Military and Energy: The Technologist

This
week Marketplace airs a special series on the U.S. military and energy, and the
quest
to "unleash us from the tether of fuel."

Among the voices: Marine Col. Bob Charette

It will be a long journey for the armed forces to cut seriously fossil fuel use, and as some suggest, prep for a post-petroleum future. For all the rhetoric and pilot projects, by all accounts it'll take decades of leadership, staying power, and changes to a military culture accustomed to all-you-can-eat fuel. Not to mention technology breakthroughs still on the way, we hope.

"If you want results, put a colonel in charge," quipped one wily veteran. He meant Col. Bob Charette, the man tasked with ushering the Marine Corps into a new energy age. Officially, he runs the expeditionary energy office. Last fall, it chose India Company 3/5 to try out a few technologies during deployment to Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Among the gizmos chosen out of hundreds of competitors: solar generators, solar battery chargers and LED lights.

The results: two patrol bases operated entirely on renewable energy. The unit also went three weeks on foot patrol without a single battery resupply. And they figured out how to use solar chargers to juice their iPods. 

From my interview with Col. Charette:

How'd the Marines' trial of the new technologies go? (listen to excerpt)

We've
already moved from that initial look in
March of 2010. We looked at about 200 different technologies...
basically we came down to 4 technologies that we learned from India 3/5.
We have just spent about $25 million in the Marine Corps and now we are
going to supply every battalion in Helmand Provinces with these
technologies.

... [We are] moving into requirements documents, writing hard requirements, so this is now part of the Marine Corps kit.


Are you forcing Marines to use this, as in thou shalt? (listen to excerpt)

No. We want to demonstrate the potential to Marines. We're never going to tell a Marine that he's got to do something like this in middle of combat. We prefer to train the Marines here back home with anything they're going to bring to combat... obviously combat is not a place to be testing anything out.

We're not forcing any Marine to use it. What we're finding is the Marines want more. They're actually wanting more of this stuff because they get the value of this.

One of the things that appeals to every Marine is independence... when you give them these solutions it resonates with our inner
ethos, if you will. If I get a solar blanket and I don't have to request batteries from higher headquarters, that's a good thing. If I don't have to request more fuel from higher headquarters, that's a good thing.


Are you playing Marine Corps entrepreneur here, testing technologies, hanging out with inventors? (listen to excerpt)

It has been really kind of an entrepreneur shop. Not to promote anything, but kind of like an early Starbucks if you now. Now we are trying to figure out, how do you make it enduring? You have this good initial momentum, now how do you continue on the initial success and not make it a flash in the pan? Or spill the coffee, if you will?

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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