Non-commissioned officers from the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command gathered to strengthen their unity and focus during professional development training at the Communication-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Sep. 9-11.

The event marked RDECOM's largest NCO professional development training event to date. More than 50 Soldiers gathered from across the command to continue shaping the culture and influence of this critical component in an organization charged to deliver relevant, cutting-edge technology to the Warfighter.

"Our NCOs have to understand the complexities involved in developing technology to stay ahead of the enemy, and to work closely with the scientists and engineers to bring about the best technology to defeat the threat in theater," said RDECOM Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin.

The first stop on their three-day agenda was CERDEC's C4ISR On-the-move Event 09, an annual technology demonstration held at Fort Dix, N.J., which integrates current and emerging systems in the realm of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR). The NCOs saw technology presentations from a summer event that brought together more than 40 government and 25 industry defense technology developers; and Soldiers from the New Jersey National Guard 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who provided relevant operational feedback to scientist and engineers. The purpose of E09 was to assess C4ISR interoperability and readiness, and to brainstorm ideas, challenges, workarounds and new directions in a rigorous technical environment. RDECOM NCOs had an opportunity to see firsthand some of the initial results from E09.

"When you get NCOs in a group, the gloves come off. They will tell you this is too heavy or too light. You get honest unfiltered feedback. This is good, and I think that makes any RDEC much better," said CERDEC Sgt. Maj. David Schumacher.

NCOs bring operational experience into the command to assist with the future and current capabilities, said Marin. This one of the reasons he has placed such emphasis on the professional development of RDECOM NCOs.

"There wasn't this level of cooperation among NCO s before. It's important for us to know why we are in this command, and to understand the tasks and purpose of being an NCO in RDECOM. We need to know our counterparts to our left and right, and work together as a team to support the Warfighter." he said.

Staff Sgt. Javier VelAfA!zquez, senior enlisted advisor for the Simulation and Training Technology Center, Orlando, Fla. gave an example of this type of NCO collaboration, which came as a result of a previous NCO PD. An NCO from the Army National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Ca., came to STTC for an NCO PD and discovered that STTC had non-tethered mannequins with greater capabilities. As a result, he explained, the mannequins, as well as realistic "odors" obtained from STTC, are now being used for Soldier training at the National Training Center.

"It's a challenge making sure the Army understands what RDECOM is. RDECOM is still a young command and the message just has not trickled down to the major units. 'You have a tool here in your toolkit, use us,'" Schumacher said.

The 'Soldier to Soldier' connection of RDECOM NCOs with operational units would reveal practical challenges and opportunities that could deliver technology that's more relevant to the Warfighter's environment, VelAfA!zquez explained.

"One of the suggestions was that as NCOs that have a better understanding of all the RDECs, we can go out to the divisions and be the Soldiers eyes and ears for the Command."

Sgt. 1st Class Eric Scheidt explained that one of the challenges faced by new NCOs to RDECOM is that they arrive into the command from operational units and it's six months to a year before they acclimate to the command, so the command only gets to utilize a competent acquisition Soldier for one to one and half years.

One of the initiatives to address this challenge, Scheidt explained, was to develop an NCO certification process. "We're looking at going through DAU [Defense Acquisition University] for level one certification and identifying other training that would be helpful for NCOs coming to RDECOM," he said.

The NCO PD also included a 5:30 a.m. physical training session and Soldier development briefings and training on topics ranging from current operations to deployments, suicide training to evaluations, and concluded with a tour of CERDEC labs, and technology demonstrations.

NCOs from different parts of the command, with different specialties - infantry, combat arms and other MOSs, set about their purpose as technology representatives for their fellow Soldiers -- providing their "honest, unfiltered" input to their RDECOM civilian colleagues.

"Every time we do this," Marin said of the NCO professional development, "it gets stronger and stronger - building collaboration and teamwork. And as long as we put in the work, it's that young soldier up in the mountains that's going to get the benefit."