ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md.-- Aberdeen Proving Ground missions revolve around developing materiel that saves Soldiers lives. Researches don't often receive feedback from the Soldiers in the trenches, but that changed, April 20, when Team APG greeted a staff sergeant from Fort Stewart, Georgia who came to APG to learn about the helmet that saved his life.
Accompanied by family members and fellow Soldiers, Staff Sgt. Thalamus Lewis toured test facilities at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command's Aberdeen Test Center, or ATC, and the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, where the Advanced Combat Helmet, known as the ACH, was developed and tested.
A native of Georgiana, Alabama, Lewis, who had three previous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and was on his fourth deployment Oct 4, 2012 with the 41st Engineer Company out of Fort Riley, Kansas when he and fellow Soldiers came under fire while searching an urban area for hidden explosives. A firefight ensued and Lewis said he wasn't sure exactly what knocked him to the ground. Only later did he learn that his ACH had absorbed the shock of and diverted a bullet. Lewis suffered no lingering after effects from the incident. He said he had no idea of the depth of military testing and technology at APG.
"What they're coming up with behind the scenes is amazing," he said. "I'm privileged that I was invited up here [APG] to give them feedback."
Jyuji D. Hewitt, executive deputy to the RDECOM commanding general, Col. Kevin Ellison, ARL military deputy, and a host of ARL and ATC researchers greeted Lewis, his family, Col. Dean M. Hoffman IV, Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, Program Executive Office Soldier, and other PEO Soldier personnel.
Ellison welcomed the group and assured Lewis his feedback was welcome.
"This is vital," Ellison said, "because we proceed based on the feedback we get from Soldiers like you. The Army Research Laboratory is part of that team that supports and develops concepts and capabilities that help … every son and daughter come back home from combat."
The tour included stops in ARL's Energy Mitigation Composites Lab where scientists displayed materials used to assemble helmets, including some of the world's strongest plastics and the Robotics lab where Drs. Daniel Baechle and Eric Wetzel briefed about the Head Health Challenge -- a National Football League-initiated venture focused on mitigating head-to-ground impacts. They demonstrated how rate-activated tethers can reduce head acceleration by 50 percent.
The ATC tour included a flak vest testing demonstration at the Light Armor Range Complex and a laser demonstration at the Ballistic Test Range.
The day prior, Lewis was reunited with his helmet during a ceremony at PEO Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Cynthia Boggan, Lewis' mother, said her son didn't tell her about his close call until several months after it happened. She said she was shocked but also relieved. She, Lewis' 14-year-old brother, Tarrone Boggan, his father, Ricardo Peagler, and his former platoon leader, Capt. Alan Dillon, also accompanied Lewis on the tour.
Boggan said she was extremely impressed with the facilities, and that she'd heard about Army research with the National Football League. After taking in APG research and test facilities, she said she thought the Army should tout what it does for Soldiers "just a little louder."
"Football is a career but the Army is a career too, so we should hear more about [Army research]," she said. "They're working to keep [Soldiers] as safe as possible and that's good news."