Blue goes green: Coast Guard civilian employee recognized for environmental excellence

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lindberg

It appears to be a busy workspace. Stacks of loose papers and open books sit on top of a desk, leaving only a gap for a computer monitor. Bookshelves line the back of the cubicle filled with manuals on topics such as environmental law and spill prevention. On the wall are sheets of construction paper displaying a child’s drawings with smiling faced family photos nearby to accompany them. On one of his filing cabinets is a piece of white tape with black letters that reads environmental protection specialist. From this small space Jeffrey Schmidt handles some of the air station’s biggest concerns.

Environmental protection is a topic more and more companies and organizations are taking into consideration. The U.S. Coast Guard is one of them. For Schmidt, the environmental protection specialist at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City located in Pomona, N.J., it earned him Coast Guard wide recognition.

Schmidt began his environmental protection career 29 years ago when he worked for the Department of the Navy at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

“I oversaw all the environmental management for the whole pipe fitting shop,” said Schmidt. “That’s where my experience started back in 1980.”

This was experience that Schmidt was able to bring to the Coast Guard when he started working as the environmental protection specialist at Air Station Atlantic City when it first opened in 1998.

“I’ve brought this program from nothing to what it is now,” Schmidt says. “Every year I reach a new milestone and make it a little better.”

A new milestone has been reached now that Schmidt has won the 2008 U.S. Coast Guard Environmental Award in Overall Environmental Excellence.

Schmidt recognizes the importance of environmental protection and the effects it can have if not properly monitored.

“We have to look out for our future,” he says. “The more that we destroy our natural resources and take up space on this planet the less time our future generations are going to be able to live a normal life.”

Schmidt’s environmental plan has had to adapt due to the air station changing its size and mission.

“This has been a challenge because within the last two years the air station has doubled its personnel and increased the physical plant with an additional facility located in Washington, D.C. several hours away from the parent command,” said Captain Paul Ratté, the commanding officer of Air Station Atlantic City. “The air station has also taken on a new mission that doubled the number of aircraft assigned which in turn increased the maintenance activity.”

The areas that are taken into consideration by the award panel are: source reduction, recycling, affirmative procurement, pollution prevention, prevention and remedy of environmental damage and overall environmental excellence.

Schmidt obtained aircraft parts washers, spray guns and armory parts cleaning machines which use a non-chlorinated solvent, made up of enzymes, which decreases the use of hazardous chemicals.

“This was one of my ideas that goes all the way back to 1998,” Schmidt says. “I had that implemented as one of the start up programs.”

Along with implementing new ideas Schmidt has also worked with contractors to have proper waste removal services.

“Schmidt put many actions in place to minimize the environmental footprint of the air station,” said Ratté. “He collaborated with the cleaning contractor and the unit contracting office to ensure the cleaning contract included emptying of recycling collection cans reducing the amount of waste produced.”

Old furniture at the station is sent to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office for resale to the public and obsolete office equipment such as computers are recycled.

Collection points are set up in appropriate work spaces to ensure all cardboard, aluminum, metal, plastic, paper, batteries, antifreeze, used oil, light bulbs, oil and gas filters are properly recycled.

Schmidt increased the use of recycled and environmentally friendly products. All paper products procured by the unit are “green” post-consumer products. He replaced hazardous petroleum based lubricants with bio-based lubricants and the possibility of a hazardous material spill.

Schmidt assisted in drafting and coordinating a thorough spill control plan in place at the air station which includes interagency agreements with the local authorities and emergency services.

“If we were to have a spill that is greater than fifty square feet, we would contact the Federal Aviation Administration Fire Department and then I would get contacted,” he says. “If the FAA deems that we need help cleaning it up there is a private contractor that will clean up the entire spill for us.”

For spills less than 50 square feet, Schmidt has an in-house spill plan.

“We have spill kits that I have strategically located throughout the air station, on the tarmacs and in the hangars,” Schmidt explains. “We can clean the spill up ourselves.”

Schmidt has been recognized by his command for going above and beyond local, state and federal requirements by installing and maintaining storm water silt blankets in every storm drain to protect the water supply from possible hydrocarbon contamination.

An inspection team from Civil Engineering Unit Cleveland visited the air station in September of 2007 for a thorough one-day inspection of the unit’s environmental protection procedures and Schmidt’s environmental protection plan.

Schmidt runs the environmental program at the air station as a one-man show.

“There are hills and valleys to this job like a rollercoaster,” he says. “There are times when you wish you had an assistant.”

Despite the workload, Schmidt excels and sets the standard for environmental protection for the whole Coast Guard.

“His ability to run a whole program by himself has his fellow air station co-workers and even the civil engineers wondering how he is able to do it,” Ratté said.

Ratté says His commitment to such a high standard of work and devotion to his job makes Schmidt a model for all Coast Guard personnel no matter what their field of expertise may be and makes him worthy of the award he received.

“I’m the manager and the doer,” says Schmidt. “I have confidence in myself and in the program.”

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