Story by William T. Eliason, Joint Forces Quarterly
February 9, 2012
JFQ: One of the areas all Services are working hard to improve is in energy cost reductions. Can you discuss some of the efforts the Corps has undertaken both at home and in combat to address this challenge?
General Amos: The effort of trying to change our energy culture began around 2009 at our bases and stations where we've had notable success. For example, at Barstow, California, one of our two big depots, we have a one-megawatt wind turbine and are developing a large solar power project. At Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and several other bases, we've placed solar panels on many of the buildings. At Miramar, there's a big county refuse dump on the southwest corner of the airfield where we're installing a landfill gas generator to produce power for the base. We are also exploring geothermal resources in Southern California. I feel pretty good about where we're headed.
In 2009, General Conway started looking at the idea of reducing our energy requirements in deployed environments. He started asking how we could make ourselves more combat effective by improving efficiency and reducing the number of generators and amount of fuel. Something around 70 percent of the lift that comes into Helmand Province, Afghanistan, is carrying water and fuel, and the rest is dry goods. We thought, we're along the Helmand River Valley-maybe we can make our own potable water. Now we are. We thought, we're in an area that certainly has a lot of sunshine-maybe we can use solar power. Now we do. How do we heat and cool our tents? We've tried spraying foam on the tents-it just doesn't work well. Then we tried using radiant liners in our tents and found they make a dramatic difference. We had 4,000 generators running on the ground in Afghanistan when we started this. Many were running at about 15 to 20 percent capacity, sucking up fuel. So, on our larger bases, we figured how to network them together into a grid.
We set up an experimental site in Quantico and stood up an expeditionary energy office in the Pentagon led by one of our absolutely brightest colonels. He's connected with [the Defense Department] and industry, and we had a "show-and-tell" where big and small corporations from across the country came and showed us their products. We ended up evaluating about 16 products, and sent 6 of them out to Twentynine Palms, trained the Marines on them, and took them to Afghanistan.
Radios and batteries are a big deal to us; if you go out for a 4-day patrol, you have to carry a lot of batteries. Now we don't have to. We have these solar panels that roll up. They're lightweight, and each weighs just a few pounds. Marines on patrol will have one or two stuffed in their kits. So when they go out on patrol, they don't need as many batteries, saving weight. When they get to where they're going, they lay out the solar blankets, plug them in, and run the radios off them. I think we're making progress.
The goal is to create a more capable force: lighter than today, less dependent on liquid and battery logistics, with greater operational reach at less risk. We aim to reduce our energy use by 50 percent by 2025, and I think we'll do it well before that. We're just on the cusp of this; we're about to do another one of these expeditionary energy evaluations with small suppliers, select the products that seem to have the most promise, and take those products down to Twentynine Palms and give them to a unit to train with.
Think about this. If you go out on a logistics patrol right now or a convoy resupply, and you leave Camp Leatherneck and head to the southern part of Helmand, it's 4 days down and 4 days back-in some cases being interdicted along the way with IEDs while you're hauling stuff. If you could reduce the number of vehicles you have by 50 percent, that's 50 percent fewer young men and women who are exposed. I think that's pretty significant.
We're trying to change the Marine Corps to a culture of efficiency, and that takes a while but it's changing. We recently had a battalion in Sangin, Afghanistan-in the middle of all the fighting-that deployed with all this solar gear. About halfway through the fighting, they break it out to see if it worked. They became addicted to it because they didn't have to carry as much weight, and it made their lives a lot easier. So I think the transition to a cultural mindset of valuing resource efficiency is probably easier for today's generation of Marines than it would be for my generation.
JFQ: As a member of the Joint Chiefs, can you give us your impression on the future of jointness and what, if any, work remains to be done to achieve the goals of Goldwater-Nichols?
General Amos: My sense right now is that there's a greater willingness and understanding and appreciation for what the joint community brings. Institutionally, each of our Services has at one time or another dug in and said, "This is mine, and I'm the only guy that can do this mission, and I'm going to make sure I'm the only guy that can do this mission." The fact is, there's so much going on, and everything is so expensive today, that it drives us to a joint solution for just about every problem. It doesn't matter if what's happening is off the coast of Libya, or in Afghanistan, or in Japan. It drives the joint force to come together to accomplish the mission. My sense is that we're better than we've ever been.
I think there's a willingness and an appreciation and understanding from all Service chiefs that there's goodness to this. We don't have to sit around and become territorial and wring our hands. I think some of that played out in 2002-2003 with the air piece of OIF-I [Operation Iraqi Freedom I], where we all began to understand and appreciate each other's abilities that the joint force could capitalize on. I think the danger right now could be that, and I'm a big Goldwater-Nichols guy, is that I see a potential for forcing a decision to be made that doesn't make any sense in an effort to call it joint. I'm not being a hypocrite. I'm saying we've come so far now, and I think we're getting pretty close to where we ought to be. What we wouldn't want to do is say that every single thing we do from now on has to be joint. I think OIF I was a tipping point in joint operations. I think people try to think it was Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I think there was still enough parochialism going on then. I don't sense that now-not one bit. There's plenty of room for everybody, and if we all have capabilities, we can put them together, and the outcome is pretty significant. I feel good about that.
JFQ: With some 10 years of combat, all Services are experiencing a number of concerns with the long-term health of their Service members and their families. Can you offer us some of your thoughts on what the Defense Department and the Marine Corps in particular are doing well and what more needs to be done to address the concerns you may have on this issue?
General Amos: When we started bringing back our wounded, our medical care was second to none, and it's still that way. We can save lives. I never hear anybody talk about not getting the right kind of medical care; 99 out of 100 families all say the care is great. We're lacking with the families. You've got two entities here. You've got the young Marine, Airman, Sailor, Soldier who comes back through Landstuhl into one of the major facilities and then you have the families. If it's a minor injury, and everything is going to be fine, then life kind of becomes normal again, but I know mothers who have lost their jobs because they didn't leave their wounded son's side because he needs an advocate. So we weren't prepared for that.
Different organizations have come along to help. We have one in the Marine Corps called the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund that was founded because of the need to take care of families. We also formed the Wounded Warrior Regiment to take care of the Marines themselves. My sense is we're doing a pretty good job of taking care of our wounded warriors.
One thing to note is that the nature of the wounds today is significantly different. We worked hard to get through the burns and all the things we were seeing from Iraq-the IEDs with fuel packed around them and accelerants and propane that were burning the Marines. Today, we have 15 Marines that have lost at least 3 limbs-11 triple amputees and 4 quad amputees with no limbs at all. A large number of them are married. We've got young wives now trying to take care of their wounded husbands and it's very difficult. Even when it comes to just household stuff, basic cleanliness and just living-that spouse has to do everything for them. The needs of these triple and quad amputees are vastly different than those of our other wounded, and we haven't quite worked our way through that yet. It's become clear to me that this is a different category of wounded, and this is going to take an extraordinary effort. We're going to have to change some laws and some procedures.
For instance, we have a policy now where we provide a stipend to non-military/non-family attendants to care for a wounded person, and it's really just there to pay their expenses. If you're a spouse, you don't qualify for it. So we're dealing with one young sergeant, a triple amputee, his wife's a nurse, and they have two young children. They're from another country, their family lives outside the United States, and she's a wonderful wife, and he's a great young sergeant. She wants to make some income for their family because she can't work now-all she does is take care of the husband, and she takes care of the two children. They need some help here. We need to recognize that triple and quad amputees are not the same as some other injuries, and there's a psychological penalty to this not only to the wounded warrior who's missing limbs, but to the family members who have to take care of them.
Just this morning, I learned of a young wife who's talking about taking her life. Not because she doesn't love her husband, but because it's come to the point where it's overwhelming her; she didn't know what to do. We need to change that. The system is not set up for that. In the next few weeks, I'm going to get some of the folks from the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs], Tricare, some of the Service reps in here, and we're going to discuss this. I'm more than prepared to go to Congress with this, because if you even mention something like this to Congress they're going to help you.
The other point I want to tell you is that there's so much capability on the civilian side of medicine across the United States. In some cases, they don't even know how they can help because they don't know that there's a need. But once they find out, they volunteer their medical services, their hospitals and medical teaching universities, their material, their bed spaces, their surgeons, and their nurses. There's an enormous capability of untapped goodness across this country. There's some who think that the Department of Defense is going to solve all of these major medical issues with our wounded, and I think that's wrong. I know a lot of these folks in the civilian medical community, and they feel it's their way to contribute to the defense of our nation. They may not wear the uniform, but love helping, and in some cases, it doesn't cost the Department of Defense a dime. I think there's more that can be done by the American medical community, and I think they want to do it.