NATICK, Massachusetts – To better understand the challenges faced by the Soldiers they serve, a group of civilian employees at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center recently completed a revamped version of the organization’s long-running “Greening” course - an immersive training event designed to provide civilians deeper insight into the unit structures, tactics, and equipment Soldiers use by experiencing some of it themselves.
While DEVCOM Soldier Center has held Greening training for decades as a way to introduce new employees to Army culture and Soldier equipment, the most recent class, held November 1-5, was revitalized through an infusion of new funding, expertise, partnerships, and leadership support.
The Greening training was led by the center’s Soldier Support and Program Integration Team (SS&PIT) and executed at nearby Fort Devens, Mass. Support was provided by the Rhode Island Army National Guard (RING), the U.S. Army Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate (MCDID) at Fort Benning, Ga., and the 1st Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment (1st BN, 325th AIR) from Fort Bragg, N.C.
The latest Greening course was bolstered by the combined institutional knowledge and combat experience of the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) and Army veterans who facilitated it.
“Greening is a training opportunity that enables the Soldier Center workforce to better understand the experiences a Soldier has in a field environment,” said Dan Moore, a retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. and current equipment specialist with the SS&PIT, who led this year’s training. “The goal is for our civilian employees to grasp the environment a Soldier operates in, with a specific focus on what our organization is charged with delivering for Soldiers.”
To achieve that, SS&PIT planners started in 2019 by looking at the U.S. Army Picatinny Arsenal’s existing Greening program as a model, then modified it to fit Soldier Center’s mission, facilities, and civilian employees.
“Picatinny has a solid Greening program to reference because it was very localized, all their training buildings are close by each other, which allowed them to fill two to three classes a year,” said SS&PIT Leader and retired Army Special Forces Sgt.Maj., Scott Germain. “So we talked to them, set up a share-point site to transfer their data, then Mr. Terry Twitchel, a former Army Command Sgt.Maj. on my team, went through the classes and updated them to make them relevant to SC employees.”
During that process, SS&PIT members identified the equipment items required to outfit participants with the closest possible replication of a Soldier’s combat load, including current uniform items, body armor, and airsoft guns, then lobbied Soldier Center leadership for the funding to purchase the items.
In previous courses, the training was split up into two separate events. The first was a knowledge-based Greening session that provided a broad overview of Army command structures and missions, essentially basic “Army 101” information. The second part was a field Greening, where participants learned abbreviated land navigation skills and took turns wearing the only two full sets of equipment available.
“When I was still in uniform running the Greening program here, we had no funding to buy the items needed for the workforce to experience what it feels like to wear Soldier equipment,” said Brian Gemmill, a program analyst in Soldier Center’s G-3/5 Operations Directorate and retired Army 1st Sgt. who is the lead analyst on SS&PIT. “But we knew we could improve that, because it’s important for our civilian employees to understand how adding ounces equates to pounds on a fully equipped Soldier.”
“Having our civilians wear the same equipment as a Soldier while performing some of their tasks provides a more realistic experience,” said Gemmill. “Whether it’s land navigation, force-on-force exercises, or movement to contact drills, they get a better sense of what that is actually like for Soldiers carrying all that weight.”
More realistic Greening training offers greater insight to the people conducting the research and development of a wide range of individual technologies to enhance Soldier performance. In turn, the knowledge and experience gained improves and accelerates the design and performance of new Soldier technologies.
The concept was embraced by Soldier Center Technical Director Doug Tamilio and Deputy Chief of Staff for G-3/5 Operations and Plans, Richard Hornstein, both retired Army Colonels, who approved new funding for the program. They also provided specific objectives to shape and advance it in support of the Army’s Force Modernization priority guiding Soldier Lethality.
Originally, SS&PIT planners envisioned a class size of approximately 30 participants. But after the 2020 class was cancelled due to COVID restrictions, that number was reduced by half to 15 employees when the program was cleared to resume in-person training. A training opportunity was announced for November 2021 and the slots were quickly filled by interested workforce members from a range of positions and time working at Soldier Center.
With new equipment and a tailored curriculum established, Moore leveraged his Army connections to coordinate a logistical framework that involved multiple organizations, installations, and personnel supporting a week-long Greening course.
The schedule consisted of two onsite classroom days at the Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC), two days in the field at Fort Devens, where they were transported in Blackhawk helicopters flown by RING pilots, and a final day back at NSSC to turn in equipment and fill out surveys.
Army NCO's Sgt. 1st Class Justin Grimm from MCDID’s Maneuver Battle Lab and Sgt. Hunter Hey from Company B, 1st BN, 325th AIR, provided the active duty Soldier perspective and executed many of the classroom instructions and field training.
“This was a team effort, I was just the lead,” said Moore. “The NCO's were key to the success of this program.”
Initial feedback from the November class has been positive and comments indicate promising results for future iterations.
“It gave us a better understanding of the Soldier's responsibilities and concerns, which in turn helps us to understand the realistic needs of the Soldiers in the field,” said Michael Todd, a budget analyst in the G8 Resource Management Directorate.
“I learned about all the ranks, army divisions and chain of command,” said Todd, who started working at Soldier Center in January 2021. "In training with Sgt. Hey and Sgt. 1st Class Grimm, I got to meet actual Soldiers who shared their experiences and challenges in the field."
“I sincerely think this is a fantastic way to get civilian employees like myself to understand the Army on a deeper level in a short amount of time. Also, getting a ride in a Blackhawk helicopter through Boston is pretty tough to top. Truly, it was a great experience,” said Todd.
The updated training proved a valuable tool for long time employees as well as recent hires.
“A direct, hands-on experience added the human element to all the tangible products we work on here,” said Joanna Graham, a food technologist and food lab manager in the Combat Feeding Research and Engineering Program Office. “Nothing can replace the knowledge gained from a lived experience. Even though this was just a taste of the Soldier experience, it had a profound impact.”
“I also got to connect with some of the newer members of our organization and it was a great reminder of what it felt like being ‘new’ to federal service,” said Graham, who has worked at Soldier Center for 16 years.
For Chong Whitfield, a clothing designer in the Soldier Protection Directorate’s Design Pattern & Prototype Studio, the Greening training built on her military family experiences and 12 years working at Soldier Center.
“My husband and my children are all military so I know the level of commitment and sacrifice but I really got to see how much they need to trust those around them and also the responsibility in handling the equipment,” said Whitfield.
“As a clothing designer and now having worn the uniform [during Greening], I have come to understand in a deeper sense the importance of functionality,” said Whitfield. “These garments are not just clothing pieces; they are an integral part of the equipment.”
The positive feedback reinforces the direction SS&PIT planners want to take future Greening opportunities.
“We are looking at expanding the Greening program to tailor it even further for different teams,” said Gemmill. “For example, our Cognitive Science and Applications and MASTR-E (Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness) teams study the various factors impacting Soldier performance, but advanced training experiences specified to their missions and projects can help improve their research.”
As future possibilities are explored, Soldier Center will continue building on the momentum its redesigned program is gaining.
“It’s a great program and I feel most have come away with a better understanding of the responsibilities of today’s Soldiers,” said Moore. “It will make us collectively better at what we do for Soldiers.”
The DEVCOM Soldier Center is committed to discovering, developing, and advancing science and technology solutions that ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. DEVCOM Soldier Center supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the DEVCOM Soldier Center’s chief areas of focus. The center’s science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. DEVCOM Soldier Center is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers’ performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach and mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers is also an important part of the mission of DEVCOM Soldier Center. The mentoring of students by Army scientists and engineers benefits the students and their communities. It also increases young people's awareness of potential Army job opportunities and helps provide the Army with potential new talent, helping to fuel innovative ideas that benefit the nation's warfighters and the nation as a whole.
DEVCOM Soldier Center is part of DEVCOM. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, DEVCOM 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. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.