By Clemens Gaines, 20th CBRNE CommandOctober 18, 2017
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Four scientists and an administrator assigned to the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command recently spent a week away from their laboratories and cubicles and entered the world Soldiers inhabit every day.
Chemists Valerie Lesniak, Theresa Pennington, and Kevin Wioland; microbiologist Rebecca Lewandowski; and program support assistant Natalie Polk joined nearly 100 participants in completing the unique Team APG Greening Course.
Several major commands on the APG garrison sponsored the 2nd annual course which is designed to give new civilian employees a taste of what it takes to train and become a Soldier. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is promoting this Army civilian program to better integrate civilian employees into the military.
More accustomed to microscopes and chemical analysis, briefing charts and reports, these new Army civilians belong to a unique organization called CARA - the CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity Laboratory here on APG. Many of these workers have advanced academic degrees to support scientific and technical mission analysis.
"When I found out about the course, I encouraged all new civilians to participate, especially the CARA lab personnel who are generally not prior military," said CARA Director Chris Chesney.
"I felt it was critical for their development as world-wide deployable Department of the Army civilians to experience the life of a Soldier, if for only one week, so they can better support them [the Soldiers] on the battlefield," he said.
The course exposes civilians to the missions, tasks and equipment used by Soldiers, as well as a detailed overview of military rank and structure, training, professional leadership development, and most importantly - teamwork.
"I believe the most interesting part was the leadership reaction course because it forced each group of individuals to work together to solve challenging problems," noted Wioland. "This highlighted each individual's strengths which could be used to complete the exercises."
Lesniak noted, "I was amazed at all the different ways there are to solve a single problem. Everyone offers a different perspective, which leads to a clever solution."
During the week, the civilian employees had the opportunity to tackle an obstacle course, learned how to escape a rolled-over Humvee vehicle, fired assault rifles, rappelled down a 38-foot tower, and experienced flight operations in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.
The civilians also participated in a shoot house training event where Pennington said, "You learned how Soldiers in teams of four enter and clear buildings."
Polk talked about the importance of team trust -"The amount of trust squads [have to] put into each other in order to clear a shoot house, go on a mission ... They have complete trust in each other to accomplish the task."
The all-outdoors course involved more physical exercise than most civilians have during a day. This included push-ups, formation marching, crawling through dirt, rappelling off a tower, and weapons firing.
In the midst of the training, the CARA members found surprises.
"I was most surprised with the passion the Soldiers had for teaching us students the Army way of life," said Wioland. "Many took time out of their day to assist with the course and volunteer their time."
After the greening course, Lesniak said, "I have a better idea of what Soldiers have to go through. I gained a new perspective that I will incorporate into my work."
Wioland noted that, "The greening course allowed me to fully grasp how my position and daily activities aid in working towards the completion of the 20th CBRNE Command's overall mission."
Lewandowski emphasized how the greening course helped her understand the integral role of NCOs and exactly how "they make everything run."
"At the graduation ceremony, all were ecstatic and thoroughly enjoyed their week of fun," said Chesney. "I was surprised and impressed that they [the Soldiers] even had them [the civilians] marching in formation. Now it's back to work for all of them."
Kelley Renoll, 20 CBRNE Command, and Dan Baldwin, CERDEC, contributed to this story