By By Dan Lafontaine (RDECOM Public Affairs)September 22, 2010
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Noncommissioned officers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command gathered here for professional development training Sept. 13-17, to better understand how science enables the Warfighters' mission.
The Superior Unit Award ceremony was a highlight during the week as Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, Army Material Command commanding general, recognized RDECOM Sept. 16 before 2,000 Soldiers and civilians at Fanshaw Field. The RDECOM NCOs provided the ceremonial color guard.
"Those [Soldiers] are our judges and those are the ones who acknowledge the special technology and capability that you have here and your sense of urgency," Dunwoody said as she commented on the bond between Soldiers and scientists.
Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, RDECOM commanding general, talked with the NCOs Sept. 14 following a ceremony rehearsal.
"You know that the IQ for this organization is off the scale," Justice said. "We have some of the smartest people in the nation working at RDECOM.
"But do you know what they don't know' They don't know what you know. That's what you're here to do. You're here to share the Army with these folks, so they get a feel for what you do."
Justice told the Soldiers that RDECOM values their experiences. The general said RDECOM NCOs are put on teams to review technologies and new ideas. He likened RDECOM to a university with different colleges for chemistry, biology, mechanical engineering and computer science.
"You may be thinking of using your G.I. Bill to go to college," he said. "Well, this is what a university looks like. So, take advantage of it."
The NCOs toured U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Aberdeen Test Center facilities to learn how scientists develop technologies before being fielded in combat.
They visited ARL's Rodman Materials Research Laboratory Sept. 14 for an overview of the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate. Tom Digliani, technical assistant to the WMRD director, briefed the NCOs on ARL's latest efforts before the tour.
"Everything we do is for the Warfighter," Digliani said. "Our goal is give the best technology for you."
ARL scientist Dr. Matthew Trexler demonstrated how he uses cold-spray technology at a high velocity to provide a corrosion-resistant coating. It can be used to repair and restore broken equipment.
Dr. Victor Rodriguez Santiago, with the ARL surface engineering team, works to reduce the weight of armor by half. He uses polymers to provide stronger and lighter protection.
"It is our hope to lighten the burden [for Soldiers]," he said.
The NCOs visited ATC's Automotive and Firepower Directorates Sept. 15. Doug Griffin, senior test director and MRAP automotive test team leader, briefed them on the latest improvements for combat. His team is working on armor and suspension upgrades for Afghanistan's rough terrain.
They drove six variations of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles for an hour on the test track. The Soldiers, many of whom operated and maintained these vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ATC technicians discussed the MRAPs' strengths and areas for improvements regarding design, construction and ongoing modifications.
"I always prefer doing [demonstrations] for the Soldiers that are the primary users and beneficiaries of our test efforts," Griffin said.
Maj. William Lash led the NCOs during demonstrations at ATC's Firepower Directorate. It tests body armor, vests, helmets and eyewear under worst-case scenarios at its firing ranges. He said testing at ATC resulted in the recall of 44,000 helmets from theater in May.
Lash said there have been no deaths attributable to armor failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. ATC conducts tests during equipment development and production to ensure strict standards are maintained.
The NCOs questioned Lash and technicians on several aspects of the testing. Lash said ATC tests are among the most scrutinized by senior Army leaders because of the importance to Soldier safety.
Justice told the sergeants that they are they experts on Soldier behavior and combat formations. He encouraged them to interact with the command's scientists, researchers and engineers.
"You bring direct combat experience and Soldier skills to the important work we do," he told the group. "Thank you for your service."