Importance of Natural Resources

The Peaceful Rainforest And The Growler Jets

The Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington is home to some of the last temperate rainforest in the world. It’s often called the quietest place in the country. It’s better therapy for me than anything else I’ve really been through. Charles Nelson has been struggling with anxiety and depression for years. He was diagnosed after he returned home from serving the U.S. Army in Kuwait and Somalia. The hyper vigilance would kick in, driving in traffic was a problem, the reaction to noises. To escape the noise, he takes weekly hikes deep into the rainforest, with a group of veterans dealing with similar issues. The biggest turning point for me was to get grounded, to get reconnected, to feel in an absolutely safe place. Now, Nelson’s quiet sanctuary may be disappearing. That’s because the Olympic Peninsula is becoming a new military training ground. For a very loud jet. Squadrons of Growler jets are based about a hundred miles away, at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. This is where everything starts. Captain Scott Farr oversees the U.S. Navy’s Growler fleet. I’m in charge of all the EA-18G Growlers in the U.S. Navy’s inventory. His unit specializes in electronic warfare. They use the growler to disrupt enemy radars and scramble threatening electronic signals, allowing U.S. troops to carry out missions undetected. Today, Farr is preparing to teach a new class of pilots how to identify and disrupt the right signals. It takes a lot of very complex training to develop that skill. The problem is, Farr says his training options aren’t complex enough. So the naval base proposed a new plan. It calls for putting mobile trucks on forest roads on the Olympic Peninsula. The trucks transmit electronic frequencies, and trainees practice homing in on the right signals. Then the trucks move to a different part of the forest. We have to have mobile emitters that can move around. Right now we have a single sight based here on Whidbey Island. If you take a test and you know where the answer is all the time, it doesn’t make for a very challenging test. Trucks hiding on the forest floor will mean more Growlers overhead. Whidbey pilots have been flying over the Olympic Peninsula since World War II. But base officials say more residents began taking notice after the Growler was introduced in 2008. Whidbey Island Naval Air Station welcomed its first EA-18G Growler fighter jet Tuesday. The Growler replaces the Prowler and there is quite a difference between the two planes. Nelson noticed a difference, too. Here we are out seeking healing in this beautiful place and it was interrupted by the absolute epitome of what I’ve been trying to avoid. The electronic warfare range is one of many military training activities under consideration for remote parts of Western Washington. The Navy recently renewed permits for sonar and explosives testing in the waters off the Pacific Northwest Coast. Another plan will allow Navy Seals to train on public beaches. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army proposed helicopter training in wilderness areas in the North Cascades. The military’s presence in the Northwest has been growing as bases shut down elsewhere. Additional forces were redeployed to the state of Washington, and they were moved to the State of Washington because of our geographic and strategic significance. The Department of Defense has been shifting resources to the West Coast, in part to protect trade routes with Pacific Rim countries like China and South Korea. We are hours closer by air and days closer by sea for getting to places throughout the Pacific. Washington State also has ideal training ground. That’s becoming more rare. Training ranges themselves are endangered throughout our country, just because of population encroachment. As the Northwest’s military and civilian populations grow, they’ll be more likely to cross paths in region’s quiet places. I’m not anti military, I’m not anti Navy at all. My whole point is convince me that it has to be done here. The U.S. Forest Service recently approved the plan, allowing growlers fly here five days a week, 12 hours a day. Base officials say that’s only a 10 percent increase. Nelson says any increase is too much. He knows first hand how difficult it is to restore peace and quiet once it’s lost.

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