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Marines thrive in employing renewable energy, saving lives

By Sgt. Michael S. Cifuentes | | March 28, 2011

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The U.S. Marines are strengthening their combat effectiveness, not by acquiring new weaponry or implementing different training, but by using renewable energy on the battlefield.

The Expeditionary Energy Office took the lead for this initiative by developing a plan set to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 50 percent by the beginning of 2025.

“Our ethos demands that we increase the efficiency of our gear and the use of renewable energy, so we maintain that leadership as modern-day Spartans,” said Col. Bob Charette, director of the Expeditionary Energy Office, or E20.

Marines deployed to the forward edge of the combat zone are reliant on the fuel, water and other expendable energy sources that are provided to them by combat support elements, and that reliance comes with a cost. A study conducted by the Marine Corps Combat Development Command found that for every 50 convoys in Afghanistan one Marine is either wounded or killed. Reducing the need for logistics simply means saving lives.

“Our strategy is taking that Marine who’s burning about eight gallons of fuel per day and turning him into a Marine that’s burning four gallons of fuel per day,” Charette said. “The foundation of the strategy is that Spartan ethos. It’s that Marine building up awareness of the vulnerability of getting water and logistics.”

Consequently, the Marine Corps moved to a more readily available source of energy, the sun. In the summer of 2010, Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, entered their month-long predeployment training evolution at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., with technology that absorbed the sun’s rays and distributed its energy to their equipment. That power was used for more than a week, and saved an average of eight gallons of fuel per day that normally would have been used to run generators and vehicles.

Today the Marines of Company I are deployed to the Sangin valley in Afghanistan, and they’re powering their patrol bases with nothing but renewable energy.

“India Company (Company I) went into the most dangerous region of Helmand Province, they battled a determined foe, and the entire time they were deploying and using small-scale renewable systems,” said Charette. “They are reducing their dependence on fossil fuel, and they are reducing their dependence on batteries.”

1st Lt. Josef Patterson, platoon commander with Company I, said their entire forward operating base is solar-powered, and his Marines love it.  When patrolling, they’re using the Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy System, or SPACES, which charges batteries, operates communications equipment and runs small electronic accessories. The system generates energy from solar panels on a tarp that can easily be rolled up and placed in a backpack when on the move.

Patterson said normally his platoon would take three to four days worth of batteries for a three-week patrol, which takes up a lot of space and weight in backpacks. But with SPACES, they’re lightening the load.

“I was a little skeptical at first, but we’re completely solar-powered, and I think it’s a great thing,” said Patterson.

Charette referred to these Marines as pioneers for using this kind of equipment in combat. By the summer of 2011, E2O will be able to deploy a battalion-level unit with renewable energy capabilities and energy efficient technology.

“The only fuels we’ll see on the battlefield in the future are the fuels we’ll need to move our airplanes and our vehicles,” he said. “We’re going to learn from that and start building on it to get to where we ultimately want to go in 2025 – go with that Marine Expeditionary Force and deploy anywhere in the world with only mobility fuels.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos said he needs all Marines to embrace this strategy and get in step, because it’s important.

“You don’t have to think too hard, much past the last thirty days, to see what’s happening around the world,” Amos said. “With all the issues, a lot of it in the oil-producing part of the world, we need to begin to wean ourselves off of fossil-based fuel. Not only that, we need to be able to lighten our load. This is about us. This is about what’s best for the Marine Corps.”

Integrating energy renewing technology with Marines has put the Marine Corps at the forefront of the Department of Defense with moving strategy out to the ground combat element.

“This isn’t just about equipment, this is about changing that mindset, and reducing dependence on liquid fuel, logistics and batteries,” Charette said.

For more information visit the Expeditionary Energy website here:  

http://marines.mil/community/Pages/ExpeditionaryEnergy.aspx


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