NATICK, Mass. (Jan. 29, 2014) -- For the first time ever, the personnel working at the Natick Soldier Systems Center were able to put faces to those busy testing new systems behind the scenes … the Soldiers.

"Often, we perform outreach with the local community and schools, but we are missing a great opportunity to perform 'in reach' with the Soldiers," said Dr. Matt Kramer, chief, Science, Technology and Innovation Division, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, "informing them about what our broader mission is and making their limited time here as valuable as possible."

"Operation in Reach" allowed the newest group of Soldiers at NSSC to tour various labs as well as participate in a meet and greet that took place Jan. 23.

"We hoped to spark an interest in building relationships between the Soldier and civilians," said Sarah Ross, Human Research Volunteer coordinator. "We also wanted to include the Soldiers in what happens on post more than just participating in studies."

Ross said having the Soldiers meet and converse with the scientists, administrators and other employees could also help the Soldiers realize if they didn't choose to make a career of the Army, there were still options for them in science and technology.

The turnout for the event shocked all who planned the occasion.

"We had 74 civilians sign in, 31 HRVs and 14 other active military members attend," said Ross. "That's huge for something that we had never done before or had any expectation in regards to attendance."

One such Soldier that NSSC employees were able to meet was Pvt. 2 Duane Patterson. Patterson, 20, joined the Army in May 2013.

"It started off as a curiosity," Patterson said. "I never originally had any plans about going into the military."

Patterson said he wasn't aware of what the military could offer until his freshman year in high school, when he joined the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps or AFJROTC.

"It caught my attention, it fascinated me," Patterson said, "and as the years progressed and I stayed in the program, I became better and better at what I did there."

Through the AFJROTC program, Patterson was able to hone his skills as a leader as well as compete on a national level.

"I wanted to achieve things that others weren't doing," Patterson said. "So I set my eyes on getting as many ribbons and awards as I could, while also bettering myself."

Through his AFJROTC career, Patterson was able to obtain an astonishing 43 ribbons and 10 awards.

"I always wanted to do something better with my life," said Patterson. "If I would have never (gone) through JROTC, I probably wouldn't be in uniform today."

Another such Soldier with an interesting story was Pvt. 2 Marquivous Hyman, 19, who decided to push aside a lifetime dream of his to join the Army.

"I grew up playing football all my life, and I loved the sport," said Hyman. "I loved the atmosphere and being on the field; I loved everything about it."

Hyman said through middle and high school, football was a struggle, but he strived to make himself a better player and had dreams of one day playing in the NFL.

During Hyman's last year in high school, he received a full-ride scholarship to attend and play football for Georgia State University. Hyman, feeling differently about the sport, didn't rush to pick up his Panthers uniform and helmet.

"My senior year I started viewing more options," Hyman said. "The more I worked toward my main goal of playing college (and pro) football, it made me realize that football wasn't really everything; there's a lot more options out there, and I started losing passion for the sport."

At that point, Hyman began to think about the military and the opportunities and doors it could open for him and his family.

Hyman said he still dreams of one day going to college and playing football; but for now, he will do all he can while in uniform.

"If you really want something, keep working hard for it; over time it will come," Hyman said.

"I am very pleased that so many civilians showed up to meet the Soldiers today," said Col. Collier Slade, military deputy, NSRDEC. "It is a real testament to the workforce and their dedication. These young Soldiers are our customers, and anytime that you can put a face behind the word 'Soldier,' it is very motivating."