Public meetings at Fort Belknap Indian
Reservation, Montana, sponsored by the
Montana Air National Guard. Public meetings
are an essential tool to improve
military-community cooperation. (Photo:
Many of America's military installations sprung up in the middle
of nowhere, surrounded by forests, scrublands, prairie, or
desert. Musket balls and artillery shells could fall where they
may; the assertive purr of propeller-driven airplane engines disturbed
few humans. But then came population growth. Towns, cities, and suburbs
grew up around the installations, typically to serve the needs of the military
community itself. As development edged closer to the military fenceline, both base
commanders and adjacent civilians started using the word "encroachment." The
commanders realized that they needed partnerships with members of the civilian
community, if for no other reason than a desire to keep the peace at home, as well
as around the world.1
The need for partnerships became even more apparent as the modern environmental
era blossomed. Civilians, scientists, elected politicians, and military
commanders learned that the lands they controlled were treasuries of biological
diversity, and that it was legally and ethically imperative that the diversity be protected.
Some of that land even housed species that elsewhere had been trampled
to the point of extinction. The commanders and civilians more fully appreciated,
too, that a military installation's environmental obligations did not end at the
fenceline that whatever a base did to its air, water, foliage, and animals affected
the larger ecosystem. Thus it became essential that an installation's land manager
think beyond the fenceline, and that the manager seek out non-military partners
to help perform what had become an increasingly complex mission.
Public involvement in an installation's environmental life is vital. A basic document
on the subject, Leader's Guide to Environmental Public Involvement, published
in February 2005 as part of the Army Public Involvement Toolbox2, makes
that clear. The guide dismissed any notions that "public involvement" is just a
synonym for "public relations":
In making use of public involvement, we are often trying to influence stakeholders so that they
understand and accept an Army approach to an environmental concern or a decision based on
Army-unique requirements. However, we must remember that the leader's definition of influence
includes involvement. The objective of public involvement is not necessarily to convince others
that we are right. Instead, public involvement should provide stakeholders with opportunities
to provide input about issues that will improve our decisions...
By including stakeholders in our decision-making processes, and listening to their input, we
give them a reason to become involved with us in a positive way. Over time, that involvement
helps build relationships upon which trust is based, and trust is a basic bond of leadership.
And furthermore, says the guide, involving the community with regular twoway
communication is a great way to head off conflicts and hard feelings. The
36-page publication sets forth detailed and useful suggestions for encouraging the
community's participation. Some of them are:
- First, build a strategic planning team, made up of representatives of the commander;
the public affairs department; a specialist in risk communications; environmental
managers, and the medical department. This team will guide the public
- Assess the community's concerns and interests and determine how its members
get their information.
- Identify the key stakeholders in community-military relations.
- Survey the community, through interviews, telephone surveys, and/or focus
- Communicate with the public, through notices, comment periods, meetings,
and a publicly available administrative record.
- Along the way, provide speakers to inform the public; deal with the media; operate
Proceed to Next Section: Plenty of Examples
Fred Powledge is a writer and editor.
to download Chapter 10 as a PDF.