By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterFebruary 13, 2013
The United States Army is looking for a few good men or women with inventive ideas.
At the 2013 Washington D.C. auto show Army booth, the service's Rapid Equipping Force was proudly displaying 21st century innovations currently being utilized on military deployments.
Among items being shown to the public were the latest body armor, head gear, solar energy technology and a robotic mine sweeper prototype which is currently saving lives in Afghanistan.
REF's goal is to save military lives, and the Army reached out at the car show and continually through its website to assemble the best ideas from the research world, academia and the general public to evolve America's best ideas from blueprints into working products.
The combination Army exhibit-think tank incubator is new at the auto show and the REF goal is to mesh Soldier in-the-field ingenuity with American invention.
"The reason we are here this year is that we are actually looking for auto engineering minds to help us with a lot of the challenges Soldiers are facing, whether it be a new innovation, a new capability which is energy-related, IED [improvised explosive device] detection," said spokesperson Ali Sanders of REF, which is based at Fort Belvior. "We want people to provide us good ideas. We want to collect innovations from anybody.
"We also know that the best innovations come from the Soldiers themselves, but if we can get their innovations in the hands of those who bend the metal -- the engineers, the automotive experts -- those are the kind of people who can help us best," Sanders continued.
The REF display was full of completed success stories. From robotic mine detectors to portable solar panels designed to reach the deepest corners downrange, Army Sgt. Maj. James Hash was proud to give tours of the 21st century innovation.
"If you look around, you see a trailer with solar panels on it for renewable energy. We refer to it as energy to the edge," Hash said. "The idea is to get as far forward to the Soldiers out there to the tip of the sphere to the small command outpost where they may be low on fuel and low on water, and we're trying to improve their situation by putting things on the ground to help them by utilizing solar panels to increase their energy output. We also want to get longer life out of batteries, so we work closely with academia to improve [the] amount of time of batteries. We want to maintain a longer battery supply."
An exhibit table contained items currently using state-of-the-art portable batteries and power supplies which included hand-held bomb detectors and body armor. Those long-lasting batteries developed through REF are now being used in unison with military body armor to monitor a Soldier's vital signs during and after an enemy attack.
"Like football and boxing, in the Army you get beat up a lot," Hash explained. "The idea is to monitor the data that is being generated from the event -- the IED event. The body armor has the ability to record the data and store that data and take that data and share that with the medical community to determine what the Soldier went through in a blast."
Also on display on the 2013 car show floor was a near century-old Dodge Brothers touring car specifically ordered by the Army in 1918. At the time, the service ordered thousands of the touring cars to serve as staff cars for officers. The World War I-era car on display at the D.C. show never reached the World War I European theater of operation; it was used stateside at Fort Douglas Army base in Salt Lake City.
"I had been searching for this car most of my life," owner Mark Ounan of Fairfield, Pa., said of his Army Dodge. "I bought it in 2007, and I drove it cross-country in 2009. It took 26 days to get from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. The car runs well; it will get up to 40-45 miles per hour."