NATICK, Mass. (March 15, 2012) -- Secretary of the Army John McHugh got a look at what Soldiers wear, eat and carry during a March 15 visit to the Natick Soldier Systems Center.
McHugh saw new technologies that promise to protect Soldiers, produce cost savings, improve energy efficiency, and help shape the future Army. He received a series of briefings and toured many of Natick's unique facilities, from the Ouellette Thermal Test Facility to the Doriot Climatic Chambers.
"Everything that does happen here is pretty amazing," McHugh said. "In a relatively compact area, the research that is done here really touches the most vital aspects of the Soldier club, both in garrison and, of course, when they're forward deployed."
The Soldier comes above all else, said McHugh, even in an era of budgetary uncertainty.
"The first thing we're always going to worry about is Soldier safety, and if we have to spend dollars more to ensure that safety, we're going to do that," McHugh said. "But clearly it is becoming more and more important to spend every dollar as wisely as we possibly can. Trying to reduce cost is an important part of what they do (here)."
His own interest in nutrition made the trip to the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate appealing to McHugh.
"I've spent a lot of time ripping open MREs over the years, as a member of Congress and now Secretary of the Army, eating with Soldiers forward deployed," McHugh said. "You don't think a lot about the work and research and the analysis that goes into making sure that we're providing something the Soldier wants to eat."
"You can pack all the nutrients you want into a pouch. If they don't find it very palatable, they're not going to eat it. So it's not just understanding what the caloric count is in a particular dish, it's not just understanding how many vitamins and minerals are in it, but also the palatability of it."
McHugh also spoke about reducing the Army's energy footprint, which not only saves money but the lives of Soldiers by reducing convoys. He pointed to the shower reuse system developed at Natick, which can reduce water use by 9,000 gallons a day per unit.
"A lot of the things that we're doing in theater right now to make those savings and reduce that risk started right here," McHugh said. "And a lot of the things that I think we'll soon be doing, or look to do, are under way right here, as well. So this is critically important stuff."
Brig. Gen. John J. McGuiness, NSSC senior commander, began the day by giving a briefing about the installation that provides the "science behind the Soldier." McGuiness talked about the center's talented workforce and facilities, and how they combine every day to empower, unburden and protect the joint war fighter.
"There are four things that really tie this facility together," said McGuiness, "the joint war fighter, the quality employees, the unique facilities, and location."
Among the top challenge areas identified for Army Science and Technology, said McGuiness, Natick is leading the way in research on three -- overburden, force protection, and base sustainability/logistics, but the center works with others beyond its gates.
"It's not just our engineers here working in isolation," McGuiness said. "What we try to stress to everybody is that we need to collaborate, develop these partnerships."
McHugh noted the passion he had witnessed in a workforce whose only job is to think about Soldiers.
"I can tell you that the work that is done here is enduring," McHugh said. "The work that is done here, and the people who are here, are absolutely essential to all the things that we do for our Soldiers -- the things we do to keep them safe, keep them comfortable."