Wearing body armored vests during ARL's greening course strengthens experience

July 07, 2015

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Greening course designed to give civilian employees the opportunity to gain insight and to experience various activities, duties and responsibilities of the U.S. Soldier
  • Senior NCO said, "When you give people tough but realistic training – at the end of the day – it gives them a sense of pride being able to accomplish things that they have never considered doing before."
  • Participants required to wear body armor to gain a better understanding of some of the challenges a Soldier experiences

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory has held its semiannual greening courses for quite some time, but with new leadership comes new challenges. Thirty-two civilians recently had the opportunity to attend the first greening course held under the leadership of ARL's new senior enlisted advisor, Sgt. Major Kevin Connor. The course is designed to give civilian employees the opportunity to gain insight and to experience various activities, duties and responsibilities of the U.S. Soldier—this time they wore military-style body-armor vests during the course of the entire week.

The participants came from throughout ARL's major locations including Aberdeen Proving Ground and Adelphi, Maryland; the Army Research Office (ARO) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; and White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. A few of the participants were from the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) at APG, which is an element of the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command.

Throughout the weeklong course, participants began each morning at 5:30 a.m. with physical-fitness training, commonly called PT, personal hygiene, and breakfast, and then lined up for daily accountability formations to ensure all were accounted for—and then, off to various activities.

The activities included basic Army knowledge classes; marksmanship; assembling and disassembling military weapons; Humvee (HMMWV) Egress Assistance Trainer, or HEAT, obstacle-course activities and weapons training at the Gunpowder Falls training facility; Aberdeen Test Center's vehicle displays and test drives; and firing weapons at the small-arms range. On the final day of training, the participants flew in a Black Hawk helicopter and learned about aviation operations, maintenance, and goals of the Maryland Army National Guard. The course concluded with a formal graduation ceremony.

The civilians, many of whom had never experienced any sort of military training, had plenty to say about their experiences. They were asked what they liked best, what they found most challenging, what surprised them most about the course, and what they wanted to share with you—the reader.

Dr. Todd Henry, from ARL's Vehicle Technology Directorate at APG, said, "I liked the teamwork/leadership puzzles best. Solving problems is always fun, but the team element made it over the top. I found it most challenging to carry the armor vest around everywhere. By the end of the week my shoulders were very sore! And, I didn't expect the MRE [meal, ready to eat] field rations to be so easy to prepare and genuinely good tasting. The greening course was an extremely fun week and gives civilians a small idea of the Soldiers' challenges."

Jonathan Touryan, from ARL's Human Research and Engineering Directorate, said the course gave him a tremendous amount of insight into the Army and had lots to share.

"I think the overall schedule was well constructed to give us a taste of what it would be like to be in the uniformed services. The schedule was both broad and challenging, and helped us push our physical limits (especially for us older folks). The course not only gave me a good insight into the Army, but also instilled a sense of camaraderie with the Soldiers (whom we don't usually interact with on a regular basis). Even memorizing the Army Civilian Creed, which was tedious at times, helped me feel more a part of the Army team—and, I think Sgt. 1st Class Sanchez should be commended on his outstanding organization and leadership of the course."

Touryan continued: "Naturally, the hands-on demos (vehicle, weapons, and helicopter ride) were very popular. Surprisingly, I also really enjoyed the leadership obstacle course where you had to solve physical problems as a team of four. I think this activity should be utilized more broadly as a team-building exercise within each directorate/division/branch. I found the physical activity very challenging (PT test and obstacle course). I try to keep in shape, but by the end of the week my whole body was sore with no small amount of bruises. I didn't expect how intense the course would be!

"We were engaged in activities from dawn until dusk on most of the days—with only time enough at home to pack and prepare for the next day," Touryan added. "For those thinking about future courses, as a civilian employee of ARL, you are likely very busy with numerous projects and daily tasks; however, the greening course is worth the time out of your schedule for a unique and challenging experience. You'll finish with a sense of accomplishment and greater camaraderie with the ARL and Army team. Don't worry, your email will still be there when you get back!"

Mark Riggs, from ARL's VTD, was selected as one of the course's platoon sergeants and leader of the civilians during the weeklong course and, unlike his fellow classmates, his perspective on the leadership responsibilities added an additional element to his experience.

"I found taking on the responsibility of a platoon sergeant the most challenging, because I had to be accountable for everyone and I couldn't fall back into the crowd when an NCO had a problem with the platoon. I also wasn't expecting to be the only one who needed to memorize the Army Civilian Creed! The greening course was a great experience and I'm glad we had the opportunity to be trained by NCOs for a week. I liked the flight in the Black Hawk the best because it was a rare opportunity for me to fly in the Army helicopter that I'm working with in the lab. I'll take this information and apply it to the technology I'm developing to support our troops."

Carlos Natividad, from WSMR, flew all the way from New Mexico for the experience. He enjoyed getting to know more about the organization and how civilians and active-duty personnel interact. He also had lots of insight to share.

"What I liked the most about the course is the way it brought together a variety of Army civilian employees and a variety of Army Soldiers. The reason is because we become aware of the role each person plays in their organization. During the greening course, I was introduced to a variety of tasks, knowledge, and materiel used by Soldiers and the Army. Whether it was the thirty-pound IBA [interceptor body armor], which a material engineer there had some hand in approving its use, or an NCO talking about the proper way to line up in formation, each person working for the Army there talked about something interesting related to the job. I personally feel like I came out of this course with a better understanding about the connections between organization to organization and between active-duty to civilian. I feel like we were all an Army of one, hooah!"

When asked what was most challenging, Natividad said, "The most challenging part of the course was the obstacle course. The types of obstacles really spoke volumes to the amount of physical training that Soldiers are required to have in order to complete them. Some obstacles did not give the impression that they were challenging at first glance, but upon trying to complete them it became obvious a good amount of physical strength and mental discipline was needed. I did not expect to get as much of an exposure to understand what a Soldier goes through. I arrived with the idea that we would sit in a class the majority of the time and the activities would be more about observing. I was very wrong for all the right reasons. The combination of the events we endured, alongside the accompanying NCO talking about their experiences, made a real impact on how I perceive Soldiers and my role as civilian support."

Natividad shared some personal insight and said, "Seven years ago, I came into the Army civilian workforce straight out of college, and up until now, I had little exposure to what Soldiers actually go through. I believe that I am not alone; it's easy to not be conscience of how your work supports the Warfighter and hard to really understand what they went through to be where they are. I believe that if a person can take this course they should and put all their effort into completing every task. Then, I believe, they can proudly say 'I am an Army Civilian, a member of the Army Team.'"

Nick Piekiel, from ARL's Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate, said that flying in the Black Hawk and an afternoon at the firing range were definitely highlights but that conversing with the NCOs and hearing about some of their experiences was probably the best part of the greening course. He also said that PT at 5:30 a.m. was definitely a change of pace from his normal schedule.

"I think the NCOs pushed all of us pretty hard, and then you realize that our PT was probably only a fraction of what they typically do! If given the opportunity to take part in the greening course, take advantage—it will provide a new outlook and new respect for the physical and mental strength of the men and women of our Army," said Piekiel.

Joseph Maheady, from the Joint Service Aircrew Mask Rotary Wing Branch at ECBC, said he liked the helicopter ride the best and found sighting a rifle the most challenging.

"It takes skill to coordinate your body with the rifle to hit a target. I can't imagine how much harder it is when that target is firing back and moving. The constant physical toll that wearing body armor takes on you took me by surprise. Thirty pounds doesn't seem like a lot, but it will creep up on you real fast! This was an awesome experience—every civilian should have to go through something like this. If offered it again, I would strongly encourage people to take it," said Maheady.

Amanda Mihok, who is also from ECBC, said that getting to know the NCOs was an amazing experience: "It really put into perspective how important our jobs can be and what we do to help these people that are fighting for us. Experiencing some of the things they have to go through was awesome. It was fun, but I learned so much at the same time."

When asked what she found most challenging, Mihok said, "Keeping up with their [NCOs] schedule! We worked long days, no matter what the weather, and it was exhausting. It really helped me realize how much they sacrifice for us. I wasn't expecting the leadership course that we experienced. This was one of my favorite parts—I loved having to figure out the different obstacles and work as a team to succeed."

Mihok said she thought the course was definitely worth taking and shared, "You will be exhausted by the end, but will have had a great time, make great friends, and have some unforgettable experiences. If I could, I would take the course again!"

Edward Palazzolo, from ARO, was pleased to have the opportunity to attend the greening course. He said, "The Army greening course for Army civilians provided unique insights into the day-to-day training experience for Soldiers. The NCO leadership team offered us excellent training opportunities and they shared many personal stories that helped us better understand their experiences and perspectives. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a course and encourage others to participate when offered again."

Whether you're new to the Department of Defense or have worked for the agency a number of years, the experience at ARL leaves a lasting impression.

"I've been working in DOD for 12 years, but ARL is the first agency I've worked at that offered a greening course," said Jennifer Warren, from ARL's Laboratory Operations at APG. "I really enjoyed getting a taste of the difficulties the Soldiers experience—it helps to drive home that ultimately, our mission is to the Warfighter. The greening course helps to humanize the Soldiers rather than think of them as an abstract idea. It was a very bonding experience: interacting with the Soldiers who had been overseas as well as civilians from other directorates and locations."

Dr. Mark Tschopp, from ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, sums up his experiences quite well.

"I enjoyed the whole experience—there isn't just one thing in particular," said Tschopp. "Of course, highlights were riding in the Black Hawk helicopter, driving an MRAP-ATV vehicle and being able to fire the host of machine guns (M249, M240, and M4 carbine). Moreover, the obstacle course, land-navigation course, simulated firing range, and Humvee rollover were high on my list as well. Also, I must say, watching the Bradley tank start up a 60-degree inclined hill at Aberdeen Test Center's test course, stop, and then restart up the incline was pretty awesome as well. But the experience wouldn't be complete without learning firsthand the 'hurry up and wait' Army motto as it applies to platoon formation, going to Army PT every morning, wearing 30 pounds of protective body armor, and having the NCOs there to 'encourage' us the whole way. So, would I recommend this experience to all of our civilians in the Army Research Laboratory? Hooah (Army slang for everything and anything, except no)."

Staff Sgt. David Hoisington, who was one of the NCOs who supported the weeklong course, said he was impressed with the students.

"The only thing I've got to add is that in all of the greening courses that I have supported, this one had the highest amount of motivation and determination that I've seen," said Hoisington.

Sgt. Maj. Kevin Connor was pleased with the success of the course as well and wanted to ensure the participants got a true taste of military life.

"It has been my experience that when you give people tough but realistic training—at the end of the day—it gives them a sense of pride being able to accomplish things that they have never considered doing before. We required them to wear the body armor all day so that they could understand some of the challenges a Soldier deals with," said Connor. "At the conclusion of the course, we required all greening-course participants to dress in formal attire and recite the Army Civilian Creed to instill the importance of ceremonies that are conducted in the Army. They all lived up to the challenge!"


Last Update / Reviewed: July 7, 2015