By Ms. Alexandra Foran (Natick)July 16, 2012
NATICK, Mass. -- Dr. Jack Obusek, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center director, shared some insight he gleaned from his recent trip to Afghanistan with the NSRDEC workforce July 10.
"To see the dedication of so many great Americans over there … just left me awestruck," Obusek said. "They're working 24/7 day in day out. They are focused on the mission, and everything else has to be put around that.
"We picked up our body armor at the central issuing facility in Kuwait," Obusek said. "I was fortunate to wear the whole (Improved Outer Tactical Vest), (Advanced Combat Helmet), and then taking our (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) Medium full of my personal gear … I was carrying about a hundred pounds of stuff on and off the aircraft."
Obusek toured many facilities located in and around Bagram Air Base and was able to speak to personnel to get feedback about NSRDEC's technology and efforts in theater. One such facility, the Paladin Counter IED Lab, analyzes every IED incident in an attempt to identify information about the bomb and blast (such as DNA), as well as to protect Soldiers. Another warehouse outfitted at Bagram by Program Executive Office Soldier rapidly takes equipment bought through PEO Soldier and issues the latest to Soldiers. PEO Soldier is currently issuing Gen II Helmet Sensors, a technology that Natick helped develop that detects exposure to ballistic and blast events that can lead to brain injury and possible post traumatic stress disorders.
"We are trying to make sure we solve some of the technology issues in airdrop cargo, basing technology and Soldier protection," said Col. Kevin Hillman, NSRDEC military deputy. "We also wanted to talk to Soldiers and leadership over there to get an idea of what future programs we should be looking at and some of the things we should be concentrating on."
The Research, Development and Engineering Command Field Assistance in Science and Technology-Center has produced about 200 jobs since its creation last year, mostly for Regional Command East. RFAST-C, made up of a team of engineers, recently created a device for vehicles that sweeps the side of the road and picks up the command wire detonators for IEDs.
"The RFAST Center exists thanks to former RDECOM Commanding General Justice, who wanted to be able to build prototypes for Soldiers on the ground … to satisfy urgent needs that Soldiers have in theater," Obusek said. "RFAST-C is doing that job!"
An area known as Task Force Muleskinner consists of Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems' Unit Forward Base Camp, which houses Soldiers in order to get real-life measurements of the technologies employed in the field.
"The Shower Water Reuse System is really incredible technology," Obusek said. "You don't have to be a Ph.D. or engineer to run this. It is reclaiming 75 percent of shower water for reuse."
That saves trucks from having to convoy and bring water, and in turn saves lives by keeping trucks off the roads.
Obusek and Hillman spoke to one NCO and four junior enlisted Soldiers. Many questions the pair posed were provided by NSRDEC's own workforce.
"The number one thing that they reported to us was that they love the First Strike Ration," Obusek said. "They like to eat on the move, it tastes good, it's convenient, and it combines and reduces the weight.
"We asked about body armor. When it comes to the IOTV and ACH, they armor up. They know it protects them, and they are confident in their equipment. They want it lighter and less hot, and we're working on that."
IEDs are among the biggest problems the U.S. military faces every day while in Afghanistan. Obusek knew this prior to his visit, but he saw first-hand the damage and destruction these devices cause to war fighters and how the Army is doing its best to understand, prevent and protect Troops from IEDs and other obstacles.
The fight has changed from primarily vehicle-based to dismounted patrols. When asked about pelvic protection, the group of assembled Soldiers was unsure, as they had not yet received Protective Under Garments or Protective Over Garments.
"If you're anywhere near an IED and you're dismounted, you're going to want to be wearing pelvic protection," Obusek said. "It cannot completely stop the blast, but it can stop a lot of the debris and dirt coming up from the ground, and it does provide another level of protection to an important part of your anatomy."
The Soldiers were unanimous about wanting a blue-force-tracker-like capability that they could have on a handheld or small display. This device would let them know where their buddies are at all times. They thought that would greatly enhance their ability to do the job. Obusek explained that NSRDEC has already been working on this technology. Special Operations Forces also tasked Natick with a few urgent, important requirements
Obusek met Brig. Gen. Kristin French of the 3rd Sustainment Command Expeditionary on the flight line and she was very complimentary about Natick's low-cost, low-altitude airdrop. The senior warrant officer rigger at Bagram called the LCLAs the "bread and butter" for resupplying companies and below in Afghanistan.
Obusek and Hillman participated in a cargo resupply mission using low cost low altitude parachutes to a combat outpost. Obusek watched its success from within the confines of a Caribou aircraft. All of the bundles landed roughly within five meters of each other and within the target zone. Soldiers in Afghanistan, when asked what could be done to improve the LCLA, responded that the LCLA should have a greater weight capability; currently, the LCLA is capable of carrying roughly 500 pounds and they would like that increase.
While visiting the Joint Theater Hospital, Obusek was able to enter the hospital's operating rooms. Three individuals were seriously wounded during an IED attack and were being attended to by the surgical staff.
"These were very, very devastating injuries to these individuals. That was tough… and it is staggering, the force that these explosive devices can exert on human tissue."
This set the tone for the discussion that occurred after the operations, which included pelvic protection, the surprising lack of thermal injuries associated with dismounted IEDs, and the fact that Natick has done a good job with its fire-resistant ACUs and equipment, and eyewear. Medical staff was unanimous in their opinions that hearing protection is necessary. "We are going to re-double our efforts on that," Obusek said.
Obusek concluded by saying that NSRDEC should "be proud about the impact that you all have here on the fight. It's not just what we've done … today and yesterday but work we've been doing for years that has made the US Soldier the most capable in the world. I felt privileged to be your ambassador in theater."