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Unit energy managers will patrol barracks and monitor power usage

Policing a battalion's energy use and keeping the unit informed on best practices? Sounds like a job for a corporal.

The Marine Corps is in the process of debuting the position of unit energy manager, which would be for one noncommissioned officer per battalion or squadron whose duties will range from patrolling barracks for lights left on and leaky faucets to meeting with unit leaders to strategize about savings. In the future, the job also could include managing a competition in which units around the Marine Corps vie with each other for efficiency awards.

The new job is part of an initiative that aims to see a 10 percent reduction in personal energy use across the Marine Corps in the next five years, said Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations Command.

"This is the first campaign that is aimed at the individual behavior of a Marine," Ayala said. "And so we want to communicate the message that Marines have the power themselves to be able to cut energy consumption."

Ayala's first task, he said, is to make junior Marines care about power that they don't pay for and won't run out of. From a senior leadership perspective, it's fairly clear-cut: The Marine Corps has a requirement from the Navy Department to cut installation energy use by 30 percent from 2003 levels by next year, and to go "net zero" on energy consumption for 50 percent of bases by 2020. With $262 million spent on Marine Corps installation utilities by next year, officials figure they may be able to save $26 million just by cracking down on wasted power.

"If you look at the average 19-year-old lance corporal rifleman, energy is not something that is a core competency," Ayala said. "However, if we can tie energy to operational readiness, I think that's where we'll be successful. ... $26 million, that will buy you additional training, that will buy you additional operational things that will benefit the Marine Corps. It will make us more ready, it will make us more lethal, it will make us lighter."

Unit energy managers will be selected by their battalion or squadron commanders and then receive training at their bases from civilian installation energy managers, Ayala said.

Their instruction, he said, will focus on technical skills like reading energy meters and all the specific terminology and tools of energy conservation, from microgrids to photovoltaic panels.

Most of the duties of the unit energy manager will be determined by the commanding officer, but Ayala said there may be a checklist that involves periodic walk-throughs of unit barracks complexes and even on-the-spot correction for fellow Marines who leave water dripping or Xbox consoles running when not in use.

Nonetheless, Ayala emphasized his hope that saving energy will become a mindset for the Marines, rather than something they'd have to be policed into doing well.

To that end, he has plans to kick off a sort of conservation competition in which energy use, from electricity and water to fossil fuel, is broken down by installation, and then by major unit.

Marines in each battalion or squadron would be able to see their usage year-over-year, and in theory compare their energy reduction against similar units. A future service-level award might recognize excellence in energy conservation, Ayala said.

"It's going to make a difference, but each Marine has got to understand that [he or she] has the power to start this thing," Ayala said. "And so that's where we want to go."

One thing leaders are not yet considering, Ayala said, is charging or fining Marines for energy overages in garrison. He said he prefers a positive approach that targets mindset, rather than penalizing behavior.

While the unit energy manager position comes with additional duties on top of the Marine's regular workload, Ayala suggested there would be intangible rewards that would make the position appealing. The job will put a young NCO in front of the battalion commanding officer and sergeant major, earning valuable recognition and an opportunity to demonstrate high-quality work, he said. And, he said, there could be opportunities for career advancement past the Marine Corps and into the civilian energy sector.

"The energy field is a growing area," he said. "There will probably be some folks that will canvass and ask operational commanders if any of these folks are interested that have worked in energy before."

The first energy managers are already in training at Camp Pendleton, California, Ayala said, and a forthcoming Marine administrative message will contain deadlines for selecting and training energy managers across the rest of the Marine Corps.

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