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Before LED lights and solar panels, Beavertons green guru paid dues on military missions to Russia

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cindy Dolezel, sustainability manager with the city of Beaverton, scales the solar panel array atop the  Beaverton City Library that she worked to get installed. The former U.S. Army soldier uses her military experience and interrogation training to turn sustainable concepts into reality.

Note: This story was updated on Friday, July 12, to include a sidebar story (at the end of main article) about Cindy Dolezel's sustainability work with the city of Beaverton.

It only takes a minute or two with Cindy Dolezel to realize the city of Beaverton’s sustainability manager is highly energetic, fiercely engaging and intensely devoted to whatever project or mission is before her.

She’s as quick to laugh and initiate rapid-fire conversation as she is to respond to an email, phone call or business-related text, which flow steadily in and out of two beeping, rattling smartphones that are never far from reach.

Starting as the city’s sustainability coordinator in 2002 and morphing into a manager role, Dolezel’s passionate efforts and ability to deliver are evident throughout the city: the solar-power panel array on top of the Beaverton City Library, the LED lamps that line several streets, a plethora of electric vehicle charging stations, and this past spring’s Sustainability Forum series, which drew hundreds to hear green-minded speakers and share ideas about thinking globally and acting locally.

One could easily assume the articulate, big picture-oriented 43-year-old has had the fate of the world on her mind from a young age. That’s technically correct. It’s just that before energy savings, alternative fuels and sustainable practices filled her plate, the Michigan native channeled her do-gooder tendencies into nothing short of, well, maintaining world peace.

Dolezel spent the 1990s, in a manner of speaking, as an international spy for the U.S. government. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cindy Dolezel, sustainability manager with the city of Beaverton, stands near the LED street lights in front of the Beaverton City Library that she championed to be installed. In her previous career, Dolezel was a diplomatic courier for the U.S. State Department, taking on a mission to establlish embassies in Russia in the early 1990s.

More specifically, she served as a diplomatic courier with the U.S. State Department during a particularly tumultuous geopolitical era. As the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was breaking apart, the fledgling Persian Gulf War and the Somalian Civil War were further undermining global stability.

Using her mastery of several languages, the 23-year-old — one of five siblings, the daughter of an electrical engineer — was charged with providing cover for soldiers and other diplomats as the U.S. military established embassies in seven former soviet republics.

“The republics had just become free from the union,” she explains of transitional Russia. “We were building embassies, and we’d stop at each embassy on the way. My job was to guard the trucks 24/7. I slept in a Mercedes camper van to keep people from damaging building materials.”

Speaking the language

By that time, Dolezel, who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., had paid some dues as a U.S. Army soldier. Inspired by a student-exchange trip to Norway when she was 15, Dolezel determined her lingual skills could take her farther in a military, rather than Michigan community college, context.

“Four or five family members served in the National Guard, so it was not something unusual,” she says. “I knew I would get my university (schooling), but I was a little undecided about where. I thought this would be a stepping stone. I looked at (military service) as school. I wasn’t afraid of it.”

After boot camp in Cape May, N.J., she went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., where she was immersed in the Russian language for 40-some weeks.

“It’s where they send all the linguists for the army, the CIA, diplomats,” she says. “Everybody goes there for a year.”

During a stint in the Army’s interrogation school in Monmouth, N.J., Dolezel engaged in training exercises that simulated both sides of the prisoner-of-war experience.

“As a Russian interrogator, I often trained military police and Marines on how to handle and process prisoners of war,” she says, “specifically what to do with the information they found on the enemy soldiers so the information was not lost in the shuffle.”

One time after a long convoy to North Carolina, she was assigned to impersonate a Czechoslovakian enemy soldier and thrown into the woods to be found by our Marines who stormed the beach. The enemy evidence-gathering and solider-processing techniques involved being contained, face down on the ground in a mock prison-like setting.

Thanks to a competing army of mountain tics, a bout of lyme disease cut short Dolezel’s path to becoming an army officer.

“I excelled and really enjoyed it,” she says of the interrogation training. “Had I not been sick, I would’ve stayed in to be an officer. It was athletic and fun and hard work.”

Through the coup

Dolezel and her convoy arrived in Moscow at a decidedly inopportune time, as parliament’s attempt to overthrow President Boris Yeltsin culminated in October 1993 with a siege on the Russian White House. Dolezel had to secure a three semi-truck convoy inside of the U.S. embassy that was alight with Marines and machines guns attending to the nearby coup.

“We turned a corner, and the Russian White House was smoking in front of me,” she says, noting that as diplomats, her group carried no weaponry. “Of course, the Russian military thinks we did it. The whole building’s smoking. We had no gun, no weapons. There was a satellite phone, but we could never get a signal.”

The U.S. group made it through, but unconvinced the supposedly undercover, seven-month operation escaped the Russian military’s notice.

“I think the Russians knew who we were,” she says. “We were moving cargo. They were watching us.”

On another trip to Moscow, coming upon a man lying in the road after he’d been struck by a vehicle further reminded Dolezel of her vulnerability as well as the military’s ineffectiveness in certain situations.

“Diplomatic cars are not allowed to stop,” she explains. “The man literally looked up at me. He was going to die. Nobody could help him. The area was trashed, a bunch of people were hurt. I’m sure this man died.

“That sucked from the humanitarian perspective. That really sucked. I can see his face — 20 years later.”

Turning green

Reflecting on the transience of life amid the degraded Russian countryside, Dolezel felt the first twinges of consciousness that would influence her ecological-based career path.by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cindy Dolezel, sustainability manager with the city of Beaverton, said shes pleased with the public interest and participation in a series of four Sustainability Forums she coordinated this spring.

“I had an epiphany driving to Moscow,” she says. “It was so desolate. Russia was so beautiful. It just was not taken care of. That trip made me realize what we’d come from. How beautiful it was and how in tune with nature we could be. It made an impression on me. I wanted to be able to take care of it.”

By now married to a Federal Bureau of Investigations agent, Dolezel in 1994 retreated from active military duty into university life in the United Kingdom. There she received a master’s degree in environment sciences, energy and sustainable development at the Open University, a distance-learning institution whose classes were taught at Cambridge University. She graduated with a master’s degree from DeMontfort University in Leicester.

It took a detour through corporate America before she found her true calling in municipal sustainability (see accompanying story), but Dolezel remains grateful for the experience she gleaned while serving her country for eight years.

“It gave a poor girl from Michigan a chance to go to a university,” she says. “It opened me up and took me beyond that little city in Michigan. It gave me an exposure to the world and the possibilities of what I can do.

“I thought I was going to be a teacher, but I’m too militaristic for that,” she adds with a knowing grin. “This is a way to channel that: teaching people how to recycle and engage in sustainable practices.”


Former soldier trades Enron for city sustainability


The Times

When Cindy Dolezel left the U.S. military after serving as a diplomatic courier with the State Department in the mid-1990s, her first job in the private sector — with Enron Corp. — brought her to the Portland area.

She quickly found, however, that the corporate environment and the job — collecting information on power plants to supply traders with information — were not the right fit for her ecologically driven sensibilities.

“It was clear to me after a short time that Enron was not the place for me,” she says. “It was all about money, money, money — and that wasn’t my objective.”

From a role as a recycling specialist with Washington County government, she landed a coordinator role with the city of Beaverton’s waste-reduction program, and in 2011 was named sustainability coordinator in the city’s Community and Economic Development office, led by Don Mazziotti.

“Cindy is an outstanding manager and innovative thinker,” Mazziotti says. “She has taken modest resources and turned the city into a national leader in sustainability.”

Dolezel credits her persistence, leadership abilities and world travel and military experiences with fostering cooperation and teamwork toward reaching the city’s sustainability goals.

“Energy is always a great starting point — it is one of the easier things to measure and save money,” she says, “but helping people at work and at home make smarter choices that help our planet and people is what really motivates me.”

Dolezel, the mother of an 8-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, was particularly pleased with the recently concluded Sustainability Forum series that featured national and regional climate and environmental policy experts discussing sustainable practices at the local as well as global level. About 330 people attended the four forums, which pleased Dolezel for the feedback and questions from local residents.

“We were not there to debate climate change,” she says. “We’re saying we like these outcomes: better water, cleaner air, healthier children, more energy efficiency. In the past, some of these things were not considered in the balance, and now it’s considered part of the city strategy.”

Mayor Denny Doyle credits Dolezel’s persistence and innovation with putting Beaverton on the national map in setting standards for sustainable practices and ideas.

“She’s just been a tremendous asset to the city, with a work ethic second to none,” Doyle says. “We’re seeing the results of her work month after month. Beaverton has established a reputation regionally as well as nationally, and we very much appreciate that.”

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