Marines Prove Energy Efficiencies in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2011 — There’s a pecu­liar sight on For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Jack­son in the San­gin dis­trict of Afghanistan’s Hel­mand province. The base is one of sev­er­al in south­ern Afghanistan where the Marine Corps has set up solar pan­els and uses solar blan­kets as sources of renew­able ener­gy.
Col. Robert “Bru­tus” Charette Jr., direc­tor of expe­di­tionary ener­gy for the Marine Corps, is work­ing to ensure that deploy­ing such sources of renew­able ener­gy become stan­dard pro­ce­dure. But he admits it hasn’t come easy.

Marines and sailors of India Com­pa­ny, 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 5th Marine Reg­i­ment, and their Afghan army coun­ter­parts pose in front of a mod­i­fied Zer­oBase Regen­er­a­tor — solar pan­els — at Patrol Base Sparks in the San­gin dis­trict of Afghanistan’s Hel­mand province, Jan. 12, 2011.
U.S. Marine Corps pho­to by Gun­nery Sgt. William Price
Click to enlarge

When 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 5th Marine Reg­i­ment, received orders last year to deploy to Afghanistan, exper­i­ments in envi­ron­men­tal­ism did not come to mind.

“When we told them they’d be tak­ing renew­ables to the bat­tle­field, they were not amused,” Charette told an audi­ence at an ener­gy, envi­ron­ment, defense and secu­ri­ty con­fer­ence here yes­ter­day.

That was before they trained in renew­able ener­gy at Marine Corps Air Ground Com­bat Cen­ter in Twen­ty­nine Palms, Calif. — before they’d proven the Corps’ new posi­tion that resource effi­cien­cy equals com­bat effec­tive­ness.

At first, the Marines grudg­ing­ly accept­ed the solar pan­els and oth­er renew­able ener­gy sources, say­ing they could go on “a slow boat to Afghanistan,” Charette said. After they trained with the equip­ment and expe­ri­enced the effi­cien­cy of lighter packs and less reliance on resup­plies, they said to put all of it on the planes, he said. “That’s when I knew we had some­thing,” he added.

Today, at least two for­ward oper­at­ing bases in Afghanistan are pow­ered entire­ly by solar ener­gy, and sev­er­al oth­ers get at least 90 per­cent of their ener­gy from the sun. Marine Corps lead­ers are so pleased with the out­come that they’ve writ­ten renew­able ener­gy into train­ing plans and doc­trine — some­thing Charette said he hopes will become joint prac­tice with oth­er ser­vices.

“Today on the bat­tle­field, we treat ener­gy and water like it’s air, like it will always be there,” Charette said. “Logis­tics guys do such a tremen­dous job sup­ply­ing warfight­ers that we don’t pay atten­tion.”

The colonel added there still “are a lot of gaps to fill” to cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where the ser­vices have a steady sup­ply of renew­able resources from indus­try, and a sys­tem in place for field­ing, train­ing and using them.

“We need a method­i­cal approach to doing it,” he said. The results on the bat­tle­field, though, are good enough to be an incen­tive. Six solar pan­els at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Jack­son can keep at least 17 com­put­ers and 15 light­ing units run­ning through­out the night. A Marine com­pa­ny on a three-day foot patrol uses solar blan­kets in place of radio bat­ter­ies, sav­ings hun­dreds of pounds from packs and thou­sands of dol­lars, Charette said.

When Marines in Hel­mand were giv­en a solar refrig­er­a­tor that kept water at 40 degrees on a 130-degree day, he said, the unit ordered 10 of them. As an endur­ing exam­ple of the Marines’ ener­gy ini­tia­tives in Hel­mand, they have shared their find­ings — and equip­ment — with local Afghans. “With­out ener­gy, they’re nev­er going to be able to stand on their own,” Charette not­ed.

While Hel­mand res­i­dents “showed no inter­est in bio­fu­els,” he said, they like the solar pan­els and blan­kets, which are pro­vid­ing much-need­ed ener­gy.

By 2025, the Marine Corps plans to cut in half the amount of ener­gy each Marine con­sumes on the bat­tle­field. By writ­ing alter­na­tive ener­gy uses into ser­vice poli­cies and pro­ce­dures, Charette said, “it ensures we tru­ly do change the way we do busi­ness.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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