ADELPHI, Md. -- The Greening Course is a semi-annual five-day course designed for Army civilians to live the life and challenges of a Soldier. Six Army civilians recently completed the course at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
"Impossible Burger" is what Dr. Sanchao Liu from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory was likely thinking about as a bead of sweat dripped from under her helmet and rolled down her profile. The rappel tower challenge is a traversal of 30 feet.
Liu's legs steadily pushed her harnessed body out from the rappel tower on day three of the laboratory's Greening Course, but her uncertain smile conferred her fear of heights.
"Impossible Burger" was this year's Greening Course class motto. Every incoming class chooses their maxim for the week. "Impossible Burger," a euphemism for vegan burgers, embodies ARL's scientifically creative community; to make something new (a high-protein meat substitute) out of every day materials (like vegetables and beans) is a principle way many Army scientists approach their work.
Lt. Col. Arland Moon was clipped in to the rappel tower's platform coaching Liu through her first step off the ledge.
"You got this," Moon encouraged, "You're not going to fall. Just straighten your legs and ease yourself down."
For a moment, Liu held Moon's reassuring eye contact. Then, she rappelled down the tower's 30 feet while her team triumphantly cheered for her.
"I love moments like this," Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Guenther, rappel master, said as Liu's feet touched the ground. "She just overcame her fear in one bound."
Even from 30 feet up, it was impossible to miss Liu's ecstatic smile. She then went down two more times with incrementally increased skill and confidence.
Liu was the recipient of this Greening Course's inspiration award.
The course's incorporation of Soldier technology and tools gives participants a bridge from laboratory concept and design to real-world application.
Dr. Pablo Guzman, recipient of this October's Greening Course leadership award, explained the lab to in-the-field application the course provides.
"I highly encourage all ARL civilians to participate in the Greening Course," Guzman said. "Especially those without prior military service. As Army civilians, we have the responsibility to be the best teammate possible to our Soldiers. For example, if all ARL scientists and engineers conducted their research with the Army values in mind, I'm very confident that we would achieve technological overmatch very quickly. The Greening Course is the first step towards understanding how to position ourselves to conduct the best research for the warfighter and to understand how the Army thinks about S&T."
Sgt. 1st Class Kishara Harris, an ARL noncommissioned officer who helped facilitate the course, echoed Guzman's statement when asked how scientists benefit from the experience.
"We don't have Soldiers in the lab daily with the scientists and engineers, so this is a great opportunity to ask questions of the noncommissioned officers from all directorates and even try on some of the gear that the scientists are working to improve," Harris said.
Participants immediately immersed themselves in the Soldier's life by changing out of civilian clothing into uniforms and by embracing a daily physical training regimen that began at 5:30 a.m.
The course covered training in assembly and disassembly of an M-4 carbine, land navigation, drill and ceremony, building clearing and team communication, combat experience through paintball, rappelling, team building and an obstacle course that included wearing full combat gear and armor.
Dr. Tracy Sheppard, chief of ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate's Lethality Division, previously participated in the Greening Course and explained why he nominated Guzman.
"I wanted him to experience a bit of life as a Soldier," Sheppard said. "To get first-hand experience. To help him keep his "boots on the ground." I highly recommend the course to anyone. It is an experience that will help scientists frame their research. We must never forget that our ultimate customer is the warfighter."
Staff Sgt. Tracy Lawrence, who also operates as a Greening Course facilitator, articulately summed up some of the course goals.
"Ultimately, the goal is for researchers, engineers and staff to get a feel for military training experiences," Lawrence said. "But importantly, to take lessons of limitations on things, like movement through difficult terrain and in different environments, back to their research."
If a researcher who focuses on polymers and ceramics can experience lack of mobility while in body armor, and it informs his or her research and design processes for the next iteration of body armor, then the Greening Course has met its goals, Lawrence said.
The course allows civilians to have contact with Soldiers so they can understand them better and to put Soldiers in the forefront of their minds, Lawrence said.
"We all play a role, and it is important that research projects are being seen by Soldiers so they can add the ground-level common sense check," Lawrence said. "What seems to make sense to someone who has never been in combat may be completely different than the perspective a Soldier can provide to a project."
The Greening Course provides an invaluable opportunity for scientists to understand how their research will be needed and used in the combat arena.
Liu shared a message for the ARL civilians who haven't experienced the Greening Course yet.
"I would like to encourage everyone who hasn't done it to just go ahead and do it!" Liu said. "It's not as bad as you imagine. There are some challenges in this course, but as we all know: no pain, no gain. This is a once in a lifetime experience. You will get to know so much more about the Soldier's life and their needs. You will be able to challenge yourself and grow stronger and braver."
The next course is scheduled for March 30 to April 4, 2020.
The CCDC Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army's corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our Nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.