FORWARD OPERATING BASE JACKSON, Afghanistan -- The Marines and sailors of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment have tapped into a vital renewable energy source – the sun – to help take the fight to the enemy in Sangin District.
Since deploying to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, India Company, 3/5, has been working with a new program called ExFOB, or “Experimental Forward Operating Base.”
“ExFOB has provided immediate energy to my boys,” said Gunnery Sgt. Willy Carrion, ‘I’ Company, company gunnery sergeant. “Logistics and resupply to my men is essential to our mission accomplishment. Marines can sustain themselves on little food and water, but the time we have saved on convoys for fuel and batteries, has been crucial.”
The Marines and sailors of Dark Horse 3/5 have been using an array of solar equipment since their pre-deployment workup, Enhanced Mohave Viper, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, in Twentynine Palms, Calif., in July. While there, the Marines were able to save up to eight gallons of fuel, per generator, a day.
At Patrol Base Sparks, an outpost of Forward Operating Base Jackson, Staff Sgt. David Doty has become the resident expert of the solar-powered gear and is very pleased with this new asset.
“Our generators typically use more than 20 gallons of fuel a day. We are down to 2.5 gallons a day,” said Doty, 3rd Squad Leader, with1st Platoon, ‘I’ Company, and Fulton, Mo., native. “The system works amazing. By saving fuel for generators, it has cut back on the number of convoys, meaning less opportunity for one of our vehicles to hit an IED.”
His platoon commander, 1st Lt. Daric Kleppe, agrees, the less convoys, the better. “The enemy will exploit every soft target we have,” said the Vista, Calif., native. “A refueling vehicle becomes a screaming [easy] target.”
The Marines, sailors and the Afghan national army soldiers with ‘I’ Company are also using solar energy to recharge their batteries.
“As a platoon commander, if I don’t have ‘comm’ with my troops and my higher-ups, I am lost,” said 1st Lt. Josef Patterson, 2nd Platoon commander, and Owasso, Okla., native. “On the longer patrols we pack the solar blankets and can continuously charge our radio batteries. This also allows more room to pack things like ammunition.”
The Marines are also able to conserve their energy during the day, to light up their command operation centers and their tents at night. According to Staff Sgt. Greg Wenzel, 1st Plt., platoon sergeant, this has helped PB Sparks’ security when the sun goes down. “It’s way more tactical not running the generators at night,” said the Altoona, Pa., native. “At night the noise of a generator can carry a long way, become a calling card for insurgents.”
Throughout India Company’s area of responsibility, they are using four components of the ExFOB.
The Solar Portable Alternative Communication Energy System, or “SPACES,” is a flexible solar panel, able to be carried by a Marine. SPACES is mostly used for smaller items, like radio batteries. The PowerShade, or “Shades,” is a larger solar tarp that fits over a standard Marine Corps tent. It can provide enough energy to power the tent’s lighting system. The Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System, or “GREENS,” is a solar panel array capable of providing enough energy to run a platoon-sized COC, or four computers at a time. The largest power source is the ZeroBase Regenerator. With its six outsized solar panels funneling energy into one battery, it can power more than 20 lighting systems and 15 computers at one time.
Recently, a forward operational assessment team with the Marine Corps Operational Test & Evaluation Activity came to run tests on the systems and collect data concerning the future of ExFOB.
“The Marines all saw the value in the ExFOB and all its capabilities,” said Chris Huiett, MCOTEA operations analyst. “They brought us everywhere we needed to be and took great care of us. The Marines and sailors of India Company 3/5 are all American heroes!”
Maj. Sean Sadlier, the Expeditionary Energy Liaison Officer, with Regional Command Southwest, escorted the three-man team from MCOTEA to FOB Jackson and its patrol bases.
“The Marines were very innovative and came up with ways to use the equipment that was not even thought of before their deployment. The Marines were frank about what worked well and what needed improvement,” said Sadlier. “Many of the recommendations would have been impossible to make during the pre-deployment training program. Only through use during actual combat operations would the Marines be able to realize the capabilities of the equipment and the capabilities they would like to see.”
Sadlier, and the MCOTEA team, will process their results to see where what the future holds for ExFOB throughout the Fleet Marine Force. For now, the Marines and sailors of ‘I’ Company, 3/5, are no longer doubting the capabilities of the ExFOB, but wondering where they would be without the renewable energy program.
“When we first got the gear, I was a skeptic. As Marines, we do not always like change. I expected ExFOB to be a burden,” added Carrion, a native of Philadelphia. “Now that we are in theater, and we have so many PBs set up, we all see the how crucial and important renewable energy is. Every infantry battalion should have the ExFOB, it has proven to be an extremely valuable asset!”