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Solar Power Pre-Deployment To Afghanistan? 184

dAzED1 writes "My little brother is heading for training at 29 Palms as a Navy Corpsman with FMF. He gets a [Sailor|Soldier|Marine]'s pay, so while he can't afford gadgets, I can; since he'll be in a LAR unit, I was thinking of getting him a small video camera, an iPod, and some sort of solar recharger. Whatever he takes, he'll have to be able to carry in his pack, which is already going to be heavy with his medic gear. Other than the weight issue, I am having problems finding a solar recharger that doesn't get wildly differing reviews as to basic quality. He'll have plenty of sun and few clouds, but it needs to be lightweight, effective, and robust. With price not being much of a concern, what would you suggest for accomplishing this? Advice on a small robust video camera would be appreciated as well."
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Solar Power Pre-Deployment To Afghanistan?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    This foldable solar charger from treehugger is great

    • by an.echte.trilingue ( 1063180 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @05:27PM (#27107077) Homepage
      As a former infantryman, I can tell you that you are really over thinking this. Rugged means more than just hard to break. It also means that it is a single piece (so he can't loose part of it) and that those pieces are easily replaceable.

      Forget the charger, and get him something nice that runs on AAs. Lots of military equipment, such as the AN/PRC-14 night vision goggles or the little radios that squads carry around, run on AAs and so he is sure never to have a shortage. You literally have boxes of these things just floating around where ever you go. They aren't that heavy, they are virtually unbreakable, and he will have to carry some anyway. When I was in, guys bought electric shavers that ran on AAs expressly for this reason.

      Besides, his unit will appreciate him not flipping a mirror out for all to see whenever he wants to listen to music.
      • by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @08:27PM (#27108535) Homepage

        AN/PRC-14 night vision goggles

        Sorry to be a blue falcon and spotlight a fellow Infantryman...but it's AN/PVS-14. PRC's are radios. Now go get me a Prick/E-7 and a box of grid squares. (:

        • Now go get me a Prick/E-7 and a box of grid squares. (:

          Sure, just fill out an ID-10-T form and get me the keys to the impact area first. I don't have a Prick/E-7, but I think I know where there's a Prick/E-8. Someone told me they saw one behind the 1st Sergeant's desk the other day.

          We actually got the FNG to go look behind the desk once.... ah, good times.

        • Sorry to be a git, but are you really suggesting it matters what brand your night vision goggles are if you're trying to run 'em on solar power? :P
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by meyekul ( 1204876 )
        "What do you mean the radio is dead?"

        "Sorry sir, these iPods really suck the batteries!"
      • "Besides, his unit will appreciate him not flipping a mirror out for all to see whenever he wants to listen to music."

        That's the first thing I thought of... The irony of a well intended present putting a bulls-eye on your brother's head is tragic.

      • "Forget the charger, and get him something nice that runs on AAs."

        Good luck. There's almost no mp3 players or cameras that run on AAs. However Energizer has the Energi To Go [] that charges most devices with regular AAs, including a version for iPods and one that has a mini-USB plug that's very popular on many digital cameras and cellphones. I'd suggest buying a device that can be charged with those.
    • by MrKaos ( 858439 )
      What about this solar phone htw-s116. []
  • Pay (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Saturday March 07, 2009 @04:29PM (#27106721) Homepage Journal

    He gets a [Sailor|Soldier|Marine]'s pay, so while he can't afford gadgets

    Unless he has kids or liens, he should be able to afford gadgets since his housing is free and He'll get a lot of tax-free combat pay if he deploys.

    Anybody who's visited a larger military base such as Lackland AFB or Fort Bragg knows the many junior enlisteds driving pimped out ridez and sporting gadgets and bling. When younger recruits get out of basic training they're like kids in candy stores, especially since base exchanges have the latest stuff at low prices.

    Also, given his unit, I hope that he dosen't plan to listen with headphones while on duty.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by dAzED1 ( 33635 )

      After rent, I still make 5 times as much as him...and I live in a nice area. Thanks for the offtopic, though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jericho4.0 ( 565125 )
      You do realize that a new soldier is the prime target for credit card companies, right? After all, they can't quit.
      • But never the target of insurance companies. How strange.

        God bless these brave soldiers!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by John Hasler ( 414242 )

          > But never the target of insurance companies.

          Whatever gave you that idea? Soldiers can and sometimes do purchase private life insurance to supplement their government-sudsidized insurance.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Frosty Piss ( 770223 )
      You should see the first term Airmen tooling around McChord in a variety of hot muscle cars or fast imports, latest game console, iPhone or similarly priced phone thingy... You have to remember, these guys HAVE NO EXPENSES, so for most of them, that $1500 to $1900 is cash in the pocket to spend. On toys. On alcohol. On the opposite sex. On alcohol. On alcohol. On alcohol...
    • Re:Pay (Score:4, Informative)

      by Eil ( 82413 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @06:04PM (#27107409) Homepage Journal

      Right on. When you compare military pay to the salary of the average 19-year-old with only a high school diploma, the miliary pay wins out. And that's even before you consider that food, housing, health care, and education expenses are already paid for.

      My first year in active duty left me with enough money to buy a new $4,000 computer and a slew of fun electronic gadgets. And I still had more left over that I honestly wasn't sure what to do with except save. Even though I wasn't rich, I sure felt rich because everyone in my life up until that point had told me about how difficult it was to pay bills and taxes when you're an adult.

      Now, if I were smart, I would have invested it and kept saving. It's not a secret that if you invest a few hundred a month, every month, you can retire a millionaire by the age of 65.

      (I threw that plan out the window when I got a girlfriend.)

    • "...especially since base exchanges have the latest stuff at low prices."

      AAFES prices aren't great, closer to MSRP and Walmart will always beat them, but usually the kids have great credit after basic and creditors know they can call your CO and get you in troulbe if you don't pay your bills unlike the civilian world where your boss could care less.
  • Better PV panels are glass, which is not recommended to be packed into a duffel bag on a military (or commercial) transport. Foldable or roll-up panels are quite a bit more pricey. What are the chances you could ship him one (PV panel) after he gets settled ?? (or is he always going to be on the roll). Solar is not very compact, and the glass is, well, glass. Dust gathers and needs to be cleaned off, with water, to not scratch or haze the glass. Disposable batteries, or a 28V vehicle charger may be a bette

  • Skip the solar. You can't anticipate weather in the field like they get. Or even, where in the field. Go for the better battery.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You are an enigma. I keep having to flip between modding you friend and foe. Modding you troll and insightful. I honestly have no idea what category to put you in. Congratulations.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tjstork ( 137384 )

        Troll / insightful...I honestly have no idea what category to put you in. Congratulations

        I am a writer, is what I am. Thank you.

    • He should have power wherever he is anyway. How do they power their communication gear? It should be possible to get either 12V from vehicles or mains AC from generators.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dAzED1 ( 33635 )

      forward light-armor recon in Afghanistan; we're talking luxury items anyway, so if it's raining...well, no juice - he'll live. Batteries are hard to get, heavy, and expensive. He generally will be away from camp, for days on end. And since he's a medic and not a Marine...he won't be point.

      • Batteries are hard to get, heavy, and expensive.

        In Afghanistan? The only three things we could be sure of being resupplied with regularly in the field were ammunition, MREs, and batteries. Everything (night sights, NVG) ran on either AA or CR123A batteries. AA's are all over the place over there. Our company got 'em by the freakin' pallet load.

    • by jamesh ( 87723 )

      Skip the solar. You can't anticipate weather in the field like they get.

      Or even worse, when we have to blacken the skies to stop the machines, the solar won't work at all! You might be able to plug it into one of your fellow soldiers though...

  • by Hertne ( 1381263 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @04:37PM (#27106771)

    Money may not be much of a concern, but what about time and skill?

    I had family overseas recently and had the same thought, but didn't have as much money to spend. I decided to go the DIY route and made one of these Solarize your backpack and power all your gizmos []

    It's handy because it's lightweight and can be strapped (as the description says) to nearly any backpack, including most military ones, or taken off and set up somewhere stationary.

    It also adds more of a personal touch to the whole idea. Buying something nice and expensive for a soldier is nice, but I've often times heard from them that having something personally made (even if it's a letter) is worth gold over there as well. Reminds 'em of home and all, y'know?

    If you know how (or know someone that does) I would recommend making one of these.

    • by Lifyre ( 960576 )
      This is an excellent idea, probably the best thing he can do. As a Marine in Iraq at the moment as long as he doesn't need to get full power everyday he'll certainly be able to power himself especially if he can charge up a USB battery device ( []) continuously and then use that to power his IPod etc as long as they will charge from USB (a consideration for the camera).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aggrajag ( 716041 )
      And gives a really nice target for enemy snipers.
      • by jamesh ( 87723 )

        I don't know why the parent was marked Troll. I'd be a little concerned if one of my fellow soldiers was walking around with a shiny surface strapped to his back.

    • by Lokinator ( 181216 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @05:24PM (#27107061)
      More survival-oriented, but.. Operation Helmet [], Operation BoreSnake [](defunct but offers useful information for troops), and comfort kits all help out. Check with your brother about his armor vest quality - this has been an issue in Iraq, though some reports report it as resolved. The solar kit will help, but recall that most solar panels *reflect* in sunlight (see: "Iraq", "Desert Climes") and reflections have an unfortunate tendency to *draw fire*. This is an un-good thing in a combat environment. Think this through.
    • It also helps if you go the DIY route when things break, since he'll intimately know how it went together in the first place. Or, when he gets in the field, and something doesn't perform exactly the way he'd like, he can upgrade the system on his own.
  • Flip video camera (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I've got nothing to suggest re PV but the Flip video camera sounds like it would fit the bill quite well. Simple, robust, tough, easy to use. Probably want to give it a different paint job, though. Kinda bright colors from the look of it.

  • Whilst I haven't used their solar products, I do have a v1 PowerMonkey and love it. Their solargorilla product seems to do what you need:

  • Video Cam (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cc_pirate ( 82470 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @04:40PM (#27106793)

    Make sure the video cam you get him is flash memory based. HD based ones will certainly die with the shock and vibration they will take in the field. I recently got Canon Vixia HF10, which is flash based, HD and works quite well. However, for something the field he may prefer something a bit more robust like a Sanyo Xacti or a Flip HD.

    • I've spent time comparing different camera models at an electronics store and didn't even see one with a rotating drive - likely for the durability reason you mention. Flash memory is extremely cheap and small compared to the rest of the camera, so the added capacity probably not worth the risk.

      Admittedly, I was shopping for a photo camera with a video clip feature, not a camcorder. It's plausible the latter come with more memory (and hence occasionally HD), since video takes more space.

      • Yes, about 1/3-1/4 of camcorders are hard drive based... Another 10-25% or so are recordable CD or DVD based. Then you have flash memory based and then you have your tape based. Flash memory is the way to go.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by destuxor ( 874523 )
      I'll throw this out there as a Soldier recently returned from Iraq: everything gets ruined by the sand. Everything. The CD drive in my computer doesn't read most store-bought DVD's and will not burn anything. Sand got into the lens on my camera and scratched the glass when the shutter closed. My buddies work computer over there made a disturbing squeak anytime the fan turned. Another friend zapped an Xbox with the 250VDC they use over there (yeah, that one was avoidable). We had to replace all the laptop ba
  • Get him a Kindle and lots of ebooks for it. I'm sure he'll appreciate it.

    • E-Ink screens have a front layer that is very thin glass. They're incredibly sensitive to even general shock or pressure on the screen. Go read the forums, there are tons of reports of people literally just setting a reader down on a table and the screen breaking or developing dead segments. There's no way in hell a soldier would be able to physically protect the device enough, unless it came with a completely hard shell of some sort.
      • unless it came with a completely hard shell of some sort.

        Hey dAzED1, if you have money... Two words: Panasonic Toughbook!

        And several earphones (mix of noise-cancelling and ordinary ones). I'm guessing the wires will break sometimes, due to the rough treatment of these gadgets. (A soldier wearing 80 pounds of gear won't be willing to treat the gadgets gently.)

        (For the laptop: Be sure that all games and apps inside don't require Internet activation. Include an image of the hard disk, non-syspreped.)

  • Wind up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @04:48PM (#27106835)

    How about a wind up power supply instead? I read that the US Military was actually considering procuring and deploying these to combat the "battery problem."

    Oh, wind up power supplies are powered themselves by . . . MREs.

    • This is a good suggestion. Wind up dynamos are now available that provide 5.5V at up to 0.5A, and it is difficult to get this out of a small solar panel if you cannot mount it easily at the right angle. It should certainly be considered as a backup. Of course the other gadgets need to be chosen to be compatible.
    • by marcus ( 1916 )

      I have good results with Brunton Solar []

      There is a wide variety of sizes and shapes and Brunton [] has a pretty good rep.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fm6 ( 162816 )

      I read that the US Military was actually considering procuring and deploying these to combat the "battery problem."

      I've been watching "Generation Kill" on DVD. These poor guys are always scrounging for batteries for their night vision gear. The silly thing is that they spend half their time charging around in HUMVs — that presumably have huge alternators. Funny that nobody thought to equip them with a supply of NiCads and a changing station.

      But out on a mission, away from such sources of power, I can't see grunts finding the time to lay solar cells in the sun or to wind up a charger.

  • Bling? In Combat? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by actionbastard ( 1206160 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @04:51PM (#27106851)
    Anything that makes noise or is highly reflective won't go over very well in a combat scenario. What with giving away his unit's position and such. Get something decent that can be used back at a basecamp that he won't need to lug around. He'll appreciate your thoughtfulness when he comes home alive to show you his vids.
  • Srsly - any compact camera from the last three years also makes an excellent video camera. How about the Canon PowerShot D10 [], which is also waterproof and drop-resistant?
    • Agreed, my Canon Ixus 60 takes better video than some hard disk-based camcorders I've tried and it's tiny. Just get the biggest SDHC card you can find and he'll be fine. I believe some newer PowerShots can do HD video, too. I think they also have a new ruggedized version which may be handy for his situation.

      Of course, staying home may be a better option than dying to protect non-renewable resources.
      • That's the ruggedised version I linked to :-D It's a bit big. But I think it's smaller than an Ixus/Elph in a waterproof housing.
      • And I use my Ixus 50 (PowerShot SD400) as a video camera all the time. It's fantastic. Sound is pretty good too.
  • Powerfilm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @04:58PM (#27106905) Journal []
    Flexible, thin film cells.
    I use their components for rocketry.
    Very tough stuff.


    VHoldr has a pretty nice and affordable helmet cam. The lens is self-leveling and has a little laser-pointer (might be combat issue) but it has a dull black housing, uses microSD cards and has several mounts available. The mounts include helmet, handlebar, goggle and it'd be pretty easy to hack a mount to a Gorillapod (3 arm bendy tripod). Not to sound like a commercial but I've been looking @ that camera for a while.

    Combine that with a solar-battery gadget/pack, extra memory cards and

    • Um, no.

      1. He's not wearing the helmet 24/7
      2. The laser pointer makes that a non-starter.
      3. Far too much gadetry. The guy isn't a filmmaker on location, but rather a medic who may have a few spare minutes to grab some interesting/fun footage.

      Any regular late model digital camera can shoot enough video to be interesting. Pick one that uses AA's, and he'll never be THAT far from new/recharged ones.
  • This guy asks for some input and you guys go off on your tangents. Did nobody read the links embedded before they shot their mouths off? His bro is probably an E1 or E2 the pay scale doesn't change much until +4 yrs, he doesn't get hazardous duty pay until he is actually in theater. Sure $1400 doesn't seem too shabby, but if you live on base/post (as is assumed here) you don't get allowances for housing and food, you still pay federal and sometimes state taxes. Unless you want to eat Mess hall food everyday
    • Sure $1400 doesn't seem too shabby, but if you live on base/post (as is assumed here) you don't get allowances for housing and food

      $1400 is base pay. Housing and rations are on top of that.
      Deployed to SWA is ALWAYS 'living on-base'.
  • Small solar charger (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Small, should meet the power requirements, and is meant for travel.

    5oz and 9x5 folded.

  • Not sure about the reviews, but if I had a choice I would get this... []

    Light, durable and can power almost any gadget (phone, gps, camera....) and has an internal battery so you have reserve power available at night.

  • Don't get him any gadgets at all.

    He and his fellow soldiers will figure out things to do during their downtime. Let him be immersed in his job without modern distractions. Let him get a taste of what it's like to be completely cut off from modern conveniences. When he's older, he'll look back on it and it will give him a sense of pride that he was able to survive in a hostile environment for months without all the luxury gizmos and gadgets that are currently so popular with his civilian peers.

    While I was ce

    • by dAzED1 ( 33635 )

      I wasn't able to record anything to share with others when I was in; while I don't want to detract from his experience, I do selfishly want to share in it. Also, the mother involved would like to see such things.

      Posterity and those not in the moment with you are also a consideration, after all ;)

      • I'd recommend buying a load of AA Eneloop batteries and recharger. Unlike most rechargeable batteries, they retain a charge for over a year, so your brother could charge up a bunch of batteries whenever he has access to power.

        • by dAzED1 ( 33635 )

          AA gadgets seems to be the overall suggestion people have made, when they actually made suggestions ;) thanks for the extra tip; as a bit of an environmentalist, I would like to keep from just having him go through hundreds of non-rechargeable, when possible.

      • I wasn't able to record anything to share with others when I was in; while I don't want to detract from his experience, I do selfishly want to share in it. Also, the mother involved would like to see such things.

        Posterity and those not in the moment with you are also a consideration, after all ;)

        I know what you mean. I did the "sitzkrieg" in Desert Storm and have exactly one picture. 10 years later, I went back on active duty and deployed to Afghanistan. Two yearlong tours later... I had exactly three pictures, all taken by someone else who later emailed them to me. Never occurred to me to take "posterity" pictures. I was issued a camera for taking intel photos on occasion, but never ended up with any of my own. Like others have advised, I'd personally suggest getting him a small camera that runs o

  • Check out the solargorilla []. You can get different tips for it for laptops, ipods, phones, etc. You can also get this little battery pack that can solar charge all day, then you run your devices off the battery pack later. That way you can run things at night, or have a reserve source of power.
  • I got a freeloader []. Just long weekends at festivals for me, but so far so good.
  • []

    There are also adapter kits and a number of company's that sell the same thing, it's a no name out of china that will charge anything with USB power.

  • These guys make great cheap helmet cams. []

  • No solar. (Score:2, Informative)

    As a recent veteran, here is what I brought which proved essential.

    Black Leatherman Charge XTi, and Spec-OPS case, spare/additional bits, leatherman tool adapter, and one set of velleman security bits (30-some pieces, $15)

    Spare CR2016 and CR2032 coin cells, and type 377 button batteries (should have brought more 377 and 357s)

    Wavetek-Meterman VT-201 non-contact voltage detector (now only the fluke is available) (I put mine in a Spec-OPS brand case)

    one of those test plugs to check 110v american style outlets


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