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American Forces Press Service

Environment Gets Kid-Glove Handling During Talisman Saber '05

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles A. Isom Jr., USN
American Forces Press Service

SHOALWATER BAY TRAINING AREA, Australia, June 24, 2005 As U.S. and Australian military forces participating in Exercise Talisman Saber '05 near the Great Barrier Reef get special instruction on the unique Southern Hemisphere environment.

Shoalwater Bay Training Area is Australia's premier military maneuver range, covering 667,182 acres of land -- about the size of Rhode Island. In addition to the omnipresent kangaroo, the region harbors six species of sea turtles and has the largest population of endangered dugongs in Australia. Dugongs are sea creatures similar to Florida's manatee.

"If we don't look out for the area, we will be kicked out and we will lose our ability to train at Shoalwater Bay," said Australian Forces Col. Mike Goodyer.

"If, in fact, the area is treated disrespectfully, the Australian people will take their fight to the gates of the military bases," said Goodyer. "Protection of nature and prevention of environmental damage is of paramount importance during Talisman Saber '05. Any incident would cause a hard look at future operations, and the result would make further restrictions mandatory."

Balancing the cultural and environmental concerns of the Australian populace with the need to train military forces is paramount, Goodyer said. Shoalwater Bay is the only place in Australia where air, land and sea forces can engage in joint, live-fire training exercises. But before any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine sets foot onto the massive range, approvals from the Australian government must be granted. All units are briefed and become completely familiar with the pristine area's natural resources.

"The Shoalwater Bay Training Area was purchased by the Australian Government in 1942 for military training, and it is viewed as a national treasure to the Australian people," said Leanne Sommer, senior environmental advisor to the South Queensland's Australian Defense Forces.

Talisman Saber is monitored by Australian and American agencies to ensure that the military forces do what they are supposed to in order to safeguard natural resources.

Sommer said a new environmental training center is scheduled to be completed before Talisman Saber '07. The bilateral exercise occurs every two years. Presentations at the new center will enhance overall awareness of Shoalwater Bay's environmental concerns.

Australia's general public is savvy about military alliances and are watchful of increased U.S. presence off the coast of Australia. Protection of Australian soil is something that resonates within this nature-loving nation, Sommer said.

"The Australian people and government want the area left exactly like the troops found it," said Navy Cmdr. Mark Deibert, a U.S. Pacific Command environmental representative monitoring alongside the Australians during Talisman Saber '05.

The Australian environmental focus is not anything new to the U.S. military forces, Goodyer and Deibert said. They said everyone here is highly sensitive to preservation during military training.

"It is not surprising to show concern about Australia's environment because we face those same requirements back in the U.S.," Deibert said. "But you can balance training with the environment while practicing the skills our forces need to survive in real-world contingencies."

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