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Marines get glimpse of new gear at expo

CAMP PENDLETON – A record number of vendors hawking everything from Amazing Pooh-Powder to socks to virtual convoy trainers packed the 14th annual Marine West Military Exposition yesterday.


By Rick Rogers

January 19, 2006

Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Preston stood in the turret of a Humvee-style combat simulator at the Marine West Military Exposition at Camp Pendleton yesterday.

Though the two-day event has no theme, most of the 140 companies represented sought to cater to the Marines from this base who are heading to Iraq. About 25,000 Marines and sailors, mostly from Camp Pendleton, are deploying.

After the expo's opening ceremony, Marines browsed the stalls looking for items to make them more comfortable – or just keep them alive – on the battlefield.

"What I would love to find is something to slow down (improvised explosive devices)," said Sgt. Maj. Melvin Roundtree, the top enlisted man in the 5th Marine Regiment. "That is the thing that keeps people up at night."

No luck there. But that didn't mean every Marine walked away empty-handed or lacking in ideas for dream-ticket items.

A virtual combat trainer by MPRI, priced at nearly $2 million, was a big draw.

Marines stood in line for a chance to climb aboard a Humvee that went on virtual patrols in Iraq or Afghanistan. The simulations included scenarios involving ambushes. The Marines would respond by firing blanks that emitted a laser to register hits and misses on insurgents.

"Very realistic. The sites, the smells, everything," said Staff Sgt. Robert Trenum, a drummer in the Marine band from Western Port, Md. Trenum is headed to Fallujah, where the band will provide security at Camp Fallujah. It will be his second tour to Iraq.

"This is by far the best simulation I've seen," Trenum said before a company official pigeonholed him to ask how it could be made better.

It's such give-and-take that makes the expo popular with Marines and manufacturers, said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Stephen Olmstead, national chairman of the Marine Corps League Exposition Committee.

"The exhibitors enjoy the opportunity to talk to Marines. That's why 80 percent of them come back," Olmstead said. "Here, a buck sergeant can make a difference by pointing out a problem with a piece of equipment or suggesting how something might be done better, and the vendors will listen because they know the Marine is an expert. This is a place where the Marines aren't afraid to say (something) is a piece of crap."

One company that might not take total exception to that description is NRS, inventor of the Amazing Pooh-Powder. One scoopful of the product can gel 60 ounces of waste, neutralizing odor while speeding decay.

The exposition also gives Marines the chance to buy equipment. Roundtree said the average grunt spends about $400 of his own money on equipment before deploying. Such out-of-pocket expenses used to be higher before the Corps started furnishing more gear, he said.

Cpl. James Gonzalez of Plano, Texas, was amazed by the high-tech items available for the battlefield. He was impressed by advances in body armor, particularly for the turret gunner in a Humvee, a job that he described as dangerous from firsthand experience.

"I think this (event) gives us a good idea of what we can ask for," said Gonzalez, who bought a small, high-powered flashlight and an infrared beacon.

Cpl. Andrew Liebhard of the 1st Marine Logistics Group also noted the advancements in body armor. "A lot of (it) is designed against improvised explosive devices," he said.

Gonzalez and Liebhard will be in Taqaddam, Iraq, within the month.

The exposition began at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County. The number of participating vendors grew 10 percent annually until last year, when the total jumped 25 percent. Vendor attendance also increased 25 percent for this year's event.

Rick Rogers: (760) 476-8212; rick.rogers@uniontrib.com