- Associated Press
Monday, March 21, 2011

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. | The Marine Corps is going green to save lives rather than to save the planet.

In a renewable-energy strategy revealed to troops Monday, the service said it plans to equip thousands of Marines in Afghanistan with solar-powered gadgets over the next year in an effort to decrease the need to make risky runs for fuel through enemy territory.

The Marine Corps said the change comes after the service studied a three-month period last year and found that one Marine is wounded for every 50 trips made for fuel or water in Afghanistan.

The strategy also addresses the ongoing problem of U.S. reliance on the questionable practices of private security companies in Afghanistan that are used to protect the convoys. A congressional inquiry last year found that some of those companies have been inadvertently funneling money to the Taliban and threatening the safety of coalition troops because contractors often don’t vet local recruits and wind up hiring warlords and enemy sympathizers.

The green strategy builds on the initial success of a Marine company wrapping up the final weeks of a seven-month deployment to a Taliban stronghold. The unit was equipped with portable solar panels for recharging radios and laptops, and solar-powered generators for running combat operations at its remote outposts.

“The immediate impact is our war fighters are safer today than they were yesterday,” said Col. Robert J. Charette Jr., director of the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Energy Office in Washington.

The Corps plans to spend $9 million to equip Marines deployed to Afghanistan with portable solar panels by 2012, he said. It wants to increase the number of solar-powered generators there from nine to 300 by December 2012.

The service is also using PowerShade, a large solar tarp that fits over a standard Marine Corps tent that can quietly power its lighting system without the buzz of a generator that can alert insurgents, and the “Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System,” a solar panel array that can run a platoon-sized command center.

The Obama administration is asking Congress for $41 million to implement the measures next year and proposes investing another $322 million by 2016. With oil prices soaring, Col. Charette said he was optimistic the Marines will secure the funding amid the budget crunch.

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