President Barack Obama recently paid a visit to the Argonne National Laboratory where he strongly voiced concerns about the national security threat Americans face from dependence on oil as a single source of fuel. As an Army veteran now working to develop advanced-energy technologies, I was proud to be there, too, standing next to a president who listens to the advice of military and national security leaders — and offers solutions to tackle our nation’s toughest energy challenges.
In contrast, Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., recently disrespected current and former military leaders who have called attention to the threat our oil dependence poses to our national security. Inhofe said he’d rather have generals and admirals “go fishing” after they retire from a life of military service, instead of speaking out on issues they find important, such as our nation’s energy security.
Why would the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee casually dismiss the opinion of military commanders with decades of experience tackling national security threats? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him. What I do know is that I saw firsthand on the front lines the dangers our oil dependence poses. When I was an artillery officer in Iraq in 2004, the fuel convoys that my unit relied on to be supplied and effective were constantly targeted by enemy insurgents. I also saw how devastating the lack of secure sources of energy can be, as lines for gas stations stretched miles long, preventing Iraqis from getting to work, ripping apart their community and fueling the insurgency.
Our military and national security leaders have recognized the dangers of our oil addiction, and they’re doing something about it. The Marines are using tactical solar panels and solar blankets to power their forward-operating bases, cutting down the need for dangerous fuel convoys on the battlefield. The Army is developing a hybrid Humvee with the same payload, protection and performance of a conventional Humvee — but with 90 percent better fuel efficiency. And the Navy is developing the next generation of advanced biofuels, using algae and recycled waste oil to power its ships and aircraft.
After completing my Army service in 2007, I realized that I could continue to serve my country by making the case for clean-energy innovations here at home. I also found the leadership and technical skills I developed during my service made me highly sought-after by clean-energy companies. My transition into the clean-energy sector has allowed me to continue my service to our nation through a committed focus to securing our energy future.
The military has a long history of technological innovation that crosses into the civilian sector, creating entire new industries. The Internet, GPS and microchips are examples of military solutions to national security issues that changed life for all Americans.
Clean, renewable energy can be the next American innovation success story. By bringing together our brightest scientists, military innovators and leaders in manufacturing and business, we can develop the technologies that will fuel our economy for generations and secure America with clean energy. If Inhofe doesn’t want to be a part of that solution, at the very least, he can give our men and women who have dedicated their lives to the defense of this country the respect they deserve.
Kevin Johnson is a former Army captain and a spokesman for the clean-energy campaign Operation Free.