NATICK, Mass. -- Before a series of late-winter nor'easters covered New England with heavy snow, a small group of Human Research Volunteer Soldiers from the U.S Army's Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, practiced their land navigation skills in the woodlands of nearby Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

During their voluntary, 90 day assignment to NSRDEC, Human Research Volunteer, or HRV, Soldiers spend the majority of their time supporting Army scientists and engineers with human performance-based research inside NSRDEC's unique research facilities and laboratories where they test everything from new ruck sacks and prototype ration technologies, to virtual reality-based training platforms.

Essentially, the primary function of an HRV Soldier is to be the human in the Army's human performance focused research. It's an indispensable role within a growing and pivotal field of research that is laying the groundwork to modernize the Army's greatest asset -- the individual Soldier.

Yet, as newly trained Soldiers, the fundamental combat skills they learned in basic and advanced individual training can rapidly diminish if not performed regularly. To maintain their combat readiness while serving the Army S&T community, NSRDEC's non-commissioned officers responsible for their daily supervision began incorporating a field training regimen into the HRV schedule with the first group of young Soldiers to arrive in FY2018.

"It's important for HRV Soldiers to be proficient in the basic Soldier skills they'll be using when they leave Natick and get to their first units" said Staff Sergeant Anthony Sandoval, the Operations NCO for NSRDEC's Headquarters Research and Development Detachment. "Part of our job as NCOs is to make sure they're ready."

To accomplish this, Sandoval's team of NCOs developed and implemented a condensed field and weapons training program around the HRVs busy schedules supporting NSRDEC research studies designed to brush up on their land navigation and marksmanship skills.

"These are critical skills for all Soldiers to have, but especially this group of HRVs because they are all 11 Bravo's [Military Occupational Specialty 11-B - Infantry] including two female Infantry Soldiers," said Sandoval. "Every Soldier needs to practice repeatedly for these maneuvers become second nature."

NSRDEC's NCOs made sure the field training didn't conflict with the HRV's obligations as research subjects.

"We started with classroom sessions for basic and advanced land navigation before bringing them out to the [Land Navigation] course at Fort Devens," said Sergeant Andrew Cochran, HRDD platoon sergeant. "We are retraining them on the M-4 rifle/carbine and crew-served weapons to maintain their marksmanship skills."

"We also arranged for them to get some time on the EST [Engagement Skills Trainer] when it's not being used for research purposes," said Cochran.

As they help Army scientists' research and develop future Soldier performance capabilities, HRV Soldiers are honing their own lethality. And it's the NSRDEC's NCOs who make it happen.

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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.