By Dan Lafontaine, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering CommandAugust 6, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- U.S. Army Reserve officers are serving a key role in identifying and addressing science and technology needs during a major U.S. Army exercise in the Pacific.
Col. John Olson is leading four officers from the Army Reserve Sustainment Command, Detachment 8, who will deploy to South Korea in August for Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2013.
The team interacts with Soldiers to better understand how Army scientists and engineers can improve capabilities on the peninsula, Olson said.
"These are real-world shortfalls. It's part of a real-world war plan," said Olson, who also participated in UFG 2011. "If we don't begin to address this now, we may not be able to address these issues when a war starts.
"They understand there are important capability gaps that we can begin addressing now prior to actually needing them."
The four Reservists -- Olson, Lt. Col. Ken Sikorsky, Maj. James Nelson and Maj. Scott Christensen -- are part of the 20-member detachment that supports the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.
This year's command-post exercise, occurring Aug. 19 to 30, is the third year of RDECOM participation. The Reserve detachment augments active-duty officers and Army civilians who serve as full-time Field Assistance in Science and Technology advisors.
"Some of these are long-term problems, and RDECOM is now aware and working on them. By going back year after year, we can see if this is still a problem and inform the units in theater what progress is being made. It also informs RDECOM leadership what the important challenges are in that theater," Olson said.
The unit sets stringent qualifications to join, and each new officer must have a skill set that contributes to RDECOM's mission of empowering, unburdening and protecting the Soldier. About half the members are RDECOM civilian employees, most have at least a master's degree and one-third have a doctorate in a scientific or engineering discipline.
"Because we come from all parts of RDECOM, we have expertise that covers a broad spectrum. We have someone in our detachment assigned to every part of RDECOM now," said Olson, whose serves his Reserve duty as an environmental scientist at the Army Research Laboratory's Battlefield Environment Division.
The primary method for addressing these science and technology capability gaps during the exercise is through compiling and sending requests for information, known as RFIs, back to the United States for review. One or two Reserve officers will assist the RDECOM headquarters staff receive the RFIs at APG.
Christensen, a full-time Army civilian, participated in UFG 2012. He is a computer scientist specializing in cybersecurity at ARL's Computation Information Systems Directorate.
"We identified potential capability gaps that RDECOM expertise could improve upon for the Soldier's mission," Christensen said. "We got to interact at all levels of the command structures throughout theater in a whole variety of units -- aviation, chemical, artillery."
The detachment produced 44 RFIs in 2011 and 21 in 2012. Common topics for Soldiers' inquiries include uniforms, robotics, computer systems and weapons systems.
"The Army brings in a lot of Soldiers for the exercise -- active duty, Reserve and National Guard. We're filling what would be a capability gap by going out and finding needs and potential capability gaps throughout the [U.S. Forces Korea] theater," Christensen said.
Olson said the goal is to rotate the UFG deployment among the 20 officers in the detachment so they all have the expertise to fulfill the science and technology advisor mission for RDECOM.
As members with varying skill sets participate each year, they are able to identify different gaps or needs than in previous years. In addition, the active-duty Soldiers assigned to Korea rotate, so their focus often changes year to year.
Christensen said issues identified by Soldiers could take years of research for resolution, and the team sets realistic expectations during UFG.
"The needs guide the research, and the research meets the needs. It's a constant give and take, back and forth," Christensen said. "We were very upfront with them to say, 'We're not going to have an answer for you right away.' We made the connection so [that] when we left theater, they had a point of contact with someone in RDECOM who was responsible for continuing the dialogue."
RDECOM has engaged directly with Soldiers through its FAST teams during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and exercises such as UFG are a prime opportunity for continued interaction, Olson said. He would like the detachment to support other exercises within U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Africa Command.
"This is a chance for RDECOM to interact with parts of the Army that it doesn't often interact with. This gives us a chance to help represent RDECOM to the rest of the Army," Olson said.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC delivers it.