A truly “green” Army is a tough idea to wrap your brain around. After all, it’s a war machine, and a war machine destroys people and other living things, doesn’t it?

The Army acknowledges as much in the Army Sustainability Report FY 2007: “To many outside the military community, the destructive methods used in Army operations are a stark contrast to most nonmilitary visions of sustainability.”

Yet the Army has been in the sustainability business for several years, with its Sustainable Project Rating Tool and with its adoption of the LEED rating system for new and existing buildings.

Fort Bragg claims to be leading the Army’s sustainability efforts. Its Web site, “Sustainable Fort Bragg,” states the base is “the first Army installation to accept the challenge to approach long-term planning using sustainable principles and concepts.”

It looks good on paper: Fort Bragg has received numerous environmental awards from U.S. Green Building Council for leadership, Tree City USA for its commitment to reforestation and the White House Closing the Circle Award for exemplary work with sustainable design.

However, before breaking out the pom-poms, consider Fort Bragg’s challenges. In 2005, the Defense Bases Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) shut many military bases while consolidating operations in places like Fort Bragg. Depending on your view, Fort Bragg and the Sandhills region either came out a winner (economically) or a loser (environmentally).

A 2007 draft environmental study pinpointed the probable environmental negatives of expanding Fort Bragg. Following the Army’s mandated LEED principles can help offset some of the problems associated with expansion, such as constructing new buildings on reclaimed land and existing building sites and using local construction materials. The overwhelming negative will be increased highway traffic, and with it, pollution, on crowded roads. In keeping with its sustainability policy, Fort Bragg plans to push for more mass transit and on-base bike lanes.

One of Fort Bragg’s environmental victories is the nation’s first recovery of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in 2005, five years ahead of schedule. The Army partnered with several wildlife groups to conserve more than 12,000 acres of land and habitat for the woodpecker.