ASA(ALT)'s August Spotlight Feature AL&T Magazine's LTC Alan C. Samuels
August 2, 2012
LTC ALAN C. SAMUELS
by Michael P. Truman
It's a long way from Afghanistan to the White House, but U.S. Army Reserve LTC Alan C. Samuels has experienced both in the past year. In a White House ceremony on April 19, Samuels was among nine Americans honored as Champions of Change. He was commended for his research on energy-saving microgrid technology in Afghanistan, technology that saves energy as well as saving Soldiers' lives.
As a civilian, Samuels is a research chemist at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, where he studies remote-sensing technology for the Army. In April 2011, he volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan on behalf of the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM), with the mission to stand up the RDECOM Field Assistance in Science and Technology Center (RFAST-C) at Bagram Airfield.
It was a six-month deployment that began on May 2, 2011, but extended to a total of nine months in theater. Samuels, for whom this was the first deployment, said he wanted to volunteer where he could be the most help, and he felt he could contribute best in a technical capacity, drawing on his scientific background and education.
SAVING ENERGY, LIVES
RFAST-C, a pilot initiative chartered by RDECOM and supported by U.S. Army Materiel Command, solicits input from Soldiers in theater on field equipment and can then do engineering design, fabrication, and integration of prototypes that address capability gaps. RFAST-C works closely with the item manager for any affected product, also coordinating with the various service laboratories under RDECOM and the forward-deployed S&T advisory teams.
"I found the task to be highly rewarding, in that I had to hit the ground running and essentially write the book on this unprecedented activity," Samuels told Army AL&T Magazine.
As Director of the RFAST-C, Samuels also received ancillary taskings from RDECOM, which had an agreement to support the Product Manager Mobile Electric Power within Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications -- Tactical, the provider of standardized tactical electric power to the warfighter. The RFAST-C was tasked with supporting the logistics of receiving, storing, and transferring the microgrid system at Bagram Airfield to its operational setting at Camp Sabalu-Harrison in Parwan province.
Microgrids can reduce fuel usage and the high cost associated with it, but the issue isn't solely cost. According to Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy, and Environment, who presented Samuels with the Champions of Change award, 70 to 80 percent of the logistics [in theater] are focused on moving fuel and water, which must be transported by convoys that can be targeted by our adversaries.
"One in every 46 convoys in Afghanistan suffers a casualty," Hammack said. The microgrid technology that Samuels spearheaded in Afghanistan not only reduces energy consumption, but also saves lives in the process.
Samuels said that the microgrid system was one of many products emerging from the Net Zero Plus Joint Concept Technology Demonstration that added value through increased fuel efficiency. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs (ASD (OEPP)) elected to sponsor the microgrid system in theater. With the task gaining visibility, Samuels reached back through RDECOM to solicit volunteers with power and energy expertise to stand up an RFAST-C Energy Cell.
The Energy Cell collaborated closely with many outside experts who came into theater to support the microgrid, Samuels said, including Joe Barniak, who championed the initial installation; Brandon Bloodworth, who helped assess the power generation and distribution landscape throughout Afghanistan; and SGM Matthew DeLay, the NCO-in-Charge of RFAST-C, who provided timely networking and theater-wide mobility to the assessment. Through everyone's hard work, Samuels and RDECOM gained significant insight into how power was being managed across forward operating bases, combat outposts, and observation points throughout theater.
In support of the task, Samuels also began data harvesting by publishing a Request for Information through RDECOM Headquarters to help the U.S. Forces -- Afghanistan Joint Engineers, who were gathering their own theater energy cell sponsored by ASD(OEPP). Samuels said that his data-harvesting effort evolved into a proposal to layer power demand reduction initiatives onto the microgrid demonstration.
A standard 60-kilowatt Tactical Quiet Generator runs most efficiently when operating at 80 percent or more of its rated capacity. In Afghanistan, Samuels discovered that generators often ran at much lower rates. On top of poor fuel efficiency, generators operating at less than 15 percent capacity will not completely burn off their fuel, and the residue works its way into the exhaust system, causing maintenance concerns such as a problem known as wet stacking. Samuels observed a 17 percent reduction in the amount of fuel consumed when microgrid technology was used to keep fewer generators operating at higher load rates.
CHANGING THE CULTURE
But the hardest part of the job wasn't technical, Samuels said. It was effecting the necessary culture changes to implement new methods and finding the necessary scientists and engineers for the tasks.
Even small changes in the culture and a greater awareness of energy consumption could increase the overall savings, he noted. As efficiencies are added, such as improvements in Environmental Control Unit design and increased use of tent shades and insulated quilts, greater reductions in consumption can be expected, Samuels said.
Samuels believes his experience in Afghanistan has enriched his civilian job working on Army remote-sensing technology. "My clarity of purpose in my own research benefits from my firsthand experience with how surveillance and reconnaissance is done in support of tactical and operational efforts," he said.
"As a scientist developing systems that will support our future forces, I feel that having seen what works and what doesn't, in terms of technologies and CONOPS [concept of operations], helps me to better understand the challenges associated with maneuver and combat operations, so that I can focus on approaches that have the highest likelihood of successful implementation."
The Champions of Change program, created as part of President Obama's Winning the Future initiative, recognizes Americans for exceptional achievement in bettering their communities. Samuels said that he finds the White House recognition of his work in Afghanistan extremely humbling. The work that he started at RFAST-C continues to yield tremendous benefits to the warfighter through efficiencies in power generation and demand reduction.
"I am glad I was able to make a contribution to help out," Samuels said.
MICHAEL P. TRUMAN provides contracting support to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of North Florida and has attended the M.F.A. Program at George Mason University. He has worked in various communication capacities at the Missile Defense Agency; the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Test Resource Management Center; the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation; and the Business Transformation Agency.