Thursday, October 1, 1998

Soldiers in training

Published in the Columbia Missourian

A man in a camouflage military uniform hunches over a desk and grips a marker tightly. He quickly traces the outline of a map and its legend and looks up, wryly remembering his days as a full-time soldier. "I used to have privates doing this for me," he says. This is Sgt. 1st Class William VanZandt, a master's candidate in business administration at MU. Tomorrow his National Guard unit's drill weekend begins.

Ads for VanZandt 's group are everywhere: "One weekend a month, two weeks a year, the Army National Guard." The ads don't say that many National Guard members have only two weeks of vacation from their jobs every year - and they spend that vacation training with their Guard units. The ads don't say that one Saturday morning each month, the men and women of the Guard roll out of their beds at 5 a.m., drive to their local armory and stand in formation at 7 a.m. to wait for the day to begin. The ads don't say that the following day, they do the same thing again. And, the ads don't say that some members of the Guard do this routine for 20 years or more.

These people are not the full-time Army, which does "more before 6 a.m. than most people do all day." They are not the Army Reserve, which is on call only for the Pentagon. The National Guard has a dual mission: federal military service and state emergency service. They do more in one average drill weekend than in a whole week. Map tracing is only the beginning.

Seven a.m. Saturday. VanZandt stands in formation on Stankowski Field with the rest of the headquarters battery of the 128th Field Artillery Regiment, Missouri National Guard,
Battery 1st Sgt. William Carney announces the order of the day. Arrayed in front of him are a little more than 100 men. No women are present. This is a combat unit; women aren't allowed here. Ninety percent of their training is for combat duty. They are the headquarters unit for the regiment, which is made up of National Guard batteries all over Missouri.

In time of peace, these men are ready to serve Missouri for disaster relief, riot control, maintenance of public order or, most recently, flood control. Staff Sgt. Melvin Wriedt remembers the Great Flood of 1993. "A lot of inventions came out of that flood," he said. "One was the automatic sandbag-filler. It has a hopper and a spout. You hold the bag up and pour. It's better than 'one man hold the bag, one man dig.' " Ten percent of their training is for this type of public service.

This morning, though, their routine is very basic: They must do a certain number of push-ups and sit-ups and run two miles in the time the Army allows. The requirements vary depending on the men's ages. It is their physical training, or PT, test. The men, in sweat clothes clearly labeled "Army," are in varying stages of readiness for the test. Some are taking this "for the record" to be noted officially in their service log. The rest are taking it to see how they measure up to the more rigorous Army standards, which take effect in October.

They do their push-ups six abreast, each with a sergeant keeping count. Sgt. 1st Class Dave Robbins is the most vocal of the bunch. "Give me 65, sir! 65, SIR!" he bellows, his voice splitting the early-morning air. He attracts stares from the few civilian runners out for a jog around the track. In a pressed camouflage uniform complete with extra-shiny combat boots, Robbins is the genuine article.

Some of the soldiers laugh, but most smile quietly. He is respected around here; he's been in the Guard 20 years, after serving in the Navy in Vietnam. This morning he is all military, but tomorrow will be his last official day in camouflage.

He's retiring.

Robbins coaxes, chides or forces the best out of the men doing push-ups in front of him. He does the same when the sit-ups come around. The run gets under way, and in a more subdued tone, he urges the men to run faster. As they get close to the end of the two miles, he's bellowing again, demanding performance from his friends and fellow soldiers.

When the last man crosses the line, it's back to the armory and onto the scale one by one. Weight and height recorded, they hit the showers. Finally, they emerge from the locker room in their camouflage uniforms.

Some of these men have worn other uniforms before in the Navy, Army or Marines. "We collect all types. We're not picky," says battery commander Capt. Harold Spies, who did 67 sit-ups. This unit dispenses with the traditional armed-forces rivalries. They're all artillery men now.

But this weekend they don't get to fire "the big guns," as they do during their two-week annual training. Sgt. 1st Class Joe Reddick, who did 99 push-ups (his personal record is 150 in two minutes), works in the impact zone, where the shells come down. He's a full-time member of the Guard, meaning he also works 40 hours a week in the armory helping the unit stay organized.

The full-timers are a smooth office team. They get their work done mostly on time, banter extensively and keep abreast of each other's personal lives, just like any other office staff, except they wear camouflage to work every day. And their workplace is vacant most of the time. On drill weekends, though, the place is hopping with what the Guard calls "traditional soldiers," meaning citizen-soldiers.

The military and civilian worlds combine in curious ways in the National Guard. Students, young and old, are in this university-town unit. Some, like VanZandt, are getting advanced degrees in accelerated programs. Some are working on their college degrees. The newest members haven't yet graduated from high school.

Civilian life appears elsewhere, too. Staff Sgt. Paul Hegg's daughter is a Girl Scout. He sold over $400 worth of cookies to members of the unit, hand-delivering them out of a huge cardboard box during breaks in the weekend's events. Specialist Steven Walker collected his four boxes, saying, "I'm so happy. I've got my breakfast now."

The day passes slowly as the men wait for tomorrow's field exercises.

Some men check out weapons and equipment for tomorrow. It's a "Warrior Weekend," when some members of the unit head out to a local training area for a mock battle. It's not just a bunch of guys jumping in Jeeps to go play laser tag. This is the military.

Like civilians, though, they enjoy a cold beer at the end of a long day. Robbins supplies a half-keg for the unit in honor of his final drill. It's gone before the men go home for the night. Those whose homes are several hours away bed down in the armory.

Seven a.m. Sunday. First formation. Some soldiers are late because this is the weekend the time changed one hour forward. Carney forgot to mention it at yesterday's final formation. He's fuming. Most of the men checked out their weapons and MILES gear the day before. "MILES gear" is the Army's term for laser tag equipment, which consists of a laser gun and receptors that register hits from the gun. The men wear receptors on their helmets and on their chests and backs. The equipment is heavier and bulkier than the commercial version; each man's total burden is 60 pounds.

Carney is trying to get the laden men together for their safety briefing before the ride up to the Macon Training Ground. He had planned to start the meeting at 8 a.m. It's now almost 8:15.
Spies is waiting for the briefing, too. He's in charge of the detachment going up to the training area. "My unit hasn't been in the field for a while," he says. "They're a bit rusty. But I refuse to get agitated. I'll just let the first sergeant sweat a bit. That's his job."

Carney is definitely sweating. He's about to start the safety briefing and now he can't find Spies. Everyone else is almost ready. At last, all the Humvees have enough gas, and the ones that don't start have been exchanged for ones that do. Carney begins.

"I'm going to forget that I planned this briefing for 0800. I'm going to forget that it's now 0826. I'm going to forget that you were all supposed to get gas for your vehicles yesterday afternoon. I'm going to forget ... " The litany of the morning's errors continues. Discipline here is military mixed with civilian: harsh criticism tempered with positive group-dynamics techniques. "We move on from here. This is a safety briefing."

It is not about the dangers of playing laser tag with M-16s while wearing full camouflage (including face paint) in a wet and wooded area. Instead, Carney delivers a lecture on the hazards of getting to the training ground. "We're going to be traveling on highways varying from two lanes to four lanes, with speed limits varying between 60 and 70 miles per hour." Vehicle-
following distances are carefully specified, in meters, of course - this is the military. If any vehicle can't see the one behind it, it must slow down.

Everything is prescribed: "You assistant drivers are there to keep your drivers alert and awake. Make sure you do this." Everybody wears seat belts. Vehicle headlights are on for safety. Even plans for vehicle breakdowns are outlined. The convoy is registered with the state National Guard headquarters; the registration number is chalked on the side of every vehicle.

The Humvees and trucks pull out onto the highway. Though the speed limit is 70 mph, the convoy's top speed is 50. Other drivers take every opportunity to pass, leapfrogging dangerously up the convoy between Humvees. Civilian drivers almost cause two accidents as the convoy lumbers north.

Exiting the highway onto a dirt road, the convoy finds the going wetter and tougher by the mile. Soon the Humvees' massive wheels are thickly caked in mud. Civilian cars don't have a hope of making it; the lone pickup truck venturing down the road slides and spins for a bit before proceeding. The mud-spattered convoy parks in a clearing for lunch.

Food in the Guard is completely a military affair. Meals ready to eat, or MREs, are standard fare. Though the soldiers have to pay a little more than $3 per MRE during drill weekends, if they are called into service, food is provided for them. Most pay and then complain about the quality of the product. They choose their meals, paying careful attention to the labels: beef stew is good, ham-and-cheese omelets are awful.

"Eat. Don't eat. Eat. Don't eat. Don't eat. Don't eat. Oh, these are good," Sgt. 1st Class Chris Jones, the unit's recruiter, says. He sorts the contents of his MRE. When he's done, there's as much discarded food and plastic wrapping as there was food he ate. The rations aren't terrible; each meal contains 7,200 calories - enough, the Army calculates, to sustain a soldier in the field on one meal pack per day. One of the unit's ex-Navy guys remembers fondly his days of "C-ratch," canned food, the Navy's version of an MRE. But he grins and eats, too.

As the MRE aftertaste wears off, the exercise begins. Some of the men learn to use a new mine detector, like the ones in Bosnia now. A squad goes down the road to test it. One man holds the mine detector; two others walk behind him with weapons held ready for potential attack.

About seven of the group fade off into the woods to prepare for the exercise. They're called OPFOR, opposition forces, and will attack the main group at some point in the afternoon. The rest of the men will practice moving into a new location and setting up a headquarters base there. First they sweep the road for mines. Then they secure the perimeter in a silent operation, using only hand signals to communicate. The men move quickly, though not that quietly, through the forest. They are on the lookout for enemy troops and booby traps. It's eerie - a silent defense against unseen aggressors. It's almost possible to believe there's a real enemy out here, somewhere in Macon.

When the perimeter is almost secure, OPFOR attacks. Two men move in from one side of the road; three others appear farther down on the same side of the road. But where are the rest? The defending men open fire, running, dodging and diving through the brush to get better views of the aggressors while still protecting themselves.

The rest of OPFOR opens fire now that forces are committed away from them. They are next to the road, in a clump of trees, on relatively high ground. Spies and Carney hang back, letting the men fight. They're commanders who need to stay alive as long as they can to coordinate the counterattack and communicate with other units.

Some of the men who were scouting the other side of the road come over to help in the fight. Others stay where they are, guarding against any other possible attacks.

The fight lasts about 15 minutes, but it was compressed in the minds of the men who want to do it all again. "Let's play more!" a couple of them say. OPFOR has been defeated, their position overrun by hard-charging, fast-firing defenders. Despite how much they train for war, weekends like this are really the only time these Guardsmen get to be soldiers in a combat situation. Most of their time on active duty is helping civilians in Missouri.

They took a break to talk a bit about the exercise, but now it's time to clean up. This is the 1990s Army - environmentalism is important. The brass shells expended by the M-16s are valuable. They're easily recyclable, but making new brass is expensive. The Army has also found a military reason: Leaving behind signs of your presence gives valuable information to the enemy. Never mind that the "enemy" that has successfully captured this Midwestern training ground already has a good idea of what kind of ammunition M-16s use.

Back the men go, revisiting their locations during the recent battle. They pick up as much brass as they can. One soldier notices that he's missing something more than just brass.

Specialist Anthony Ash had strapped a radio to his chest when the fight began. It's not there now. After a few minutes of searching, they find it in the place Ash first hit the dirt to fire his M-16 at an intruder. He's chagrined and refuses to carry the radio back to the vehicles for fear of losing it a second time. "He's got it, and I'm not going to touch it, sir," Ash says dejectedly to Spies.

Despite the mistake, Spies gives Ash a break. The unspoken feeling is that a "real soldier" wouldn't have dropped the radio in the heat of battle, even though it is the sort of thing that could very well happen in combat.

Spies and Carney are happy with the way the exercise turned out, even though the group experienced several problems with the laser tag equipment. The convoy packs up and returns to the armory the same way it came: in order, creeping down the highway. This time, though, they're spraying mud everywhere. Even after the 60-mile trip, some mud is still coming off of the tires in the armory's parking lot.

Final formation begins after everyone has returned their weapons and MILES gear. Various announcements are made before the real event begins. Spies' voice rings out in the immense room.

"Sgt. 1st Class Dave Robbins, front and center."

Robbins leaves his place in the ranks and marches up to stand at attention in front of Spies. It is his last day in the Guard, his last few minutes. Spies speaks again.

"Gentlemen, before me stands the example of the citizen-soldier." Spies talks briefly about Robbins' service to the Guard and the level of performance the veteran demands from his fellow soldiers.

Robbins' wife has already been given an award for her support of the Guard and her husband's career. Now Robbins gets a service medal and letters of commendation from President Clinton and Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan. He is trying not to cry. Spies is trying not to cry. Carney, who is reading the letters aloud to the men, is trying not to cry.

When he is permitted, Robbins runs back to his place in line so the men don't see his tears. The new medal falls off while he runs; he stops quickly to pick it up. When he gets back to his place,
the man next to him slips him a handkerchief.

The battery is dismissed, and most of the men crowd around Robbins to congratulate him on his service. When the crowd has just begun to die down, another section of the unit drives up. Robbins is back on the job only five minutes after being told he's done. He checks quickly to make sure the situation is under control, then heads out the back door of the armory with a few of the men. In the bed of Robbins' white pickup truck is a cooler of beer.

Robbins doesn't quite know what to think, but he's smiling and puffing away on his cigar, laughing with his comrades in arms. Spies reminds the group that most of them are here not for the money - though the money is nice - but for the company, the comradeship. Rich says that of his 10 best friends, he met seven in the Guard. Robbins promises everyone he'll be back to visit; they assure him they'll miss him when he's not around.

This is the Guard. Friends will be nearby, not far away on some Army base. Robbins can visit the public armory any time. He can go home to his job and his family.

For the first time in 20 years, Robbins won't be back next month to be a soldier again, even for a weekend. The rest of them will be back. Some will see each other tomorrow; others will have to wait the full month. They part ways smiling and waving, their ambivalent goodbyes indicating they're not quite ready to return to civilian life.

Sunday, July 5, 1998

Lincoln rebuilds

Published in the Addison Independent
LINCOLN - The clean-up effort began even before the water receded. Volunteers who had been up all Friday night ensuring residents' safety were back at work on Saturday and Sunday dealing with the aftermath.

In addition to the town residents, the Starksboro Fire Department was on the scene quickly, setting up road blocks and helping direct traffic around washouts. Also responding quickly was the Army National Guard from Vergennes.

The biggest turnout for a single effort was at Burnham Hall, where the Lincoln Community Library lost 80 percent of its collection, despite a desperate midnight rescue effort mounted by town residents.

"When I got there it was already up to the windows," said Lincoln Constable Art Pixley. He had been out helping residents evacuate from their threatened houses.

The library was a lost cause. As daylight broke Saturday, residents - already awake - came out to assess the damage.

"The first book I saw was Sidney Sheldon's 'Nothing Lasts Forever,'" said Reed Prescott of Lincoln.

Floating on the lawn was a copy of "New England's Weather Disasters," he said.

Liam and Ike Mulqueen-Duquette were among the children helping clean out the library. They put the books in a trailer which would be hauled to the dump, but not before the kids had had last looks at the pages of their ruined treasures. Kids went through the children's book section, saying "I remember this story!"

Ike Mulqueen-Duquette sorted the books, throwing the "Haven't read it" group into a different area of the trailer than the "Read it" group.

Bill Purdah was a volunteer helping with the book disposal. He said he initially felt bad throwing them all away but realized that they weren't really books anymore.

"It's a sodden mass of mud and paper," he said.

Charlie Piasecki of Bristol Insurance came up to look at the damage to the library and to help the clean-up.

"They're very fortunate that they had the foresight to take out flood insurance," he said. The insurance adjuster was scheduled to come Monday morning to survey the damage.

Burnham Committee member Nancy Stevens was saddened by the fact that the flood coverage for the contents of the building was not very high, but she was optimistic about the future of the library.

"The town of Lincoln will come forward," she said.

Up at French Settlement, the road was mostly washed away. Anne Parfitt and Don Brumfield made it down to the Lincoln General Store on foot.

"The river came, swirled around and took a new course," Parfitt said. "We're totally wiped out up there."

Several residents, including drivers from Atkins Trucking, as well as Bill Jesdale and Bill Masterson, helped the repair work by dumping and spreading dirt over where French Settlement Road had been.

Gerold Kandzior, who lives at the bottom of French Settlement Road, had some friends helping to clean out the 6 inches of mud on the floor of his barn. He suspected at least one septic tank upstream from him had ruptured because of the stench from the mud. The yard he used to mow was totally covered with stones from the river and roadbed. The river, which had flowed past his barn, has a new course now, about 10 feet further out.

Saturday morning, though, the whole place was filled with water. Only an old rusty holding tank, which floated over to the house from beside the barn, saved the house from being demolished by the rocks and branches.

Kandzior was evacuated by the fire department early in the morning on Saturday because there were propane tanks further up the road which officials feared might float down and explode. The tanks didn't end up on Kandzior's property, though a neighbor's motorcycle was upended and covered in mud and grass next to the barn.

"Messy, messy, messy," Kandzior said.

Central Vermont Public Service crews were on the scene Sunday, driving in from Rutland and Middlebury. The damage to the power lines was surprisingly light, they said. They had brought several bucket trucks as well as other equipment to repair the damage.

"We had no idea what to expect, so we came loaded for bear," one crewman said.

Ed Trombley, a crew chief, said that the power was ready to go on in the Lincoln area. All that remained was for the connection to be made by the Twin Bridges and then some small areas would be brought on later. He said that power could be on the Lincoln area by as soon as Monday. Two poles by the Squirrel's Nest Restaurant were the village's link with the outside power grid. When those gave way, Lincoln was darkened.

Monday, May 11, 1998

Making weekend war

Published in the Columbia Missourian

The Headquarters Battery of the 128th Artillery Regiment, Missouri National Guard, trains one weekend a month and two weeks a year to stay ready for their two main tasks: 1) to serve the state of Missouri in times of civil distress, like floods or other natural disasters; and 2) to serve the United States in time of war.

During the rest of the year, the members of the National Guard have regular jobs like most other people: working in offices, teaching, doing various kinds of skilled work, and so on.

But on their training weekends, they prepare for war. It's not just a matter of being physically ready, but also of having plans for events that might happen. They plan a lot. Each weekend they go home having planned a little more. The next month, they come back and pick up right where they left off.

The men in the upper right photo are officers preparing for a mock battle they will fight in a couple of months from now. The man in the upper left photo is a soldier practicing combat maneuvers with his squad.

Humvees are the military's main method of moving people around during exercises and combat. The trucks are built with large tires and high ground clearance, so they can get through almost any type of landscape. They're still nimble enough, though, to drive on regular roads.

The inside of a Humvee has room for about four people to sit. (In a Humvee, everyone wears a seat belt because it jolts around so violently!) There's also room for a lot of equipment on the floor and in the rear storage area.

When they're not in motion, the vehicles can be used as tables, desks, or chairs. The tough metal can take it if soldiers sit on the vehicles or put weaponry or other things on them. Humvees are built to be rugged.

Sunday, February 15, 1998

Entangled in expansion

Published in the Columbia Missourian

On the wall above the kitchen counter in Jim and Helen Judah's house is a 30-year-old aerial photograph of their property. Open fields and clustered treetops dominate the scene. Taken today, the photograph would look very different.

At the northwest edge of their property, middle-class houses in the Georgetown subdivision spring up from the fields. Nearer the Judahs' house, across Gillespie Bridge Road, residents of the Longview subdivision mow lawns in front of their duplexes. And although a proposal to rezone the land just downhill from the Judahs' lagoon was rejected a couple of years ago, the possibility remains for subdivisions to creep closer.

Southwest and northeast of Columbia, land like the Judahs' is under pressure from the expanding city. As the city's population grows, homes and land to build them on are in high demand.

Many northeastern landowners seem ready to sell their properties. But in the southwest, few landowners say they are interested in selling despite the money they could make.

Meanwhile, shops and houses are going up all along the perimeter of the Columbia, wherever land can be bought and developed. Growth to the southwest of the city has been curtailed, however, because holdouts in that area own more than 3,000 acres of development-ready land.

But even in the southwest, residents' lives are changing because of Columbia's growth. Civilization is banging on the door. Roads bring more traffic; zoning and subsequent building alter the views from people's homes.

To sell or not to sell
Jim Judah says he knows all about selling land. The family farm on which he was born was sold and became tract housing. Three years ago, he and his wife, Helen, sold a 320-acre parcel on Coats Lane. The new owner isn't a developer, and the Judahs rent the land from the new owner to produce hay. Jim says this is the only way they can support 110 cattle on the 175 acres they have left.

What of that last 175 acres?

"We're not going to sell," he says.

The Judahs are holding on, even without much help. One of their two part-time farmhands is unable to walk, but drives a tractor. The other helps in the afternoons. Jim does the morning and evening feeding alone.

Land prices and the production costs make farming for a living difficult - even for longtime family farmers such as the Judahs.

Surrounded by growing developments and "hobby farmers," Jim and Helen live on their investments. "It has cut farming clear out," Jim says.

Over on South Coats Lane, John Sam Williamson says he too worries about the development happening nearby. He says he is watching valuable soybean fields turn into grassy lawns for subdivisions.

"This land is all zoned agricultural," Williamson says. "As we have urbanization of the area, because of the growth of Columbia and outside areas, this land has changed from agricultural to residential."

State, city and county governments are also developing land. Near Williamson's house, the land is river bottom and flood plain and is unsuitable for residential development. The city of Columbia has 10 wells and three sewage treatment sites, with a fourth in the works. The Missouri Department of Conservation owns the nearby Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area.

Williamson says he has had several offers to buy his land, but he has turned them down. "At some point I probably will, because it would be stupid not to. I'm under pressure, but I'm not letting it bother me."

Williamson, who is president of the McBaine Levee district board, owns 1,400 acres of Missouri River flood plain. He says he maintains the fences at the edge of his land because neighboring developers didn't want to build them.

Florea, who owns 430 acres on Coats Lane, says he has had no purchase offers, but he is wary about the idea of selling: "Anywhere within 20 or 30 miles of Columbia, you want to be careful offering your land for a price, because someone might take you up on it."

His son and daughter-in-law also live on Florea's land. He says he doesn't plan to sell.

These landowners recognize that they are still part of the community. They can't just hold onto their land, blind to issues of expansion. Their own quality of life, land use patterns and financial security are in question. Like everyone else, when they talk about the future, they talk about zoning, roads and sewage management. These, they say, need to be addressed no matter what.

Florea, for example, is always present at county meetings. He and other farmers go to make their opinions heard and to keep the county mindful of obligations to its citizens.

Two sides of the coin
County land wasn't always governed by zoning ordinances. Now, however, land is zoned several different ways, says Stan Shawver, director of county planning and building inspection.

That is both good and bad, farmers say. The Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission is helping control expansion by preventing landowners from doing whatever they want. The Judahs, for example, now have to get a permit if they want to build even a shed on their land. Folks no longer can "just go out and put a trailer up," Jim Judah says.

The city's southern expansion over the past 30 years has also brought mixed results, Williamson says. Besides more crime and traffic, there is a lag between support and growth: "The infrastructure has not kept up with the development in this area," he says. Old roads carrying new traffic, for example, are a problem.

Florea says the city should improve its road maintenance. He says that during the 1993 flood, a bridge on Coats Lane was under eight feet of water. Ten families had to use rowboats to cross between their homes and their cars parked on the other side of the bridge.

The county is finishing a five-year program to upgrade roads. The half-percent sales tax extended in November will sustain the project for an additional 10 years. But residents say it is hard to know where the next improvements will be made.

When Jim Judah moved to his land in 1944, four miles of gravel road led from there to the Columbia town line. Now, cars back up on the blacktop in front of his home every day during rush hour. "I don't even go to the mailbox without having to wait for the traffic," Helen says. On the other hand, Jim says, the paved road is more driver-friendly.

Florea says the county could influence where development occurs with its road-paving plans. While the county can't force developers into particular areas, a blacktopped road is certainly more attractive for development than a gravel one.

"The concentration of higher-cost housing is along improved roads," Shawver says. But the impact of the five-year road-paving project has yet to increase development rates significantly, he says. "At this point we haven't seen a lot of that. Development takes a long time."

Jim Judah says he is used to managing the waste from both his household and his farm animals. Now, however, the city's waste also is being treated near his home.

City sewer standards are strict, and new subdivisions are required to comply. But because the city requires annexation before extending privileges to residents, most current owners have either a septic tank or a sewage lagoon. However, Boone County's primary soil contains a lot of clay, and this prevents septic tanks from percolating properly, Williamson says.

Lagoons smell bad, and neighbors can see the waste. Some houses use combination systems, such as septic tanks piping effluent to secondary treatment plants.

The city sewer plant near the Judahs' place is built on land the Judahs used to own. The city used its power of condemnation to buy the land, Helen says.

The fourth sewage-treatment wetland to be created will use part of a 100-acre parcel that Florea sold the city last year. He is concerned about the possibility of odor.

Florea says he doesn't notice any odors from the existing wetlands, but his house is a quarter-mile upwind of those areas. The new treatment wetland might be closer to his home.

The city's impact has not been entirely negative, residents say. After the 1993 floods, the city helped river-bottom landowners organize levee maintenance. And Florea says he appreciated the city's helping residents form a levee district: "They've been a prime mover on that since the word go."

The future
"The city's really changing," Williamson says. "It hurts me to see the change, because this is my heritage. This has been agricultural land for generations. People are selling it. But you can't blame them for doing it."

He is quick to add that these kinds of changes are happening not just in Boone County, but all around the country.

"There's no more agricultural land being made. It's all that we're ever going to have," he says.
Even Earth City, a St. Louis suburb, used to be an agricultural area of river-bottom farmland, he says. Now it has hotels, factories and warehouses.

As the world's population increases, the demand for food grows. The United States is the most efficient producer of agricultural products, Williamson says, adding that other countries don't have the same combination of infrastructure, know-how and technology.

"I'm not going to be like Don Quixote, out fighting windmills," Williamson says. "There's just one thing after another, and it's not going to end - it's going to be more."

At a recent meeting about the county budget, Florea was the only resident in attendance. "I've tried to be very active in influencing (the commission) - not with a very high degree of success," he says. "I keep nipping at their heels."

Florea says his main concern is that the county is spending too much money on construction of roads and too little on their maintenance. But bad government, he says, is the fault of citizens who don't participate. The opportunity is there, he says, even for a farmer who still loves his independence: "What do you lose by trying?"

Sunday, January 18, 1998

Instilling knowledge

Published in the Columbia Missourian

Think back to when you were in school. Chances are, your teacher had a list of assignments to get through in a given year. Those that didn't get covered were left for the following year or skipped altogether. That's all very different now.

School districts now use academic standards to design effective curriculum for science education. The result is teachers have more focus in the classroom and students benefit from improved continuity.

State and federal funding sources require school districts to adhere to their recommendations yet they each have different guidelines.

Competing for district attention are the national standards, backed by the U.S. Department of Education.

There are the Project 2061 standards put forward by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And there are the Show-Me Standards, designed by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and mandated by the state legislature.

They are similar. They all have the goal of improving K-12 science education. They all split curriculum levels the same way: K-4, 5-8 and 9-12. They all stipulate that science education is vital preparation for the world beyond academics. They all cover similar topics somewhere in the curriculum.

The problem for the school district comes in assessment. While the state's goals for learning are to be achieved by the fourth, eighth and 12th grades, the tests are administered in third, seventh and 10th grades.

For example, the third-grade test asks students about food chains and food webs. In Columbia, those subjects are taught in the fourth grade.

While in the primary grades, this forces teachers to cram an extra year of science learning into the K-3 years. Those are years when literacy education is vital. There is not enough time for both, said Becky Litherland, district coordinator of science education.

In the middle grades, the state of Missouri requires the teaching of genetics and natural selection in seventh grade - a subject difficult even for high-school sophomores, Litherland said.

In high school, teachers are left with two years to fill after the final state assessment. Subject matter originally intended for those years is tested before it is ever taught.

The competing sets of guidelines, together with the state-mandated assessment schedule, give Columbia schools some hard choices and, Litherland said: "Local control is costing us more of our education dollars."

Curriculum development has been an ongoing process far longer than government standards have been in place. "We have been changing the science curriculum for 14 years," Litherland said.

It's only in the past two years that she has been working with the national standards to create a Columbia curriculum unique to the district.

Gentry Middle School teacher Laura Jackson helped design the national standards for K-12 science education. Litherland said there is "a real sense of pride" with the local connection, and the local district tends to favor that system over the others.

The national standards, she said, are the result of years of hard work by some of the nation's best science educators and their recommendations make sense to her when others do not.

Teachers are, on their own, doing very good assessment of student performance. They have left behind the multiple-choice tests used for years, but the district's teachers are stuck. They want to teach well. They also want students to do well on tests which adhere to the state standards.

"It's hard to sell at the local level," Litherland said. "You're sitting there with a bunch of teachers and they say, 'Give me what's going to be on the test.'"

One particular national standard of importance to Litherland is "science as inquiry." It used to be called "designing and doing experiments." In Columbia, these experiments are integrated into classes where possible, giving students experience in exploring science for themselves.

A big difference now is the concept of the science fair. In the past, a student may have been told to do a science fair project without much additional help. Now students learn how to think about experiments, how to build them and how to interpret results. It's working. Columbia schools win Missouri Science Olympiad awards year after year.

Although Litherland said she believes standards renew the commitment to teaching excellence, she said she fears that the state testing system asks too much of students too early. She said she isn't happy with the current timetable.

When the state was planning education schedules, Litherland and other science educators asked the department of education to schedule science testing in fourth, eighth and 11th grades.

As all of the state's standards and assessment guidelines are developed, there will be too many tests to have all of them in any one year. The state decided to split testing between third and fourth grades, seventh and eighth grades, and 10th and 11th grades.

Science testing was the second standard implemented in Missouri, which should have given it free choice in the timetable, Litherland said, yet the state decided against the educators' request.

This spring, the first state tests will be administered. Litherland is hopeful but not optimistic. "I think our scores are probably going to be pretty poor," she said. "Our kids aren't going to do as well as I think they could because of this misalignment."

She explained the scores do not measure the quality of science education in Columbia, but merely Columbia's adherence to the state-set curricular time table. In this world of change, though, the legislators are the only people who can help Litherland ease the transition.

The people who set the standards often have a poor grasp of early childhood education, she said. That means they don't understand how much growing and changing occurs from year to year. They don't see the trade-off in primary grades between time spent on science and on literacy education.

"I hope that we'll be able to have good test scores without sacrificing our children," she said. "I want kids to come out of our elementary schools loving science, being successful at science."