By Donna MilesJune 15, 2007
WASHINGTON, June 14, 2007 - The Army celebrated its 232nd birthday here today in the Pentagon courtyard by displaying some of the newest clothing, personal equipment and weaponry coming on line to support warfighters.
Servicemembers, civilian workers and contractors roamed through displays to touch fabrics being incorporated into new uniform items, peek through the sites of new optical equipment, and kick the tires on new Future Combat System vehicles.
"We're demonstrating the near-term as well as future-force technology coming down the pike to support the soldier," said Matthew Ociepka, public affairs officer for the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, in Warren, Mich.
As he demonstrated the new "IBOT," a small unmanned ground vehicle, Army Lt. Col. Coll Haddon, a deputy director at the center, talked about the Army's new approach to developing technology. Gone, he said, are the days when engineers came up with new concepts, sent completed products to units to see what they thought of them, then made the necessary changes.
Today, soldier-development collaboration begins at the drawing-board stage. "We've got engineers sitting with the solders from the very beginning, talking together about what they're developing," Haddon said. "We're 'greening' the engineers and 'geeking' the soldiers."
Army Sgt. 1st Class Ralph Brewer, a robotics noncommissioned officer stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va., said he's seen vast improvements during his 20 years in the military in how the Army fields new equipment.
"My job is to make sure that what we field is soldier-proof," he said. "We're working to outfit soldiers with the best stuff we can. But at the same time, we're making sure that it's developed with a consideration of how the soldier would use it to plan and carry out a mission."
Brewer said the new Future Combat System is a combat multiplier because "it allows soldiers to do more missions with fewer people."
He also likes that incorporating unmanned vehicles helps remove soldiers from the threats they face. "I can get a new tire or a new computer," he said. "But this is all about the soldier. We want to save lives."
At a nearby tent, Army Lt. Col. John Lemondes, from the Program Executive Office Soldier project, displayed some new clothing and individual equipment items under development or being fielded.
All are designed to make soldiers more capable, more comfortable, and less encumbered with heavy, bulky equipment, he said. Affordability is another major concern, he said. "We're focused on increased comfort, survivability and ultimately, making soldiers more lethal," he said.
What's particularly impressive, Lemondes said, is the speed with which new gear is going from concept to testing to fielding. Compared to the past, "we're doing it at light speed," he said.
Lemondes pointed to the array of items on his display table, including a new combat shirt to be worn under body armor in lieu of a blouse and T-shirt, as examples. "Two years ago, most of these items were no more than an idea," he said. "That's the big difference."
After viewing the displays, some people paid a visit to a buffet line set up in the Pentagon courtyard to sample some of the combat rations slated to hit the field within the next two years.
Maj. Christopher Hobart, from the Army Transformation Office, sat on a picnic bench sharing his impressions of the new beef brisket, pulled buffalo chicken, and chicken pesto pasta entrees, as well as a "home-style biscuit."
While not raving about any particular meal, Hobart declared all as good as most microwavable products sold at grocery stores. In fact, he said he liked that some off-the-shelf items are being included in the ration packages.
But what impressed Hobart the most was the variety of the new combat meals being offered. He said he remembers all too well a training exercise earlier in his career when his unit ended up eating chicken cacciatore twice a day for an entire two-week period. "I never ate chicken cacciatore again," he said.
When it comes to combat meals, "variety is nice," Hobart said. "And the food that soldiers get is a big factor in their morale."