ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- When Soldiers need a fix to a nagging problem in the field they may pull a "MacGyver" to come up with unconventional solutions. But now the Army has a team of specialists to rapidly develop and deliver technology and engineering solutions located front and center with troops in Afghanistan.
In January, the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, with its headquarters here, fielded a "technology village" of forward-deployed engineers, technologists and specialists who listen to problems and brainstorm solutions. The Army organized and setup the first ever RDECOM Field Assistance in Science and Technology Center at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Fielding this team meant finding, preparing and deploying civilian specialists to the other side of the world under often austere conditions.
"When we are able to bring the full capacity of the RFAST-C on line, we should be able to make a major contribution to the war effort by shortening the time it takes to develop and then deliver innovations and equipment upgrades," said Marty Eaton, the center's executive officer. "Our proximity to the Warfighter, the ultimate customer, will speed the development process."
Eaton said being stationed in Afghanistan streamlines the process and makes it much quicker to gain clarification of needs and requirements.
"We get user feedback as innovations are being developed and confirmation from Soldiers that any prototypes developed accurately meet their requirement," he said. "If we can put improved tools in the Warfighter's hands sooner, we enhance the force and speed their success."
As the RFAST-C executive officer, Eaton assists and supports the center's military director, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, tasked with leading the organization.
"I direct the team in his absence, and focus on the daily operations," Eaton said.
Eaton's duties require him to coordinate and interact with the other units on the ground in Afghanistan. As executive officer, Eaton gives the director "mobility and visibility over the operation so he can engage where he can make the maximum impact," he explained.
As a former Army officer, Eaton understands the nuances of many situations.
In his stateside life, Eaton is an Aviation and Missile Systems Engineer at the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
"I work with the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma to coordinate development of several projects between them, our center, and the Program Executive Office for Missile and Space," he said. "I may no longer be a Soldier, but I can still do my best to see that our Warfighters have the best tools possible to do their job. If I can make even a modest contribution to that effort it will is a good thing."
Eaton earned a Bachelor's degree in applied science and engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1980, and a Master of Science degree in management from Florida Institute of Technology in 1990. He said he was looking for a challenge when he volunteered for a similar position last year. But it wasn't until May 2011 that RDECOM asked him to step into the executive officer position.
"I was willing, my family and chain of command supported that, and I began to prep for deployment," he said.
Since deploying civilian scientists, engineers and technologists is a new concept for the U.S. Army, the center has met with many challenges.
"RDECOM undertook a massive planning effort to provide a quality path forward for us, but as with any complex operation, flexibility, adaptability and renewed effort is always needed," he said. "Stepping in suddenly to execute a plan that I didn't help develop while joining a team that had already formed, has proven to be quite a professional and personal challenge."
Army officials said the center's initial focus was clear: To establish an engineering cel" and build collaboration with other deployed elements, and to establish an effective engineering cell and build collaboration with other deployed elements.
"I've learned to celebrate small victories and take great pride in being able to help us take one small step after another towards our eventual success," Eaton said. "Without a doubt, the most common feedback is that this effort is a great idea and we wish you were fully set up and functional already."
Eaton said his experience as a Soldier and a civilian who supports Soldiers has helped immensely.
"This is something I've done virtually all my adult life," Eaton said. "Several close friends and many of my friends adult children are currently serving here, so the opportunity to directly support the Warfighter while supporting my team at AMRDEC and RDECOM is an opportunity I couldn't ignore. I'm proud of what we are doing and proud to be part of the effort."