PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Fifteen Soldiers toured Picatinny Arsenal Nov. 16 as part of a two-week, 11-lab tour of Army research facilities designed to connect Soldiers with the scientists and engineers who design the gear they take into combat.

"All these Soldiers recently came back from either Afghanistan or Iraq," said Sgt. 1st Class Israel Santiago, the Soldiers' Post Combat Deployment Assessment tour escort, Army Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) operations sergeant. The tour is "a first step in establishing a new dialogue between the warfighter and the engineer."

RDECOM is working to ensure that equipment developers understand and absorb the Soldiers' perspective. "The Army's scientists and engineers know a lot, but they're not Soldiers," said RDECOM spokesman Dave McNally.

"What we want (the Soldiers) to do is go to all of the RDECOM RDECs (research, development and engineering centers) and think about how the equipment is being utilized, and if it is suitable to the mission -- if what is being sent downrange is working the way we advertised it," said Santiago.

The tour started in Detroit at the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center Nov. 8 and continued to the Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate in Virginia.
It continued in Maryland, home to to the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center; Adelphi Laboratory Center, Army Research Laboratories and Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.

At Picatinny, the Soldiers who specialize in skills such as artillery, medical, infantry and ordnance disposal toured Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) facilities.
They talked with scientists and engineers who specialize in designing explosive ordnance disposal, robot, vehicle armor, counter improvised explosive device, warhead, rifle, ammunition, acoustic sensor, virtual battlefield, optics and rapid production-related technologies.

"Up until I went on this trip, no one knew who RDECOM was," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Leavens, a cavalry scout with A Troop, 8-1 Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. "Nobody in the Army has the scope of what they are doing."

Although Soldiers have been made aware through briefings of the numerous projects being undertaken by thousands of scientists and engineers, prior to the tour they weren't sure how their experiences and insights could be used to help address the equipment issues they had. "I don't think anyone here knew the whole process of getting things fixed," Leavens said.

On the tour, Soldiers can see the capabilities of the Army labs first hand, talk to the scientists and engineers, and then go back to their units and inform other Soldiers of what they learned, said Santiago. "They can also see who they can contact in the future."

With the Soldier-developer dialogue in place, the delay between the discovery of equipment problems in combat environments and their resolution by Army engineers can be narrowed, said ARDEC Sgt. Maj. Dewey L. Blake, Jr.

Soldiers who have seen combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan know that differences in terrain sometimes means that equipment that is effective on one location may be less so in another location, said Santiago. "If we can add this (modification) to it, it will be better if we go to this terrain or this environment."

"After the tour, RDECOM will go back to meet with the Soldiers, and we'll let them know, 'Hey, this is the answer to your question,'" said Santiago.

"This is the way RDECOM is going to operate going forward," said Santiago.