DALTON, Ga. -- After cancer in Merv Huff's spine put him in a wheelchair, the disease taught him a lesson.
When you're disabled, you've got to be a problem solver. Little things that most people take for granted require a lot of thought, he said.
So when his lifelong friend, Georgia Army National Guard Pfc. Forrest Langley, came back from Iraq and told him how the heat would reach 130 degrees, Mr. Huff started thinking.
Most of the main bases in Iraq have air conditioning, cold water, showers, even ice cream in the chow halls.
But a lot of the grunt work is done at forward operating bases or FOBs. At these sites, troops in smaller groups live an austere existence of military rationsand few creature comforts. Hygiene is limited to a bucket of water for the occasional lather.
A small ice cooler was something that soldiers could store on their vehicles, Mr. Huff thought. If he could devise a way to blow cool air out without melting the ice, he might be able to offer soldiers some low-maintenance, portable air-conditioning.
Mr. Huff went to work and, after about a week at his kitchen table, he created his "super cooler."
The device is a modified cooler that divides top and bottom, keeping the main chamber separate so ice won't melt quickly. The top chamber has a fan that pulls air up and out, creating a cool flow directly out of the box.
It's now powered by two D-cell batteries, but Mr. Huff plans solar power for future versions.
Mr. Langley said his friend's invention would be a great help.
"In Iraq, it was so hot the sweat would just roll off of you," he said.
The inventor showed the cooler to his nephew, Georgia Army National Guard Spc. Kevin Bilbrey, who recently returned home on leave from Afghanistan. He said it was a cool idea and wants to see if he can have one sent to him when he returns to his deployment.
With the winter months coming, Mr. Huff knows his nephew likely will not need to take it with him when he returns.
"I'll probably have to concentrate on keeping the boy warm," he joked.
Once he put together the cooler and got it working, Mr. Huff saw potential for other customers as well.
Tailgaters, fishermen, outdoor workers, anyone who needs some cool air in the heat could use this, he said.
Mr. Huff has applied for patents and hopes the invention is successful, but if not, he just wants to help out soldiers any way he can. And maybe he'll inspire others to think about what they can do, he said.
"How many people woke up today and thought about the soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan?" he asked. "If I could do this here, disabled at my home, everybody ought to be able to do something."