WRNF road manager teaches class to Marines in Japan

Vinnie Picard
Special to the Post Independent

Standing more than 6 feet 4, with a large frame and a perpetually mischievous American grin, Ray Langstaff is a long way off from looking Japanese. But that didn’t stop him from trying to blend in on a recent trip to Okinawa.

“It was a little disorienting, I had to be careful not to hit my head in the doorways, and driving on the right side of the road took some getting used to,” said Langstaff, the White River National Forest’s road manager. “Just when I was getting my bearings it was time to go.”

Langstaff, who lives in Rifle and works at the Forest Service Glenwood Springs office, was a guest of the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Smedley D. Butler March 28 to April 7, where he taught a class on secondary road maintenance to Marine and Naval engineers.

A network of roads running through the camp’s central training area lacks proper drainage. Okinawa has loose, red clay soils that are swept downstream and deposited on fragile coral reefs, which are prime tourist destinations on the Japanese island.

Because the roads within the Marine Corps training area are a primary source of erosion, something had to be done.

“That training area is pretty important to the military,” said Langstaff. “There aren’t many places worldwide where they can train the way they need to, and that’s one of them. The military needs to clean it up so they can continue to train there while reducing environmental damage.”

Soil scientist Larry Soenen, who works at the camp’s environmental office, said Langstaff was a great choice to teach the Marines a new way of road construction and maintenance.

“Ray was able to share hands-on practical experience with the equipment operators,” said Soenen. “Students were taught concepts and saw the immediate application of these techniques. Marines have since completed several kilometers of road repairs using these concepts.”

Langstaff spent years maintaining the network of roads that crisscross national forest lands.

“The Forest Service as an agency has more low volume roads than any other agency or organization worldwide,” said Langstaff. “We are the experts.”

Building water bars, rolling dips and other water diversion structures will reduce soil erosion on the base’s roads by as much as 50 percent, he said.

The military approach to building roads has always been mission-oriented, said Langstaff, so the military engineers weren’t used to worrying about drainage and water management.

They are now.

“Three individuals came up to me after the class ended and said they wished they knew the stuff I showed them before,” he said. “They had just come back from a recent road building mission in the Philippines, and knew they could now build those roads a lot better.”

The trip wasn’t all business.

His pleasure came in seeing his son, Cpl. John Langstaff, for the first time in nearly a year.

Ray Langstaff wasn’t supposed to see his son on this trip, but that changed when John’s unit was directed to Okinawa from Hong Kong because of the SARS virus.

“John didn’t even believe I was here,” said Langstaff. “They told him I was on the island April 1, so he thought it was an April Fool’s joke.”

It was no joke, however, and father and son spent two days catching up.

“It was different, because I was on his turf. It was really nice to see him,” said Langstaff. “We just soaked up each other’s company.”

This may not be Langstaff’s last chance to see his son in Okinawa. Because of the importance of the task and success of the class, Langstaff said he may go back each year.

By all accounts, he will be welcome back. A departing gift from the Marine Corps bears the inscription, “We will never look at roads the same again.”

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