July 13, 2012
By Lance Cpl. Matthew Manning, Marine Corps Bases Japan
KIN BLUE, Okinawa, Japan — Being in the field, whether for an exercise or operation, often means going without the comforts and luxuries one becomes accustomed to in everyday garrison life.
However, serving in a field environment does not always mean sacrificing these commodities thanks to the effort of utilities platoon, Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
The platoon provides services including electricity, water purification, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, according to Chief Warrant Officer Christopher J. Baier, the utilities officer with CAB.
“The main thing we provide is power,” said Baier. “In order to communicate you have to have power.”
When Marines provide electricity to a unit in the field, it enables the unit to have an organic power supply, according to Baier.
“The main purpose behind the electricity services we provide is to power the command and control centers in the field,” said Master Sgt. Albert James Jr., utilities chief for the battalion. “It is essential for them to have an uninterrupted supply of power for all their gear, so they can stay in contact with higher commands.”
Along with the power supplied to the command and control centers, air conditioning is often required to keep electrical equipment at the proper operating temperature, according to Baier.
For the Marines of utilities platoon, the ability to make a unit in the field self-sustaining brings a sense of pride to all.
“During exercise Cobra Gold 2012, we were able to employ our tactical water purification system and produced 254,000 gallons of drinking water for everyone in (CAB’s) area of operation,” said Baier
Cobra Gold, the United States’ longest-standing military exercise in the Asia-Pacific-region, brings together more than 10,000 members of the U.S. and six other militaries to focus on interoperability and multinational coordination and training.
Marines of CAB and the Republic of Korea, as well as the Royal Thai Navy, were able to use the water provided by utilities platoon throughout the exercise, according to James.
“This reduced the total cost of the exercise by well over $250,000 because we created our own water instead of buying bottled water,” said Baier. “This enabled the entire battalion to come under budget for the entire exercise.”
The platoon’s ability to purify and process water is not only unique to the battalion, but all Marine divisions, according to Baier. This capability is intended for use in training events and exercises during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, like Operation Tomodachi.
“During Operation Tomodachi, although we (didn’t) to send any Marines to help, we were able to send some of our gear to help the recovery efforts by processing clean water and pumping water out of flooded areas,” said Cpl. Dustin P. Turner, a water support technician with CAB.
Operation Tomodachi, meaning “friendship” in Japanese, was the U.S. armed forces’ action in support of the Japanese people following the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Seeing satisfaction from those receiving utilities platoon’s support is the biggest thing to take pride in, according to James.
“I like to think we are a morale-boosting unit,” said Turner. “Giving units, such as 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment and CAB, the ability to have their clothes washed or take a shower for the first time in a week, or a month, will change the morale of that unit drastically.
“Being able to bring comfort and happiness to people’s faces is something you can really take pride in.