ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Early morning wakeups and exercise became the new norm for 29 civilians participating in the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Greening Course 2011, a week-long course designed to give them first-hand experience in the rigorous training Soldiers perform to build physical stamina and mental strength.

“Marching is a lot harder than it looks. You expect certain things already, but it helps bring it home,” said WMRD’s Francesco J. Murphy.

By the end of the training, Murphy expected to feel more associated with the Soldier, a goal course organizers wanted to achieve.

“The Greening Course is an opportunity for civilians to learn a little bit about what we do,” said Master Sgt. Jemal Pittman, non-commissioned officer in charge of Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate. “It’s our opportunity to give back to them since they give so much to us doing technology, an opportunity for us to show them what we do on a daily basis as Soldiers so they can take that back to the labs.”

Civilian participants were introduced to team-building exercises to promote a sense of camaraderie. The course incorporated modules designed to provide a basic understanding of the Army through informal classroom instruction and actual Soldier experience.

The instructors - led by Col. Pratya Siriwat, military deputy director, and Sgt. Maj. Christopher Harris, ARL’s command sergeant major - taught civilian employees how to disassemble and assemble the M9 handgun, the M16 assault rifle, and its future replacement, the M4 carbine, a gas-operated, air-cooled, magazine-fed, selective fire, shoulder-fired weapon with a telescoping stock. Civilians learned how perform function checks for each weapon and correctly manipulate sights as part of marksmanship training.

The group witnessed an actual military training exercise in Edgewood, Md., at the EST 2000, the Engagement Skills Training operation, that trains in marksmanship, squad/fire team collective and judgmental use of force to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) students. AIT students, all of them privates, had come to Edgewood to learn skills they’ll need for their specific role in the military.

EST 2000 training represents the new millennium in basic combat training as it integrates computers and laser technology in training tools for basic rifle marksmanship. The EST 2000 is a digital visual simulator that uses lasers and compressed air to imitate the discharge of a round from the rifle and tracks the round on a projection screen. Firers are monitored by instructors to ensure they won’t make safety mistakes on an actual firing range.

At the Aberdeen Test Center (ATC), participants learned the capabilities of the MATV, or MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle, the heavily-armored successor to the Humvee. This and other mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles have nearly replaced the once-revered Humvee. It’s used to transport American forces in Afghanistan, and is safe enough because of its ARL-certified explosively formed penetrator-stopping lightweight armor and ARL’s innovative transparent armor material on its irregularly-shaped windows to protect troops from roadside bombs and other explosions.

The Department of Defense has designated ATC as lead test center for automotive/tracked and wheeled, engineering equipment, direct-fire systems, shoulder-fired weapons, small arms systems, direct-fire weapons performance, emissions characterization, Soldier systems, nonlethal weapons, unmanned ground vehicles, transportability, environmental mitigation technologies, vulnerability/lethality, and littoral warfare. ATC conducts 80 percent of the Army’s automotive testing, and as a designated Federal Laboratory, ATC participates in technology transfer and dual-use partnership initiatives with industry.

“With ARL right now, a lot of civilians don’t have any military experience. This is an opportunity for them to actually see the Soldiers, work with the Soldiers, besides being in the lab,” Pittman said. “It gives them the chance to see us doing what we do on a daily basis.”

The Obstacle Course, a staple for recruit training sometimes referred to as an ‘confidence’ course, was a highlight. It includes challenges on the rope, wall, hurdle, zig zag, tunnel/low rail, fence, cargo net and parallel bars.

After completing the course, seven wanted to be timed, recalled Darrell Roll, of ADLO. RDECOM’s Sergeant Maj. Matthew DeLay joined the friendly, timed competition, which Ben Chamish, WMRD, won with a time of 3 minutes, 12 seconds. Sgt. Maj. Delay, 16 years older than Chamish, finished in second at 3:20, and Francesco Murphy was third, at 3:30.

“Everyone cheered them on and enjoyed the event,” Roll said.

“Not that you need any more respect, but (this course) gives you more respect for what the Soldiers go through day in and day out. It gives you a better feel for their life,” Murphy said. “It helps get that association; we’re sitting there in a lab or test facility and stuff like that. A lot times you feel very removed from the fighting. (This course) kind of helps bridge that gap in a small, small way.”

VTD’s Kelsen LaBerge agreed.

“It’s important for the people who support the Army to understand what it’s all about,” she said.