By Dan Lafontaine, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering CommandOctober 16, 2013
GUNPOWDER MILITARY RESERVATION, Md. -- Thirty U.S. Army civilians now have a greater appreciation and understanding of the rigors and challenges associated with Soldier tasks.
Five days of intense training provided first-hand experience of the technical and physical demands on Soldiers.
Maj. Shane Sims, a military deputy at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications and electronics center, led a Greening Course for the civilians from Aberdeen Proving Ground. One of his goals was for participants to think like Soldiers during the training rotations.
CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration directorate developed the course.
"We've put a lot of thought and effort into developing this course because we want to foster a Soldier mindset in our future materiel developers," Sims said. "We keep reinforcing throughout the week the importance of understanding Soldiers and how they use the materiel solutions that we develop for them."
Much of the Army's research, development, engineering and testing is performed at APG. For that reason, this course is especially important for the installation's civilians whose work enables current and future Soldier technology, said John Willison, director of CERDEC CP&I.
"Our mission is to make sure Soldiers have the latest, greatest equipment. To do that, you have to understand their needs," Willison said. "I encourage our employees to get up and get out, to talk to Soldiers on a regular basis. Greening is an opportunity for them to interact with Soldiers and to get a direct appreciation for what our Soldiers do, and what they need."
Greening Phase I course is a mandatory course for all new employees to CERDEC through the new employee orientation each month. Phase II is recommended for employees who want to become more familiar with the Army and its structure.
CERDEC computer scientist Brad Stevenson said the experience helps Army scientists and engineers see how Soldiers use their gear after it leaves the laboratory.
The equipment must be simple, effective and rugged so that Soldiers can use it under extreme conditions in a fast-paced environment, he said.
"It's absolutely invaluable. Everybody knows that a Soldier's job is difficult, but it's given us a lot of insight into how we can make their jobs easier by providing them extra capability or reducing the amount of weight they have to carry," Stevenson said. "It gives you a better idea of how to insert technology into their day-to-day lives if you see how they live."
Twenty-five civilian employees from CERDEC and five from the Army Test and Evaluation Command comprised the group.
Class participants traveled to Gunpowder Military Reservation, a Maryland National Guard training site in Baltimore County, Sept. 17-19 for a leadership-reaction course, squad formation and movement, weapons simulator, land-navigation training, radio-protocol training and obstacle course.
The group then returned to APG for a closer look at Army ground vehicles and aircraft in action.
On Sept. 24, they visited Aberdeen Test Center to drive and ride in three Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected variants -- the Buffalo, Cougar and Dash. The MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle, or M-ATV, was also included. An M1 Abrams Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle were on display for the group to explore.
The next day, the Maryland Army National Guard briefed the participants on three helicopters -- UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and LUH-72 Lakota -- at Weide Army Airfield. The Guardsmen then took the group for a Black Hawk flight over Harford County and the Chesapeake Bay.
Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Agueda, RDECOM G-3/5/7 operations sergeant major, served as an instructor for leadership/technology engagement and squad formation and movement.
"Exposing our Army civilian scientists and engineers to the life of a Soldier and allowing them to experience activities like land navigation, obstacle courses and weapons simulators greatly improves their ability to deliver effective technology solutions for the Warfighter," Agueda said. "The Greening Program also increases the mutual respect between all professionals in RDECOM."
Sims said the first objective was for civilian employees to better understand how a Soldier overcomes obstacles to accomplish his mission.
"What we stress is that there's a physical burden to Soldiers, and there is also a cognitive burden. When we're dealing with communications and mission command, the cognitive burden will be affected by the physical burden," he said. "The more tired you are, the more difficult it is to cognitively think through certain processes.
"When we put 120 pounds of gear on top of them, they realized this is what Soldiers have to carry around. It was eye-opening for them."
J.J. Kowal, deputy chief at CERDEC CP&I's strategic initiatives office, said he learned how ease of use is important because of the physical challenges that Soldiers confront.
"It's definitely the cognitive load. They are all relatively simple tasks -- keeping people in the right place, firing a weapon," Kowal said. "When you put them all together and overload somebody, it's a different way of thinking. When designing or assessing a product, I really want to think about what it would be like if I didn't have all the time in the world to look at it."
The course's second goal was to bring Soldiers and civilians together from across APG as part of a team-building initiative, Sims said. Civilian employees participated from CERDEC and ATEC, the National Guard and ATEC contributed with demonstrations, and noncommissioned officers from across RDECOM facilitated training.
Sims said the final objective was recruitment and retention of civilian scientists and engineers.
"We have to get the best computer scientists and engineers if we want to get the best equipment. A lot of these folks will go home and tell their spouses, 'You'll never guess what I did today. I got to fly around the Chesapeake Bay in a Black Hawk helicopter. It was a good day to be in the Army.' Google may be a really cool place to work, but Google can't provide their employees this opportunity," he 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 provides it.