EXFOR plays key role in shaping future technologies
May 22, 2013
By Nick Duke
FORT BENNING, Ga., (May 22, 2013) -- Maj. Roberto Herrera, commander of A Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, relinquished his command of the company last week during a change of command ceremony that saw Capt. Joel Meredith assume command.
Herrera had served as the company commander for one year, during which time he played a role in shaping the future battlefield technologies that Soldiers will likely employ. A Company serves as the U.S. Army's Experimental Force, meaning that Soldiers in the unit are constantly exposed to not only new technologies, but also new ideas and techniques that could become battlefield procedure.
"We actually have an opportunity not only to test, but to experiment with concepts and technology," Herrera said. "We get the technology that isn't very mature and we try to shape it to where we think it's going to be best utilized."
During his time as commander, Herrera and the rest of A Company worked closely with the Maneuver Battle Lab on several experiments, a relationship Herrera said is critical to the Army's development.
"The individuals at the Maneuver Battle Lab are trying to meet Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster's intent," Herrera said. "The big thing that we do with them is not only focusing on the individual, but also the squad. We try to make sure we give them what they need to provide capabilities to the squad."
As part of the working relationship with the MBL, A Company has been involved with the development of several new Army technologies, including the Nett Warrior system.
Nett Warrior is a system worn on a Soldier's body that provides situational awareness to Soldiers on the ground. The system includes a radio, a helmet-mounted display and a hand-held data input device. The wiring for the system is integrated into a protective vest.
With Nett Warrior, Soldiers are able to see their location, the location of their fellow Soldiers, and the location of known enemies on a moving map.
"Originally, the unit was working with Nett Warrior during the first round of testing just before I took command and they identified some key changes that they wanted related to doctrine, and now it's a program of record, and it's been in three divisions now that they currently have in Afghanistan," Herrera said.
Another piece of technology Herrera said he was involved with was the development of a new Black Hawk helicopter.
"With the helicopters they have now, it's hard for individuals of a certain height to get in and get on it with their equipment," he said. "Soldiers make it happen regardless, but they wanted to make it a little more user-friendly and mission-oriented, so they've tailored it more to a Soldier load of a current Soldier and what they carry now rather than what Soldiers carried in Vietnam."
A Company has also been heavily involved in the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment Campaign, which attempts to place emerging technologies in the hands of Soldiers.
"All we do is try to examine any emerging concepts or capabilities for the current and future forces," Herrera said. "The emphasis there is on the small unit level, from the company all the way down to the platoon and squad."
However, Herrera has also seen changes in Army thinking in addition to the changes in technology.
He said that one of the keys for the Army going forward will be adapting to threats that may differ from the threats faced during the Global War on Terror.
"Back before 9/11, everybody was focused on the conventional fight against a uniformed threat," he said.
"After 9/11, we shifted everything to focus more on the global war on terrorism and fighting an unconventional, asymmetrical war. So, really everybody that came in after 9/11 has never really seen a conventional fight, so the threat of the future is probably going to be not just a conventional or unconventional threat, but a hybrid of the two."
With his time as the EXFOR commander now at an end, Herrera said he felt honored to have had the opportunity to affect the future of the Army while serving at the company level.
"It's very rare that, at the company level, you'll be able to strategically impact something that affects the whole Army," Herrera said. "That's really important to me. That's what the Soldiers here are doing. Just the nature of the mission that we have is to help prepare our Army. It's really exciting. There's really nobody else out there that does this. There's nowhere else where you can conduct worldwide combined and joint defensive operations to facilitate the experimentation that we do."
Herrera is now headed to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he will attend the Command and General Staff College.
While he will no longer be working with EXFOR on a day-to-day basis, he said he has faith in the men he is leaving behind to carry out the Army mission.
"What they do is very important, not only for the Army in the future, but also in the present," Herrera said. "What they do plays a big impact, and they help to provide capabilities. They just need to keep doing what they're doing, and keep working with the defense industries to make what we have better."