PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J.-- Guns, ammo, technology ... and George Washington. These were items on the agenda for a group of 39 Non-Commissioned Officers from the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) during their visit to Picatinny Arsenal and Morristown National Historic Park Dec. 7 - 9.

The visit was part of the RDECOM NCO Professional Development initiative, in which NCOs throughout the command gather each quarter to visit various research and training centers within RDECOM.

"Because RDECOM is so spread out, it's hard for these NCOs to get a good picture of what the rest of the RDECs (research, development and engineering centers) do," said RDECOM Operations (G-3) Sgt. Maj. Matt Delay. "We get all the NCOs together, talk about what the other RDECs are doing, show some of the technologies, and we bring everyone on the same sheet of music with the new information that's being put out by the 'big Army'."

The RDECOM NCO Professional Development initiative began about two years ago with the help of RDECOM Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin. In his first year with RDECOM, Marin established a budget and funding for the program per guidance from Gen. Ann Dunwoody, Army Materiel Command commanding general, and Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, RDECOM commanding general.

"When I first got here, there was absolutely no synchronization among the non-commissioned officers," Marin said. "An individual didn't know who was to his left or right. Everyone here has a different occupation skill. We're assigned to different research centers. A lot of these NCOs didn't know who their counterparts were."

"So we started having NCO PD's and synchronizing our efforts to understand what each one of us does," he added. "That created a lot of synergy among the NCO's to better support the organization for Soldiers that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Marin chose Picatinny Arsenal this quarter because the group had never been to Picatinny, and because of Picatinny's extensive contributions to the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"When you talk about munitions, weapons, EOD (explosive ordnance disposal), and the Prototype Integration Facility within Picatinny - there are so many things we're doing at Picatinny for the current and the future fighter," he said.

"Every one of these non-commissioned officers at some point or another are going to deploy for RDECOM as science and technology advisors for the command in Afghanistan," Marin said. "So it's important for me to get all the NCOs around the command to see what the command is all about and what we're developing for the warfighter."

For many of the NCOs, such as Sgt. Randall Huff from the Army Research Laboratory, this was their first experience at Picatinny and at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).

"When you're out talking to Soldiers and you're trying to figure out their needs and wants, it's nice to know what each of the RDECs do so you have a better grasp of where to go with a problem or who to talk to. Every time we go on one of these NCO tours, I learn something I didn't know about one of the RDECs."

Huff also said the tour is a practical way to see if different labs are working on similar systems or similar projects, so they can collaborate and synch efforts to find a solution.

In addition to touring facilities at Picatinny and ARDEC, the group went on Dec. 9 for a historical tour of George Washington's winter headquarters in Morristown and the soldier's camp in Jockey Hollow.

The tour was led by Eric Olsen, park ranger and historian for Morristown National Historic Parks. RDECOM historians Jeff Smart, Richard Wiltison, and Egon Hatfield and ARDEC historian Pat Owens related the stories from Washington's revolutionary Army to situations Soldiers currently face in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since most of the Revolutionary War was fought in the warmer months, Washington chose Morristown as his winter headquarters from 1779 to 1780 because the area had many strategic and logistical advantages.

"We wanted a place for the NCOs visit where you could actually be in December when Washington moved his army here, and we wanted a place where we could talk about logistics, particularly related to getting supplies to the troops and the issues involved," Smart said.

"That's why Morristown was so important with RDECOM NCOs, because we're talking about getting technology to the field quicker and about empowering and protecting the warfighter. We make comparisons to the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We look at responses that the American Solider in the Revolutionary War made to compensate for a lack of food, supplies and equipment, and compare it to some of the issues in Afghanistan."

The Soldiers also toured several sites that Washington used while camped at Morristown, including the Ford Mansion, which was Washington's Headquarters, and the Wick Farm. They also went to the Fort Nonsense area. Though the fort is no longer standing today, Soldiers saw why it was necessary. From the top of the hill, there is a clear view 30 miles east toward New York. You can even see the Empire State Building in the distance.

But it was never attacked. In the 19th century, people speculated that Washington had his troops build the fort just to keep busy, hence the adopted name "Fort Nonsense."

The NCOs also toured several replica Soldier huts where Washington's Soldiers slept. To get the full experience of what it was like to be a Soldier at the camp, the NCOs stayed at the huts for lunch and prepared some MRE's (meals ready to eat) in the freezing cold. While not as bad as the winter of 1779-1780, the coldest in this country's recorded history, the weather cooperated in give the visitor's a sense of what the Continental Army experienced.

"I want the NCOs to see what Washington went through back in those days and what our guys are going through in the mountains of Afghanistan," Marin said. "We have Soldiers deploy in very small villages out there, and the harsh conditions those Soldiers are facing out there are about the same that George Washington faced. Even though our Soldiers are now better equipped, there are still challenges."

Overall, the NCOs were impressed with the wealth of history they learned.

"It's amazing, because I didn't realize how much Washington's troops had to go through or how much they had to endure," said Staff Sgt. Ricky Pender from the Communications Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC).

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16