NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- USS George Washington (CN 73) Chief Selectees and Chief Petty Officers participate in a community relations (COMREL) project at Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in Portsmouth, Virginia, Aug. 16.
Hoffler Creek's mission is to conserve the last parcel of wilderness habitat in the Hoffler Creek watershed for environmental education, research, and recreation consistent with good stewardship.
Supporting that mission is no easy task with a limited crew, which is why military volunteers are always welcome in providing assistance with wilderness maintenance. Armed with axes, yard clippers, and hand saws, the George Washington crew devoted four hours to help manage the abundance of non-native invasive plants (weeds or exotics) that are normally brought to an area like Hampton Roads for decorative reasons, for a potential food source, or maybe a crop.
Non-native invasive plants pose challenges, which are not helpful to the environment.
"They [non-native invasive plants] have a competitive advantage over the things we normally expect to have here," said James Bussey, Hoffler Creek executive director. "That causes a number of problems including changes to soil formations, the way the water processes it, runs out of the salt marsh, and increases the risk of forest fires that would displace the animals and plants we'd really like to see here."
Bussey went on to say that getting rid of those types of plants helps our habitat, which is largely managed to be left alone, so they can be useful to the plants and other animals that we would expect to see in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
"I know we can't make a major impact today, but we can start something that will develop over time to get this area back up to standards," said Chief (Sel) Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Terry Keys, wiping the sweat from his face as he paused from his duties to talk about the group's efforts. "It's a privilege to come out here with like-minded Sailors and affect this small area of wildlife and habitat."
While the focus was untangling vines and ridding the area of greenery that is not conducive to the habitat here, the other mission was to lend a hand.
"We have to be able to give back to our community and not be seen as just as global force for good," said Chief (Sel) Operations Specialist Travis Raney. "We do more than just fight wars. It's about doing things within the community to support the area around us because they are the ones supporting us. It feels good to give back."
With multiple truckloads of various plants removed from the area, Bussey was thankful for their efforts.
"We appreciate the support as an organization that relies so wholeheartedly on volunteer support," said Bussey. "It's nice to see individuals who are only here for a short time that are interested in helping the community."
Giving back, whether removing non-native invasive plants or removing debris from a local beach, COMRELS provide military personnel with the opportunity to give back to a community. Sailors interested in lending a hand in the community can sign up at Command Religious Ministries Department on the Floating Accommodation Facility in Room 321.
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