New tent technology creates relief center
January 12, 2005
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Marines from Okinawa’s 3rd Force Service Support Group erected a miniature tent city inside a former horse-racing track in about a day, using technology that’s been in their hands for less than a year.
U.S. military forces working in Sri Lanka have been operating from the U.S. Embassy in Colombo. As hundreds more Marines prepare to land on the island to begin reconstruction, the embassy operation has evolved into a larger joint entity, called Combined Support Group — Sri Lanka, in charge of U.S. assets and operations.
The command post at the racetrack will control logistics, communication and support. It will serve as the headquarters for U.S. commanders working in Sri Lanka and can coordinate among crews unloading military aircraft at the airport and Marine and other units working throughout the country. It also has space for liaisons from other countries and nongovernmental agencies.
“Really, any kind of support, including air and ground,” said center chief Master Sgt. Michael Mendoza. “Coordinating movement of gear and personnel to where it’s needed.”
What makes the tent city unique is its quarters.
The operation is using a new tent system by the company Base-X. The tents are lightweight, easy to place and modular so they can fit the needs of the mission. Marines from Okinawa and Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan, who assembled them are singing the new tents’ praise.
“It’s spring-loaded; you pull it out and it pops right up,” said Sgt. Kevin Roberts, with the Transportation Support Battalion on Okinawa.
The tents are pre-wired so they make it easier for electricians. Lights snap into place flush against the wall — Marines no longer will hit their heads on the hanging light fixtures of older tent models.
The tents have high ceilings and are lined in white so they’re cooler. Rooms have channeled ducts to create central air or heat, with wide passages and open areas for breezes.
“It’s a heck of a lot cooler than a GP [general purpose] tent because you can put AC in it,” said Sgt. JohnPaul Cooley, administration noncommissioned officer.
The tents have heavy rubber decking to keep water out and to cushion the tent bottom against chairs.
The tents center around a high-ceilinged central dome with four wings — making it look like a turtle, Mendoza said.
“It has good lighting, it’s cooler, it’s open,” he said. “The old GP tents, they’re really limited.”
One of its most attractive features has been simplicity.
The tents can be configured and changed into different patterns or space, depending on the need. They go up quickly, similar to a camping tent.
“With the other tents, the same system would take days,” Mendoza said. “It took me five days to build the old ones with the same number of Marines.”
One tent now can take three hours to pop up.
It’s held together with Velcro and is supposed to withstand 100-mph winds. The tents proved some of their strength by weathering a typhoon during an exercise in South Korea in October, the second time the Marines used them since the tents arrived in April.
“This is the [third] time we’ve trained with these tents out in the field,” Mendoza said.
They’re lighter to carry than the oldest style GP tents,which used wood poles.
“They’re still pretty heavy but they’re a lot lighter than the GPs,” said Sgt. Christopher David, supply administration noncommissioned officer from Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station.
The tent village will be ready to house the operations center this week.
When it’s fully operational, the center will serve as the workplace for about 200 people including liaisons from several countries and agencies.
Tens of thousands of dollars worth of communications equipment will allow officials to hold teleconferences and meetings with the rest of the world. It will provide units and commanders tactical and secure communications instead of the cellular phones currently used to communicate around the country.
But the tents are the highlight for those who built the complex.
“This is the way the Marine Corps is going now,” Mendoza said. “It’s high-speed and mobile.”