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News In Brief

Military and Energy: The General

Scott Tong Aug 29, 2011

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

Among the voices and perspectives from the series was Marine Lieutenant Gen. Richard Zilmer (Ret.)


At the time,
there was probably one generator for every man, woman and child in Iraq.”

In June 2006, the U.S. commander in western Iraq Richard
Zilmer issued what would become a wake-up call to Pentagon brass: the cost of
transporting petroleum – measured in blood – was unsustainably high.


Zilmer wrote an urgent
needs memo
(extended excerpts here courtesy of InsideDefense) requesting renewable energy alternatives to gas-fired
generators. Otherwise, he wrote, U.S. forces 
“continue to accrue preventable … serious and grave casualties.”

“By reducing the
need for [petroleum] at our outlying bases, we can decrease the frequency of
logistics convoys on the road, thereby reducing the danger to our marines,
soldiers, and sailors.”

Zilmer’s memo followed a similar warning in 2003 from then-Lieutenant
Gen. James Mattis during the U.S.
military assault on Baghdad: “Unleash us from the tether of fuel.” Since then,
the Pentagon has created a new office to manage operational energy.
And in June, outgoing Afghanistan commander, Gen. David Petraeus, espoused  a fighting force “that makes better use of

From Gen. Zilmer’s interview with Marketplace:

On oil and the

“About every 2nd to 3rd day, we were sending these huge
convoys out there were largely – about 70% of it – was dedicated to moving
petroleum products, fossil fuels, to sustain these forces.”

On danger to supply

“Over 3000 soldiers and American contractors were either
killed or injured in IED attacks of these convoys. The convoys, they were very
easy targets. Now we did a lot of preparatory work to mitigate some of that
risk of moving these convoys. But nevertheless they were easy targets.”

On alternative

“As we began to look at alternative ways of conducting
our re-supply operations, we started to look at some of the things about alternative
energy sources. And could you bring some of these off-the-shelf technologies
that might be out there – in terms of solar energy, wind energy — ways of
trying to produced that energy without having to move these massive amounts of
fuel over these very ddangerous and risky roads? Then later in 2006 we produced
this urgent needs statement… the idea was to reduce demand, get these vehicles
off the road to the best degree we could.”

On cutting the
military’s fossil fuel demand. LISTEN TO THE EXCERPT

“Certainly the initiatives by the Air Force and the Navy to
look at greening their fleets, greening aircraft, to look at a more aggresive
mix of fuels and things like that. Those are all steps in the right direction. But
our classic fear is as soon as the price of gasoline drops at the pump, people lose
their interest, the government loses its interest and it’s no longer an issue. And
it falls victim to the next crisis du jour that’s out there…. at some point our
dependence on fossil fuel is going to be our Achilles’ heel.”

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