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U.S. Marines Stake their Lives on Solar Power

3/5 Marines test solar power in AfghanistanA lot of people are passionate about solar power, but not too many of us are in the position of risking our lives to prove that solar power can work in combat conditions. That’s exactly what is going on at an experimental forward operating base in Afghanistan, where the members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines have been using portable solar panels and other green tech to carry out their mission.

The U.S. Military and Green Tech

It’s no secret that the U.S. military has been dying – literally – to ditch high risk fossil fuels in favor of safer, cheaper, and more reliable forms of energy. Military bases across the U.S. have been installing solar power, geothermal and other renewables hand over fist, testing biofuels, and ramping up energy efficiency projects. The big question has been whether or not sustainable energy can get the job done in a danger zone. The 3/5 Marines have one word for you: yes.

A Sustainable Forward Operating Bases

Last year, the 3/5 started quietly testing sustainable energy tech at a forward operating base in Afghanistan, with the goal of cutting down on fuel resupply convoys. It includes the aforementioned portable solar panels that pack into a suitcase, small flexible solar panels that can be used to recharge batteries in the field (which cuts down on the growing logistical nightmare of battery resupply for patrols), solar trailers, and solar shades. Energy efficient lighting in the form of LEDs is also part of the package.

The Few, the Proud, the Green

The project is overseen by the Marines’ “Green Baron,” Col. Bob Charette, who heads the Expeditionary Energy Office. When the experiment began, he expressed cautious optimism. That prediction proved true and the project has been deemed a success. Charette credits preparation and training (the equipment was first tested at U.S. facilities), and something just as important: new generations of Marines are coming into the corps with a built-in comfort zone regarding new sustainable tech. “I believe our young Marines are more accepting of renewable energy technology,” Charette related in an Office of Naval Research press release, “Because of all the discussion in the media and society regarding ‘green’ energy.”

Support Our Troops

That brings us right back around to the political situation in the U.S. regarding domestic renewable energy policy. The Obama administration has been pushing hard to ensure that the U.S. provides its military with a vigorous research, technology, and domestic manufacturing platform that supports the goal of reducing costs – and reducing casualties – by transitioning out of fossil fuels and into renewables. Meanwhile, some members of Congress are pushing back against renewables just as vigorously in the opposite direction. So the real question is this: while the 3/5 is out there in the line of fire, do your representatives in Congress continue to promote more oil drilling, or do they support our troops? There’s an easy way to find out: send an email to your U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative.

Image: 3/5 Marines in Afghanistan by DVIDSHUB on

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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