An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Top left banner Top right banner
Bottom left banner Bottom right banner


NEWS | April 22, 2023

Hawaii Airman’s Childhood Experiences Drives Environmental Mission

By Staff Sgt. Orlando Corpuz Joint Task Force Red Hill

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Greg Otake had always respected the environment and its connection with the human condition. Growing up in Hilo, Hawaii, helped galvanize that view.

"I worked at my mother's gas station, and she had to follow the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health regulations," said Otake. "So early on, I was exposed to regulatory rules that agencies put in place to protect the environment."

A small fuel leak at the gas station helped solidify his convictions regarding the effects of pollution and the importance of protecting the environment.

"We had a fuel leak that we had to deal with," Otake said. "I remember construction workers and engineers being everywhere. Digging this up, repairing that, fixing this, it was kind of a big deal and something that I didn't fully understand at first."

Otake's mother explained to the young man what the big deal was all about.

"She explained that we (gas station) were right up the road from where I swam," Otake said, "And if this stuff ever got further down the soil and penetrated through the ground, me and my friends' swimming area could get contaminated, and we wouldn’t be swimming there anymore."

It was partly through these experiences as well as an affinity for the outdoors, that led Otake to pursue a career in the military as a bioenvironmental engineering specialist with the Hawaii Air National Guard.

Airmen in this career field manage activities in radiological health, occupational health, industrial hygiene, and environmental protection. They are also adept at reviewing work orders, plans, contracts, and specifications to ensure compliance with environmental and occupational health directives.

It's an expertise that makes Otake well suited for his current assignment with Joint Task Force – Red Hill (JTF-RH) and its mission to safely and expeditiously defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF).

The underground fuel storage facility sits a few hundred feet above a major aquifer that provides much of the fresh drinking water for the island of Oahu. Before actual defueling of the tanks can occur, repairs to the facility, piping networks, and systems must be completed.

"We (JTF-RH) have many contractors that do repairs," Otake said. "A big part of my responsibilities involve understanding the contracts and auditing the work the contractors are performing to help give leadership a clear picture of how the repair work is proceeding."

Born and raised in Hawaii, Otake credits his small-town upbringing with shaping his views on mother nature. There, on the eastern shores of Hawaii island, there are no concrete jungles of a city metropolis. Instead, humble structures exist, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. The hustle and bustle of the big city are nonexistent, replaced by the easy vibes of small-town living, where residents are "in-tune" with nature.

"Hilo is really just a small town," Otake said. "As far as being environmentally conscious, I would say we're definitely cognizant of taking care of the environment and being respectful in our relationship with mother nature. There are reminders everywhere of its beauty and power as well as how fragile it is.”

Hawaii is more than just a place for Otake. It is a way of life with a unique culture, history, and a spirit that he feels proud to be part of. It's a connection he brings daily to his work at JTF-RH as he helps preserve the natural resources of his beloved home.

"Hawaii is home definitely," Otake said. "I'm proud to be born and raised here, and it's satisfying that someone from the Big Island can come here to the task force and make a difference."

Otake is among a contingent of Hawaii Air National Guardsmen assigned to JTF-RH. Being born and raised in Hawaii, not only do these Airmen provide expertise in their respective fields, they provide valuable perspectives as "local" subject matter experts.

“Tech. Sgt. Otake and all others from Hawaii, both military and civilian, helped the rest of our team better understand the connection between the land, water, and people,” said U.S. Navy Vice Adm. John Wade, JTF-RH commander. “This appreciation has given us greater clarity and purpose as we execute this incredibly important mission.”

Upon graduating from Waiakea High School in 2003, Otake enlisted in the U.S. Navy to "see the world", but his goal was always to come home. At the end of his Navy commitment, a chance meeting with a Hawaii Air National Guard officer brought military service and Hawaii back into play.

Now, after completing many special assignments in service to country and state, Otake considers his latest position with the JTF-RH, one of the most important in his two-decade career.

"I think most everyone here at the task force understands the importance of this mission," Otake said. "Everybody is affected by water, everybody. Civilian, military, everyone. From my perspective, I can't think of a more meaningful mission right now."

It’s also not lost on him that the fuel spill at his mother's gas station in his youth may have somehow led him to being a part of JTF-RH.

"It's kind of ironic that a fuel spill at my mom's station all those years ago helped me realize the importance of protecting the environment," Otake said. "And now I'm here at the task force dealing with fuel and the environment, only this time on a much larger scale."

JTF Red Hill Menu