Improving the quality of life for deployed service members is the goal of the "city in the box," said Army Lt. Col. Robert Bean, assistant product manager for Force Provider, at the Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass.
The self-sustaining city, which can house up to 550 troops and cover 7 to 10 acres, can be tailored to meet the needs of the unit and terrain, said Bean.
"No two camps are set up the same," said Jim McLaughlin, deputy product manager for Natick's Force Sustainment Systems, which oversees 40 programs to include Force Provider.
It typically takes 60 people about a week to set up the containerized camp, he added. Force Provider was initially developed in the 1990s as a result of feedback from troops who served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
The system has been deployed to Guatemala; Honduras; Haiti; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Bosnia. There are 36 Force Providers currently deployed in support of operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. A tabletop example of the city was on display at the Russell Senate Office Building here July 23.
The city's basic building block is the Tent Extendable Modular Personnel, or TEMPER, Tent. Each is equipped with a heating and air-conditioning unit.
"The best thing in 120-plus degree heat is to be able to get a good night's sleep," said Bean. "When troops are rested, they perform their jobs better."
The nice thing about being tent-based, noted McLaughlin, is that the tents are easy to pack up and they store well.
However, with the length of deployments increasing, McLaughlin said they are looking at using more "hardened" facilities. "With longer deployments, the tent fabric starts to wear," he said. "And when troops are gone longer, they tend to want more space and something more sturdy. We're actively looking at hard-wall systems."
McLaughlin said Natick gets tremendous feedback from the field. When it tested latrines complete with air conditioning and heat at Fort Polk, La., it was hard getting the troops out of the facilities.
The "latest, greatest" addition to the camp is the all-electric kitchen, which provides three hot meals a day to troops, said McLaughlin.
Other improvements in the Force Sustainment System include finer camouflage netting that doesn't snag on things such as antennas and mirrors, said the manager. "It also provides some shading," he added. "It's far superior and flying off the production line."
Force Provider also includes a Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility.
The bottom line, said McLaughlin, is "to make life better for the troops."