Paratroopers Give Combat Perspective to ARL Scientists

October 26, 2009

Sgt. 1st Class Derek Burpee, 82nd Airborne Division, examines a flexible display prototype during a visit to the Army Research Laboratory. Sgt. 1st Class Derek Burpee, 82nd Airborne Division, examines a flexible display prototype during a visit to the Army Research Laboratory.

When it comes to designing Soldiers' equipment, it can be a long road from a scientist's laboratory to the field. But thanks to input from combat experienced 82nd Airborne Division Soldiers, a more direct path is being made.

About a dozen paratroopers visited scientists at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) to tell the people who design weapons, surveillance systems and other technologies first-hand what they thought about their efforts.

"It's important to bring their knowledge into the lab and get their concerns," said Sgt. Maj. Steve Hornbach, ARL's senior enlisted Soldier. "It also gives them knowledge about ARL that they can take back to their units."

The visit came during the first two days of a two-week long tour of Research, Development and Engineering Command sites throughout the United States and is part of a larger RDECOM initiative to bring a Soldiers' battlefield perspective directly to researchers.

Researchers at ARL provide cutting-edge science, technology and analysis and are the leaders in providing innovative solutions for the current and future Soldier.

"Joe on the line doesn't realize there's a guy on a computer in an office trying to keep him alive and help kill the enemy," said 1/73 Cavalry Regiment 1st Sgt. Kevin Spooner, who has completed four Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) deployments in the last six years.

"It's important what they're (ARL scientists) doing to help come up with ideas and funnel ideas out to the Army," said Spooner.

One idea ARL is working on to make information more manageable on the battlefield is creating flexible electronic displays that are bendable, durable and can be read in any lighting situation.

Troop B, 1/73 Cav.'s Staff Sgt. Terry Clements, an OIF veteran, said the displays along with the power supply research were the most impressive things he saw at ARL.

"Me being a cav. scout, I'm hiding in a wood line using a (laptop computer), so anything that's smaller will help us out a lot," said Clements.

"The flexible displays blew me away," added Capt. Ryan Nugent, Headquarters Troop 1/73 Cav.

As the troops were shuttled to multiple briefings and shown about a dozen other technologies, ARL scientists and leadership made it clear that they were only here to support service members.

"If we're not helping you then why the hell do you need us?" asked John Eicke, an ARL signal and image processing research chief, after he welcomed the Soldiers.

Eicke and others from his division briefed the troops on sensor and surveillance equipment ARL developed for current combat operations as well as some advancements that will be fielded soon.

"We want to try to be relevant with what we do," Eicke told the Soldiers.

For many of the troops, some with multiple deployments under their belts, touring ARL was an eye-opening experience.

"It's amazing there's so many Ph.D.s working behind what a Solider does every day," said Capt. Michael Hamilton, 18th Fires Brigade.

More than a third of ARL's scientists hold a doctorate and about 65 percent of the 1,300 hold either master's and/or doctoral degrees. Despite being highly educated and skilled scientists, they still must learn from the average Soldier in the field.

"We want Soldiers' feedback before production," said Jill Smith, director of the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, which is responsible for leading the Army's research to enhance the lethality and survivability of the individual Soldier and advanced weapon systems.

After a short brief about the directorate, she led her research staff and the Soldiers in a two-hour long conversation and allowed them to exchange ideas and experiences about armor, weapons systems and ammo.

The Soldiers freely gave their opinions about their Army gear and also gave their unique perspectives as paratroopers, who have to enter a war zone with only the equipment they can carry on their backs.

"This give and take of (information) is a good thing," said Dave Kleponis, a mechanical engineer researcher, during the discussion.

"We have to figure out how we develop armor for a special mission but we have to also develop it for different threats," he explained to the Soldiers after multiple questions asked about body and vehicle armor.

"It's nice to see the civilians, doctors (Ph.D.s) and scientists working hand-in-hand with the Soldiers," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Billman, Headquarters Troop 1/73 Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

Other paratroopers echoed Billman's sentiment and expressed appreciation for what ARL is doing for them.

"Once you're here you realize what a great opportunity this is to talk to these people," said Sgt. Steven Martin, Troop A, 1/73 Cav. "Sometimes we don't realize how much thought went on behind our (equipment)."


Last Update / Reviewed: October 26, 2009