Friday, January 29, 2010
Defense contractors, large and small, had a chance to demonstrate their latest products this week at an exposition on Camp Pendleton. The displays included the latest weaponry, but also the latest gadgets to help Marines survive and thrive on the battlefield.
Defense contractors, large and small, had a chance to demonstrate their latest products this week, at an exposition on Camp Pendleton. The displays included the latest weaponry, but also the latest gadgets to help Marines survive and thrive on the battlefield.
A small but powerful 81 millimeter mortar -- light enough to be loaded into the back of a jeep -- attracted admiring glances, but much of the interest generated by the Marine West show was not about new weapons. General Richard Mills, who will take over command of the Marines on the ground in Afghanistan in March was looking for other kinds of technology.
“Technology to control the weather would be very useful to me if I could find that, but I’m afraid that’s a bit far out in the future,” he joked.
But Mills said he did see things he believes will improve his junior Marines’ ability to operate effectively.
“There’s a translation device I saw in there that‘ll be very helpful for young Marines on guard duty, security missions, who have to communicate with the local people,” he said. “We’re operating in an area of Afghanistan where only four percent of the men read and write and less than one percent of the women can read and write, so everything is verbal. You have to make sure that they understand what you’re trying to do and the first way to do that is to communicate verbally with them.”
Inside the big tent, Tim McCune of Integrated Wave Technologies demonstrates the translator - which is voice activated and comes with a bullhorn.
“It’s called a voice response translator,” he said, “and it enables guys in tactical situations to tell people who they are, what they’re doing and what they want the other person to do. So, for example, if you’re in Afghanistan, you can say ‘choose Pashtu language,’ and then 'vehicle search,' and it will make an announcement in Pashtu that says, 'We’re doing a vehicle search to make your country a safer place. Thank you for you cooperation.'”
McCune says the device can translate numerous phrases into 52 languages, all recorded by professional translators.
“So the young guy doesn’t have to take his eyes off the situation, or his hands off the rifle,” McCune explains. “And it allows them to tell the people in the village 'stay inside, there’s going to be fighting,' things like that. So you’re able to eliminate a lot of misunderstandings that were happening and causing a lot of casualties."
McCune acknowledges you still need people who can actually speak Dari or Pashto to sort out more complicated situations in Afghanistan if things don’t go quite as expected.
Outside the main hall, there’s a tent with flexible solar panels made of silicone sewn into the canvas. They can generate enough power to keep several 100 watt light bulbs or a laptop working. Cutting down on generators is a definite plus, organizers say, in remote locations where fuel can end up costing 400 times more than in the States.
Tim Crowly is with Tatitlek, an Alaska based company that recruits Iraqi and Afghan as role players in training simulations.
“The pool is not unlimited” Crowly says, “so it’s a challenge to find good quality people who are reliable and who are going to show up.”
He says Tatitlek currently has 4,000 role players employed, and the company is only one of several in this business.
Casey Rober is another private contractor making money off role play training. She demonstrates a software that builds scenarios, or story “threads” for role play.
“It’s just like writing a script for a play,” she said, “and this is your role, this is who you are. You can put all the details from the bio, how you want them to act, what you want them to say, where they’re from, and then you link these roles to what happens in the thread.”
There are all kinds of items in the Exposition to make life easier for a Marine -- things like all weather writing paper and extra soft insoles.
The longest line in the exposition is at a booth called Superfeet.
Back outside, Sgt. Dharonda Rodela, the media liaison at the Expo, is more impressed with the insoles than anything else she saw.
“Oh I have them in right now,” she said with a laugh. “They feel like I’m walking on clouds. You patrol on feet, so it’s important.”
Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make the biggest difference, even for a Marine.