ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Nov. 16, 2010) -- Fifteen I Corps Soldiers fresh from combat tours in Afghanistan collaborated with Army scientists during a two-week tour of U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command facilities Nov. 8-19.
The Soldiers and scientists said the combination of battlefield lessons and research advancements will help American warfighters defeat their enemies now and in the future.
Soldiers recanted stories from the battlefields of Afghanistan, and researchers shared the latest advances in personal and vehicle armor, weapons systems and protection from chemical and biological attacks.
Research translates to achieving missions
First Lt. Ryan McCormick returned from Kandahar Province in July and is confident that scientific advances today will bring combat success. He is a platoon leader in the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Fort Lewis, Wash.
"Just seeing that and getting that done for the next rotation to Afghanistan, they're going to have exponentially more capability than we had," McCormick said. "Then the next time our brigade goes over there, it's going to be so much better than the equipment we had to work with."
The Soldiers visited U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Edgewood Chemical Biological Center facilities at APG. They are visiting 11 laboratories across the United States as part of their Post-Combat Deployment Assessment.
Soldiers and scientists discuss problems, solutions
Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, told the officers and noncommissioned officers that their communication with the scientific community is vital.
"If there's anybody in the world that understands the context of the problem in a combat situation, it's you guys," Justice told the Soldiers after they visited the Night Vision and Electronic Sensor Directorate at Fort Belvoir, Va., Nov. 10. "I understand you guys have the kind of skills we need to talk to my engineers to understand the problem. So help us to achieve this.
"Tell them what's the most critical capability we need out there on the battlefield. Tell them what works well, and tell them what doesn't. Help us solve your problems," Justice said.
Sharing the message with fellow Soldiers
Sgt. 1st Class Eric Knight was in Kandahar Province for a year as an infantry platoon sergeant with B Company, 1-17th Infantry, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
He said most Soldiers are unaware of the work being done to improve warfighters' success. These visits will help them to understand their support teams back home.
"Normally, we do [After Action Reviews] after most events. A lot of times, you sit there and wonder, 'Are these guys really listening to what I'm saying' Are they actually interested in hearing my input and how it could make their product better'' " Knight said. "For me, it's seeing that side of it and how much of an interest they take in what we have to say."
McCormick said the tour's greatest benefit is the opportunity to share how the Army improves equipment through research and development. Justice told the officers and NCOs to bring their new knowledge from this tour to their peers.
"One of the things to take away is to show all the younger guys in the platoon that their voices can be heard," McCormick said. "Changes will be made. Down at their level, they might not see that when they have a problem with a Stryker or a certain piece of equipment, that stuff is in production. Things are going to get better. A lot of times, they don't see that or even know that these places exist."
"Some of the things we saw today, I wish we'd had," McCormick added after the tour of NVESD. "I mean, combining thermals with night vision, or having a radar camera that picks up movement coming out of the valley, that would've helped out a great deal, trying to track down people we were trying to get rid of out of the valleys."
Army laboratories focused on the warfighters
Justice tells all RDECOM employees, whether military or civilian, to empower, unburden and protect warfighters during their daily work.
Michael Zoltoski, acting director of ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, led a tour of his group's efforts.
The team's work includes improving Soldier lethality (technology for 5.56mm M855A1 and more affordable, indirect-fire precision munitions), body armor and helmets. They also develop protection systems for combat and tactical vehicles, such as the Bradley, Abrams, Stryker, Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
He echoed Justice's remarks that scientists need to target the Soldiers' needs to improve all aspects of battlefield missions.
"The mission we have at ARL is near-term technologies to support the current fight," Zoltoski said. "We need to put the decision in the Soldier's hands. We want you to use the technology that our scientists develop."
He added that his teams must also consider future threats in the coming decades because enemies are continuously evolving.
"We can't rest on our laurels. We have to think about the future," Zoltoski said. "We need feedback for the future. There are tremendous people here to help."
Mark Schlein, ECBC's Advanced Design and Manufacturing group leader, showed the Soldiers one of RDECOM's eight prototype integration facilities. The goal of PIFs is to bring technical solutions quickly to the battlefield.
In 2007, his group worked with Aberdeen Test Center and Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center on the gunner restraint system for the MRAP. He said the old system was causing casualties about once a week. Within a week of the request, the Army was installing the new equipment in combat zones. In three weeks, the Army had modified all MRAPs.
"One thing about the PIFs, we have a flexible capability," Schlein said. "The enemy doesn't always put threats in nice, little neat boxes. Sometimes it crosses the line between chem-bio and vehicles. We work very closely together [with other laboratories]."
Knight is confident that Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan and other combat areas in the future will benefit from today's advancements in the laboratory.
"There is better equipment coming. It's a huge frustration when you have a piece of equipment that you're working with and you wish there were better things to use," Knight said. "There is stuff in the works. It may not be right now, tomorrow, or next week, but they are in the process of making better equipment for us."
The Soldiers started their tour at Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and continued to Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center; ARL; ECBC; Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center; Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center; Simulation and Training Technology Center; Program Executive Office-Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation; and Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.