New solar system powers Marines in Afghanistan

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(James J. Lee/Staff) Marines with 5th ANGLICO are using the GREENS solar system to power some of their computers and communications at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. Capt. Ahmad Martin, company communications officer, explains the GREENS system.

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – The Marine Corps has widely fielded a new solar panel system that can power a variety of radios, computers and other devices common in combat operations centers, officials here said.

Full fielding began early this year, said Lt. Col. Rick Schilke, the expeditionary energy liaison officer for I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), which oversees more than 17,000 Marines across Helmand province. Each Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System, or GREENS, includes eight solar panels that are about four feet high and three feet wide, and four batteries that each can store 500 watts of power.

There are currently 106 GREENS systems in Helmand, 75 of which have been fielded to operational units, Schilke said. The command was initially going to push them out to even more units, but decided against it as coalition forces began closing forward operating bases and outposts as part of a massive drawdown that could cut the Corps’ footprint there to 7,000 Marines by the fall.

“We did make some in-stride adjustments in the last five months with surge recovery planning,” Schilke said. “Rather than going out to all battalions, we focused on those battalions that are in enduring locations and battalions that have the best opportunity to use it.”

Prototype GREENS were initially fielded in Afghanistan in 2010 to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. Those systems were later moved to assist Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, which has a small outpost, Patrol Base Boldak, just south of Leatherneck. Several of those prototypes have since been moved again, Marine officials said.

Third Battalion, 7th Marines, out of Twentynine Palms, Calif., became the first unit to field production-level GREENS early this year. The unit will be replaced this spring by a sister unit, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, which will “aggressively deploy it,” Schilke said.

GREENS also is now in use on Leatherneck by Tango Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marines, which uses it to keep radios and fire control systems for trucks mounted with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System,  or HIMARS, running.

“They’ve had a problem for years with maintaining power on those systems and keeping them in a ready status,” Schilke said. “Everybody is thinking about this as a FOB solution, but we’re also looking at this as a way to power weapons systems.”

On Leatherneck, GREENS also is in use by 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, out of Okinawa, Japan. The unit’s headquarters is powered in part by one GREENS system, with a generator also providing power.

Capt. Ahmad Martin, 5th ANGLICO’s communications officer, said his unit has been testing GREENS for about 50 days. He and the unit’s communications chief, Staff Sgt. Joey Woods, said the company uses it to run radios, several computers and battery-charging gear.

The panels first provide power to whatever equipment is hooked up to it, while also recharging the batteries to provide additional power at night and other times when the sun is gone, Martin and Woods said.

“When we lose the generator, all of our comms assets are running off the GREENS,” Woods said. “When that happens, we’re not concerned about it at all.”

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About Author

I’m a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

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