Soldiers from the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command toured historic coastal defenses at the Verrazano Narrows March 22 as part of noncommissioned officer (NCO)professional development at Picatinny Arsenal from March 18-23.

Visiting Fort Hamilton, N.Y. on the east side of the narrows and Fort Wadsworth, N.Y. on the west, the NCOs saw historic fortifications, cannons and mortars that are now relics but had once been integral to state-of-the art systems designed to prevent enemy ships from attacking New York City.

Responding to the threat of wooden sail ships early in the nineteenth century required that Fort Hamilton employ an array of 70-100 smooth-bore cannon emplaced behind brick and stone that, while inaccurate, could rain destruction on wooden ships, explained Richard Cox, curator of the Coastal Defense Museum at Fort Hamilton.

By 1862, the threat of steel hulled ships made the earlier cannon fusillades as Fort Hamilton obsolete.

In response, more accurate cannon, coupled with more complex systems to accurately direct fire, was developed so that the steel hulls could be penetrated.

Across the narrows at Fort Wadsworth, Supervisory Park Ranger Christopher G. Allen-Shinn pointed out the brick fortress, Battery Weed, that was obsolete, "probably at about the time they completed building it," due to the increasing accuracy and firepower of the ships then would have threatened New York City.

Because brick and stone could not withstand the accuracy of fire generated from the newer generations of ships, engineers built concrete structures that were dug into the landscape at Fort Hamilton.

Hidden in these emplacements from ships in the narrows were cannon designed to pop up, fire, and drop quickly back down into a hidden position.

The 27 Soldiers who received the historic perspective of the technological chess match between military adversaries had already received the present-day perspective: 26 of the Soldiers wore patches on their right sleeves symbolizing that they had served with a unit in combat.

In their current assignments, the Soldiers were part of a cadre of approximately 70-plus NCOs who work with RDECOM's 17,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.

The Soldiers provide technical and operational input to the research, development and engineering centers where they are assigned, explained RDECOM Command Sgt. Maj. Lebert Baharie.

"Our job in RDECOM is to ensure our warfighters have the technical edge," said Beharie. "We don't want them to have a fair fight."

The RDECOM Soldiers "are the subject matter experts," Beharie continued. "RDECOM Soldiers have hands-on information about using that science and technology on the battlefield."

Beharie added: "When those Soldiers leave RDECOM and are assigned to operational units, they will also take with them a new perspective about the Army. Being assigned to RDECOM widens their knowledge about the process of how technologies are provided to Soldiers."

Beharie explained that every Soldier coming into RDECOM has to learn acquisition basics from a course provided by the Defense Acquisition University. "It helps them to understand S&T speak (science and technology) because they're going to be interacting with engineers."

Conducting "terrain walks," as visits to battlegrounds and historic fortifications are called by the Soldiers, provides another perspective.

"It helps to understand your past," said Beharie. "As NCO's we have to know where our roots lie. We have to strengthen and broaden our perspectives because they need to give their commanders wholesome advice and recommendations."

During the NCOPD (Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development), the Soldiers were presented awards, received briefings and updates on changing regulations and new initiatives while providing feedback on aspects of the Army that are changing.

"When we bring them together, we can talk about different approaches and different experiences," said Beharie. "It also allows us, the senior NCOs, to reinforce the priorities and vision of the director."

Beharie assumed his duties March 16 as the leader of RDECOM's enlisted Soldiers.

As senior enlisted advisor to RDECOM, Beharie links the warfighters who have just returned from operations in the field to RDECOM so that their unique perspective is available.

Beharie said he likes the enthusiasm he has seen among RDECOM scientists and engineers. "They're not just doing it to come up with a new technology. They really want to see it in Soldiers' hands and know what it can do for them."

His message to technical personnel: "Don't forget why we are here. We work for the warfighter.
"Everything we do is with the warfighter in mind."