Feature   Know Your Military

Airman Shares Love of Conservation, Leads Project

July 15, 2021 | BY Air Force Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier , 154th Wing

When she was only a teenager, one security forces specialist got her first taste of helping the environment while climbing Mount Kaala on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. 

A female airman smiles at a man in a safety vest holding a yellow hard hat.
Team Lead
Air Force Airman 1st Class Genesaret Balladares,154th Security Forces Squadron member, leads a team of volunteers during a conservation project event on Mount Kaala, Hawaii, June 8, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier
VIRIN: 210608-Z-GR156-0071C

Airman 1st Class Genesaret Balladares, 154th Security Forces Squadron, said she and her friends came upon a volunteer group pulling up invasive grass that flourishes in swampy areas. The team taught her about the mountain, why preservation efforts are important and about a pink flower called Koli'i.

"There was something special about seeing that endemic flower for the first time, watching it blossom, and knowing that it only exists here and how I was possibly the only one in the world who was appreciating it at that exact moment," she said. "It made me feel that I needed to protect it and make sure it continues to flourish."

She said it ignited a lifelong passion for conservation throughout her studies, volunteer work and her personal mission to give back to the ‘Alina,' the land, in the Hawaiian language. 

A female airman in a red shirt grabs a stack of blue buckets from a cart while an airman with a yellow shirt grabs a gray bag.
Volunteer Supplies
Air Force Airman 1st Class Genesaret Balladares with the 154th Security Forces Squadron, grabs supplies during a volunteer event on Mount Kaala, Hawaii, June 8, 2021. Balladares set up a collaboration between her unit and the Army Natural Resource Program, Ohau, during a project to protect native species. The goal of the program is to effectively balance the requirements of the Army's training mission with its natural resource responsibilities.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier
VIRIN: 210608-Z-GR156-0046C
A female airman in a red shirt smiles as a female in a yellow shirt gives a briefing.
Community Outreach
Kim Welch, Army Natural Resources Program outreach and volunteer specialist, and Airman 1st Class Genesaret Balladares with the 154th Security Forces Squadron, provide a briefing to volunteers during a conservation project in Wahiawa, Hawaii, June 8, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier
VIRIN: 210608-Z-GR156-0039

During COVID-19, as part of the Hawaii Air National Guard, Balladares served as part of the Task Force Reserve to augment domestic operations throughout Hawaii. She remained in touch with her outer network of environmental professionals throughout her island-based deployment and kept an eye out for opportunities to help the environment.

This spring, she received word that the Army Natural Resources Program, Oahu, sought help to move several tons of gravel near Mount Kaala. The goal of the program was to balance the requirements of the Army's training mission with its natural resource responsibilities.

A female in a red shirt puts her hands up to her mouth to talk to people as another female in a red shirt looks on with mountains in the background.
Team Leader
Air Force Airman 1st Class Genesaret Balladares with the 154th Security Forces Squadron, leads a team of volunteers during a conservation project event on Mount Kaala, Hawaii, June 8, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier
VIRIN: 210608-Z-GR156-0096C

She sought the muscle of her security forces family to aid the wildlife on the mountain sacred to her. 

"I thought nobody would be interested," Balladares said. "They don't understand why I'm so passionate about it. I worried people would think this girl is crazy. She's talking about plants again."

To her surprise, about 90 percent of the Airmen volunteered.

Airmen wearing hats, glasses and gloves use shovels to move gravel.
Gravel Group
Volunteers with the 154th Security Forces Squadron transport gravel in an effort to preserve natural habitats on Mount Kaala, Hawaii, June 8, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier
VIRIN: 210608-Z-GR156-0125
Three airmen shovel gravel.
Volunteer Work
Volunteers from the 154th Security Forces Squadron transport gravel in an effort to preserve natural habitats on Mount Kaala, Hawaii, June 8, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier
VIRIN: 210608-Z-GR156-0129

"It was clear she was very emotional about this project, and it showed us how much passion she has for this," said Capt. Allison Delow Santos, 154th SFS operations officer. "She shares the scientific names of the plants and animals, their Hawaiian names, their features, what they look like. We could all see how much time and effort she's put into making sure this is successful. She made us want to be a part of it."

About 30 volunteers met at Schofield Barracks June 8, 2021 with ANRP program managers and biologists to learn how their efforts could help preserve natural habitats of at-risk species while respecting environmental sensitivities. 

Airmen on a mountain wave and smile for a photo.
Genesaret Balladares
Air Force Airman 1st Class Genesaret Balladares with the 154th Security Forces Squadron, leads a team of volunteers during a conservation event on Mount Kaala, Hawaii, June 8, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier
VIRIN: 210608-Z-F3908-0129C

ANRP Outreach and Volunteer Specialist Kim Welch said they were one of the largest groups to ever contribute to the ANRP and they completed enough labor to account for five or six separate outings.

Balladares said she was overjoyed by receiving nonstop questions from her peers about the wildlife.

"I couldn't be happier with how the day turned out. To have their support and lead them, it's been very empowering," she said. "I'm glad everyone had a great time, worked hard and ended up making a difference."

(Shannon Collins contributed to this story)