NATICK, Mass. (Feb. 7, 2012) -- Soldiers provide the decisive edge.

That view was expressed by Marilyn Freeman, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, during a Feb. 6 visit to the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, in which she outlined the role of science and technology in solving the problems and meeting the challenges confronting the Army.

"In the last decade of war, we learned it's all about the Soldier and the small units," Freeman told the Natick workforce in a town hall meeting. "That's going to continue, big time."

"Our focus will remain on the Soldier and the small combat unit, because that is how we can build our force to be agile and how we can build our force to be expansible," she explained. "We're on the right track."

Freeman returned to familiar ground at Natick, where she served as NSRDEC director before taking her current position in July 2010. She oversees the Army's research and development program, which includes a $2.3 billion budget and 21 labs and centers employing more than 10,000 scientists and engineers.

"We provide mature technologies, expertise and advice to enable development and improve capabilities," Freeman said. "That's what the entire laboratory structure of the Army does, and you are a very, very important, if not central, set of folks who work in and across all of this."

As Freeman noted, Army laboratories and research centers must continue their work in an era of budgetary uncertainty.

"All we have to do is listen to the news to find out that budgets are under tremendous stress," Freeman said. "We can't sit back and rest on our laurels. We've got to prove it. We have to person by person, project by project, program by program, deliverable by deliverable, continue to show our value."

Some of those news reports have discussed a new emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region and the need to build up air and naval assets there.

"My philosophy is, if the Navy and the Air Force are doing the air-sea battle, guess who's doing everything else?" Freeman said. "The Army, right? We'll be everywhere doing all the different things that need to be done."

"At the end of the day, still, if we don't empower, unburden and protect (Soldiers), and we don't transition technologies, guess what? As I said when I was here, then we should all go home. That is what we all do. That's what all of Army (science and technology) does," she continued.

In areas where developments might be slowed by lower levels of funding, Freeman encouraged the use of "bridging technologies. We need to do things that will bridge the gaps. At the end of the day, even if we do have a (downturn) or a slow down, when we get it coming back up -- and it will come back up -- we are at a higher capability."

Freeman identified seven major problems and the 24 challenges they posed for the Army science and technology community. The individual Soldier is one of the major areas of concern, she said.

"The Soldier, after all, is a human being," Freeman said. "Understanding the complexities of that human being is something that we have to address. It is, by far, the hardest thing that we have to address."

Freeman pointed out that there should be no need to go beyond the Army's laboratory system to find all the answers.

"Our value is that we're problem-solvers," Freeman said. "And who are we problem-solvers for? We're problem-solvers for the Army, the small units, the individual Soldiers, and the Sailors, Marines and anybody else who has missions that require those things (that) we can provide because we have the best skills, knowledge, capabilities and expertise."

"Our story is so strong," she said. "You all do such good work."