Artificial Tire Reef Cleanup Team Project are similarly joint-and partner-based. Teamwork and cooperation have always been behind our successes as a nation. Working together, we know that nothing is impossible."
Destremps, and the 86th Engineer Dive Team, are currently deployed to Kuwait, and were presented the award for removing tires that were dumped into the waters off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. The award included an engraved plaque and a letter of congratulations from President Obama.
"I am particularly proud of the many Sailors and Soldiers who have found a way to enhance their training on skills important to our Nation's readiness for war while also making a significant contribution to the health of our living ocean resources," said Obama, in his letter to Destremps. "Just as you protect our Nation when serving overseas, at home you have found another way to protect our Nation's wellbeing."
The Coastal America Partnership Award recognizes outstanding partnerships that make a significant contribution toward the restoration and protection of our Nation's coastal and marine environment; it is the only environment award of its kind given by the White House.
"I'm lucky enough to be in command of one most professional and tactically proficient units in the Army," said Destremps. "Any time they get recognized really serves justice to the work they do every day. The stateside mission that we did helped prepare us for what we're doing over here. I couldn't be more proud of what my guys have done."
Coastal America Partnership is a multi-agency collaboration dedicated to preserving and restoring coastal regions and addressing environmental concerns.
In the 1970s, when worn-out tires were becoming a serious problem for environmentalists to deal with, they came up with an idea to dump the tires into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida all the way up to New Jersey to help create an artificial reef for fish to inhabit.
The Osborne Reef, off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, had the most tires dumped in its location, with a total of more than two million tires finding their resting place at the bottom of the ocean.
Environmentalists quickly realized that there were a few problems with their initial idea of dumping the tires into the ocean. The first problem was that fish didn't inhabit the tires, instead stayed away from the new reef. In addition, the tires which could weigh up to 26 pounds on land, would only weigh around two pounds under water. With this vast difference in weight, it became evident that it would be impossible for the tires to be secured to one location as they continued to move each time a storm came through the Osborne Reef.
In 2001, the original area created off the coast of Fort Lauderdale had doubled to 35 acres with signs of continued growth. As the tired shifted around at the bottom of the ocean, their plastic straps and metal claps that had originally held them together began to break and the tires began to move more rapidly through the water soon damaging and destroying the local natural reefs.
It was not until spring 2008 when the first full mission to remove the displaced tires became operational. During the initial month of the mission, Army, Navy and Coast Guard divers had successfully removed around 44,000 tires from the Osborne Reef.
The 86th Engineer Dive Team were key members of the Coastal American Partnership in continuing the removal of the
dumped tires and preserving the natural reefs surrounding Fort Lauderdale.
The 86th Engineer Dive Team, based at Camp Patriot, Kuwait, currently provides support throughout the Central Command area of responsibility. They hold the mission capability to perform underwater construction and inspections, salvage, search and recovery, hydrographic survey, and underwater and surface demolition missions.
The dive team has been deployed to the AOR since March and is expected to complete a 12 month tour in Kuwait.