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July 18, 2011

Military veterans push energy alternatives as security issue

Retired vice admiral says renewable energy is ‘as macho as it gets’

INDIANAPOLIS — Retired Navy Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn is used to facing some skepticism when he declares the No. 1 threat to national security is America’s oil-addicted energy policy.

The man who once commanded the Navy’s Third Fleet — responsible for securing 50 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean — is also used to being associated with “tree-hugging hippies” when he talks about the terrors of climate change.

But after describing how a company of Marines deployed state-of-the-art solar technology to skirt danger in war-torn Afghanistan, McGinn left a Statehouse audience convinced of one thing: Renewable energy “is as macho as it gets.”

At the invitation of a bipartisan group of legislators — including Republican Rep. Wes Culver of Goshen and Democratic Rep. Scott Reske of Pendleton — McGinn brought some military might and insight into what can be a combative topic: Energy policy in a nation that likes its fuel cheap and abundant.

After retiring from the military, McGinn was part of a think tank of former military commanders charged in 2007 with identifying the biggest threats to national security. The U.S. dependence on foreign oil and the looming threat of climate change were identified by the group as the top threats.

Noting that the U.S. spends billions each year to buy foreign oil, McGinn said: “America’s energy policy constitutes a serious, urgent threat to our national security ... and it’s being used against us by those who wish to do us harm.”

McGinn was the keynote speaker at a public seminar titled “National Security and America’s Future” held Sunday at the Statehouse. He was also scheduled to meet Monday with energy-policy advisers to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Accompanying McGinn were two Indiana combat veterans, retired Indiana National Guard Major Gen. George Buskirk and retired U.S. Army Sgt. Russell Silver. Both talked about how the U.S. military has been forced to confront the dangers of oil dependence in a vivid way: Accompanying the fuel-supply trucks that are integral to the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Buskirk recalled what it was like when the Indiana National Guard received its first Humvees, a workhorse of a vehicle and mainstay of the military. Their arrival was greeted as a mixed blessing, Buskirk recalled: “They got 10 miles of gas to the gallon.”

Silver talked about accompanying fellow soldiers when the U.S. invaded Iraq. His mission, he said, was to protect an oil pumping station.

“Seeing highly trained assets diverted from the invasion to protect oil assets was a pretty sobering thought for me,” Silver said.

After both men retired, they became involved in the Truman National Security Project, whose members advocate for less dependence on foreign oil and more research into alternative sources of energy. In a 2010 report, the organization noted the U.S. sends nearly $1 billion a day overseas to import oil from some of the most volatile parts of the world.

Reducing that dependence, the report concluded, is “in our long-term strategic interests.”

The five legislators who invited the veterans to speak at the energy forum — Culver, Reske, Republican Rep. Tim Neese of Elkhart and Democratic Reps. Matt Pierce of Bloomington and Mary Ann Sullivan of Indianapolis — said they did so to promote a conversation on energy policy for the state and the nation.

“So much of our energy policy is driven by whatever a gallon of gas cost last week,” Culver said. “We need to spend more time thinking about what’s best in the long term.”

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