FORT BRAGG, N.C.--Group Support Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) and Marine Corps Special Operations Command came together to collaborate on logistical strategies at Camp Lejeune's Greater Sandy Run Area -- Forward Operating Base, Aug. 29.
Both branches operate within the same geographic locations in Africa, which provides an opportunity for shared knowledge and experience.
"We are working in the exact same area, so let's crack this nut together," explained Gunnery Sgt. Alex Tobusch, MARSOC logistics.
One facet of logistics is of specific interest to MARSOC logisticians. Green Berets deploy with a 92-G food specialist, whereas MARSOC has traditionally contracted food procurement and preparation to the civilian sector.
During this joint field exercise GSB, 3rd SFG (A) showcased its answer to nutrition in an austere environment.
The CropBox is a turn-key agricultural system that minimizes the complexity and uncertainty of growing crops. The system provides direct control over the growing environment including temperature, nutrients and water; the system is scalable and can even be managed via a smartphone app.
CropBox is manufactured by Vertical Crop Consultants in Clinton, North Carolina, and until recently VCC created CropBoxes from full-size repurposed shipping containers. In response to the specific needs of GSB, 3rd SFG (A), the company created a new more compact CropBox.
Measuring roughly a third the size of CropBoxes available on the open market, the ISU-90 can produce up to one third of an acre of produce. This purpose-built unit is currently being proofed in the field for potential use with 3rd SFG (A) Operational Detachment Alphas. Members of a deployed 3rd SFG (A) force, including special operations support Soldiers and members of an ODA, can total up to 50 individuals.
On a five-month deployment to Africa as a member of GSB, 3rd SFG (A), Sgt. Celene Lucio described being unable to procure necessary food supplies regardless of the fiscal budget she was given. Sourcing the necessary food with vital nutrients and vitamins in Africa is problematic, she explained. This can result in operators returning with a decrease in body mass, in some cases, of up to 40 percent. Soldiers are coming home malnourished.
"Embrace the suck? Why do we have to? We don't have to," said Lucio.
The ISU-90 was purpose built for mobility.
"(ISU-90) is the same exact size as a standard Air Force pallet, the 463-L Air Force pallet, and that is why we choose that small of a platform, and it can be fit in all of the standard, what we call grey tail, which is Air Force aircraft, to fly over to the continent of Africa … that is what we call intermodal logistics," explained 1st Lt. Kevin Conley, Company A, GSB, 3rd SFG (A).
Once set up, the ISU-90 can produce nutrient-rich micro greens in as little as seven days, and leafy green lettuce in 30 days, which could supply up to 50 Soldiers with vital nutrients.
The ISU-90 will contribute to the health of deployed Soldiers whether by providing wheat grass shots from an ISU-90 in Africa or from juiced wheatgrass shots shipped to Africa.
"(Wheatgrass has) all the vitamins that you possibly could ever think of that you need for your daily values, so, one shot of that will pretty much set you straight for the entire day without having to think of eating … fruits and vegetables," explained Lucio.
Wheatgrass contains vital nutrients including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium and is even a source of protein.
"Its (ISU-90) mobility, its nutritional benefits, its interoperability, provides them (Green Berets) a healthy nutritional facet to their meals that their normal diet down on the continent would not necessarily provide," said Conley.
Possible future plans for the ISU-90 and its crops include conversion to solar power and testing the nourishing capabilities of wheatgrass on returning and deployed Soldiers.