Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Air Force on the Ground

    For those of you who don't know, May is Military Appreciation Month.  As such, we here at Big Dave and Company have decided that we are going to write a post for each of the service branches showing how they do so much more than fight for our country.  Since they are all equally important, we are just going to go alphabetically.  So today we begin with the Air Force.

     Grove Valley Elementary School in Edmond, Oklahoma had a dilemma in 2010.  They were trying - as a learning aid and experience - to create an outdoor classroom that was highlighted by a large wetland area.  The only problem was that the school was having trouble coming up with the money to make the project happen.  Meanwhile, the folks over at Tinker Air Force base were having wetland problems of their own.  Wetlands at Tinker were attracting lots of birds, which were causing issues for the many planes that come and go from the base.  When the Oklahoma County Conservation District realized that a solution could be found that would be mutually beneficial, they connected the Tinker with Grove Valley and magic happened.  Officials from the base volunteered their time and resources, along with folks from the Conservation District, Oklahoma Water Resource Board, Caliber Development Company, Land Legacy, the Oklahoma Forestry Service, the United States Department of Agriculture and a host of other organizations, to help plan and design a first-rate wetland for the school.
      In January 2011, volunteers from Tinker helped with initial construction of almost three acres of new wetlands at the school.  While the heavy excavation equipment was working in the area the school children were forced to watch from their classrooms, but once the equipment was gone they could help too.  By April, students from the school along with more volunteers from Tinker and folks from the Water Resources Board were wading into the mud and muck to plant donated irises, bull thrush, spatterdock, and other wetland plants.  Biologists and other scientists from Tinker helped to monitor the project, and soon the federally protected wetlands from Tinker Air Force Base were relocated to the grounds of Grove Valley.
      The wetlands and the outdoor classroom continue to serve their purpose for the 630 students at Grove Valley.  In the spring of 2012 they were out there again plating more plants to help rejuvenate the wetlands, all along supervised by more volunteers from the Air Force base.  "With the harsh summer we had last year we lost some of our earlier plantings, but surprisingly many of them are coming back" noted one such volunteer, Tinker Air Force Base Natural Resource Scientist Ray Moody.  And the students will continue to help with the project in the future, with plans calling for them to assist the Water Resources Board with planting even more species - including water celery, arrowhead, spikerush, cardinal flower, and even trees.
    This project - of which Air Force volunteers were a major part - was made possible by something called the Partners Program, which provides grants for partnerships between private landowners and the federal government, and won the 2011 Take Pride in America Nation Award from the United States Department of the Interior for the outstanding school program in the nation.  It also serves as a great example of the community spirit and dedication to more than just defending our nation that the men and women of the United States Air Force show every day.  Thanks for all you do guys, and keep up the good work.

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