Vets wage war on oil dependence

Members of armed services link renewable energy to national security

(Left to right) Matt Victoriano, Marine; Rick Hegdahl, Navy; Robin Ecks

U.S. Navy veteran Rick Hegdahl patrolled oil tankers during part of his time in Kuwait from 2005 to 2006.

Now retired after 24 years in the military, Hegdahl doesn’t want future generations of soldiers to pay with their lives to secure and procure overseas oil.

Hegdahl, who lives in Washington state, visited Grand Junction and the offices of U.S. Rep. John Salazar and Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall on Monday. He and other veterans are traveling the country with Operation Free to talk about cultivating renewable resources and preserving national security.

“I know I can’t fix everything, but with the efforts I make now, my daughter will breathe clean air and maybe her children won’t have to fight wars to secure energy for the U.S.,” Hegdahl said.

Operation Free is a group of veterans and national security organizations encouraging lawmakers to pass climate change legislation. Operation Free is traveling the western United States through March, speaking with the offices of national legislators.

Colorado native Brian Esquibel has served five tours with the U.S. Navy in the Middle East since entering the military in 1989. Twice, he’s returned from a tour and struggled to find a job. He said he hopes encouraging legislators through Operation Free to approve climate change legislation that helps create jobs in the renewable energy sector will help veterans find jobs and give the United States more energy resources at home.

New renewable energy jobs could help the Western Slope economy, Hegdahl said.

“There’s no reason to believe if more jobs are created in one industry, other jobs will shut off,” he said, adding a transition from non-renewable to renewable jobs will be gradual and the two sides of energy production are likely to occur simultaneously.

U.S. Army veteran Robin Eckstein of Wisconsin, who also traveled to Grand Junction Monday with Operation Free, said people in Grand Junction can help simply with conservation, or using tax credits for things like putting solar panels or new windows on a house.

Esquibel said the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are sky high in no small part due to fuel costs. He said his 180-person unit paid about $100,000 a month for fueling vehicles. Esquibel said he hopes the United States will work to fuel vehicles with resources from home.

“Think about the future, because one day the spigot is going to turn off forever,” he said.


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