Tag Archives: Natick Soldier Systems Center

Soldier volunteers provide critical service at Natick

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

They arrive every 90 days at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts, ready to perform an invaluable mission on behalf of their military brothers and sisters. If a Soldier wears it, eats it or sleeps under it, a human research volunteer has tested it for the Army warfighter.

HRVs arrive at Natick usually following advanced individual training and prior to their first permanent duty station. Many Soldiers often arrive unfamiliar with the small military research complex and installation.

A human research volunteer is the first line of research and the backbone for testing everything that is worn, carried or consumed by Soldiers, Natick says. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)
A human research volunteer is the first line of research and the backbone for testing everything that is worn, carried or consumed by Soldiers, Natick says. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)

“I had no clue about Natick,” said 1st Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez Jr., first sergeant of the Headquarters Research and Development Detachment at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, who works with many of the HRVs. “Before I came here, I asked myself, ‘What am I getting myself into? I have no idea what this is.’ I have been here a year, and I love it. It’s great.”

Behind every HRV is a small force of noncommissioned officers who are charged with sustaining Natick’s mission of maximizing the warfighter’s survivability and combat effectiveness.

“We know what the equipment can be used for, instead of what it was designed to do,” Martinez said. “Soldiers walk in and say, ‘That’s awesome. I can do this, this and this.’ The scientists then say, ‘Wow. We never thought of it that way.”

It happens often: Soldiers repurpose a piece of military equipment in a way that scientists never thought possible. One example was the Army poncho, said Sarah Ross, human research volunteer test coordinator and a veteran NCO.

“Scientists had no idea that Soldiers were using it as a shelter or a cover,” Ross said. “Two years ago, [a review] was done in the Doriot Climatic Chambers because Soldiers were getting heat injuries from being underneath the poncho. They found Soldiers were using the poncho as a shelter, and the temperature underneath the ponchos was reaching 150 degrees. Soldiers thought they were in the shade, but in reality they were hurting themselves by doing it. Scientists and engineers didn’t create that item for them to use it in that regard, so they changed it. But they

Soldiers who volunteer to be human research volunteers at the Natick Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Massachusetts, provide an invaluable service and help further studies at the small military installation. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)
Soldiers who volunteer to be human research volunteers at the Natick Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Massachusetts, provide an invaluable service and help further studies at the small military installation. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)

wouldn’t have known that if they didn’t have a good relationship with Soldiers to be able to get that feedback.”

Martinez and Ross work together with HRVs to ensure that being a Soldier doesn’t come second at Natick, Ross said.

“Bottom line is we are all just making sure that we do the best we can for the Soldier,” she said.

A lot can happen in the 90 days that Soldiers serve as HRVs.

“It’s enough time where Soldiers who are not diligent in staying within qualification of their MOS, their job, that they can become complacent quite easily,” Ross said. “So that’s where HRDD comes in ─ to make sure that Soldiers keep that good order because that’s important.”

Soldiers who volunteer for studies at Natick may find themselves with such tasks as trying new uniforms or garments or enduring environmental conditions that Soldiers in the field commonly face.

“A Soldier can be here for 90 days and participate anywhere from doing one study to 10, 12 or 15,” Ross said. “I keep records, and I give them all a little memo of things they have done. I did one where a Soldier did 17. That’s the most I have seen a Soldier do in 90 days.”

As part of the team at the Doriot Climatic Chambers, Ross has seen a lot of HRVs come through Natick.

Cognitive science research team members at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center guide a human research volunteer through a virtual reality experiment in Natick, Massa chusetts. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)
Cognitive science research team members at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center guide a human research volunteer through a virtual reality experiment in Natick, Massa chusetts. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)

“Our program is evolving because the Soldiers that we work for are evolving,” Ross said. “The Soldiers we are getting in this program are changing because the demographic of the Soldier is changing. We are seeing more females in these groups than I have ever seen. This upcoming group has 11 females. I have never had 11 females in a group of 30 before. That’s never happened in my eight years here.”

The installation often welcomes West Point cadets as well as squads from larger bases to help with testing.

“We have cadets from West Point who intern here,” Martinez said. “We also have a squad from the 82nd Airborne Division that helps as well. There are guys from Fort Stewart, Georgia, here, and we have HRVs as well. It’s a very busy installation for a small unit.”

HRVs have been prized for their feedback since 1954 at Natick labs, where they take part in studies for NSRDEC and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Ross often hears back from some Soldiers who have volunteered at Natick.

“One of the best things to me is when I open up Facebook, and I get a message from [a former HRV],” she said. “They tell me, ‘Hey Sarah, I am an E4 now. My unit was chosen to use this new rucksack. I opened it up and realized that three years ago when I was at Natick as an HRV I helped with this research.’ I probably receive about 10 of those emails. That to me is so cool.”

NCO forges valuable partnerships with veterans at Natick

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

When he first arrived at Natick Soldier Systems Center for duty as 1st sergeant of the Headquarters Research and Development Detachment at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, 1st Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez Jr. had heard the assignment in Massachusetts wouldn’t be a typical one.

“My response was the first sergeant position is the same regardless of where you are and what you’re doing because your first and foremost priority is the health and welfare of the Soldier and then to try to advance the organization,” Martinez said.

He made sure all Soldiers were taken care of and that they were meeting all standard Army requirements. Then, Martinez set out to meet every director or team leader at the small military installation.

Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade test female body armor. In a collaborative effort, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center worked with Program Executive Office Soldier on an improved outer tactical vest designed specifically for women. The innovation was named one of Time Magazine’s “Best Inventions” in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)
Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade test female body armor. In a collaborative effort, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center worked with Program Executive Office Soldier on an improved outer tactical vest designed specifically for women. The innovation was named one of Time Magazine’s “Best Inventions” in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)

“I told each one, ‘My intent is to have an NCO from this organization help every single team here at some point,’” Martinez said. “Before, [what I was suggesting] was pretty much nonexistent. We didn’t have any of our NCOs help any of our directorates. I wanted to change that because I was previously at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center [at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey], and I saw how those Soldiers interacted. That’s what I wanted to bring here.

“A lot of people think the NCO’s main job here is to manage the human research volunteer program,” he said. “That’s only partly true. We are here to make sure HRVs are being trained properly and also to help all of the studies. I asked the HRDD commander, Capt. Enrique Curiel, about my recommendations and told him what I wanted to do. Together, we started making little changes.”

‘Different animal’

Located in Massachusetts, the birthplace of the U.S. Army, the Soldier Systems Center employs about 160 active-duty Soldiers and 1,800 civilians. Roughly a platoon of the Soldiers at Natick serve as human research volunteers for scientific studies at NSRDEC, while NCOs fill roles that run the gamut from parachute riggers in the parachute shop or noncommissioned officers in charge at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.

“I started teaming up my NCOs to work with other teams [at Natick],” Martinez said. “I told my guys we need to start getting embedded [in projects]. The more the scientists see us, the more they are going to remember the NCOs and the more relevant we are. We want to be seen. We want to be in the front of their minds, so when they have a new project or are starting a new job, I want them to think about talking to NCOs.”

Martinez views working with the scientists, engineers and other civilian employees at Natick as a mutual partnership.

A scientist from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center tests uniforms for burn injury protection at the Doriot Climatic Chambers in Natick, Mass. (Photo courtesy of Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)
A scientist from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center tests uniforms for burn injury protection at the Doriot Climatic Chambers in Natick, Mass. (Photo courtesy of Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)

“One of the biggest things I noticed that was shocking to me is that when I met with some people, they told me they were under the impression that the NCO chain of command here switched out every 90 days like the HRVs,” he said. “That only solidified my desire to meet everybody here because I need to change that way of thinking. I told them we are here for three years. We don’t switch out every 90 days; those are the HRVs. The NCOs and officers are here for three years, and we want to be able to work with you guys.

“I can open those doors for them [in the military], and they will not have to be slowed down by trying to get the right people in the right place to talk to them,” he said.

Work often brings Sarah Ross, human research volunteer test coordinator, and Martinez together at Natick’s Doriot Climatic Chambers. As a veteran noncommissioned officer, Ross has a history there. Her last duty assignment was as NCO in charge of the facility, and she was also a medic assigned to USARIEM when she a Soldier.

The chambers are a unique facility that can mimic environmental conditions from any location around the globe. Temperature, humidity, wind, rain and solar radiation can be simulated for testing on HRVs or military equipment.

Ross’s military experience often comes in handy when trying to bridge communication between scientists, engineers and Soldiers.

1st Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez Jr., 1st sergeant of the Headquarters Research and Development Detachment at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, works with Sarah Ross, human research volunteer test coordinator, at the Doriot Climatic Chambers in Natick, Massachusetts. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
1st Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez Jr., 1st sergeant of the Headquarters Research and Development Detachment at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, works with Sarah Ross, human research volunteer test coordinator, at the Doriot Climatic Chambers in Natick, Massachusetts. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

“1st Sgt. Martinez is the Soldier component that HRVs have 24 hours a day, because although they are human subjects they are Soldiers 24 hours a day,” Ross said. “It’s important that we work really well together. [Natick] is a different animal, and as a veteran, I understand that. I know from my own experiences, it is a completely different ballgame.

“1st Sgt. Martinez and I work together really well to make sure that the Soldiers get opportunities to participate in things, and that they are always ready as Soldiers because that’s the number one priority ─ making sure that HRVs are always safe when they are volunteering in these studies,” she said.

Teamwork

One of the projects Martinez and Ross worked on together was to revise the physical restrictions document, concerning the participation of HRVs in studies.

“Some of the things I wanted to change were due to risk aversion,” Martinez said. “Principal investigators don’t want to get in trouble or do anything wrong. They don’t want to hurt the HRVs, or tarnish the name of the detachment, program or installation.”

Principal investigators were limiting the activity of some HRVs to an extreme, sometimes resulting in Soldiers who were going back to the Army after their 90-day HRV stint at Natick unable to fulfill the physical requirements of being Soldiers.

“We want to make sure these Soldiers are healthy,” Ross said. “We want to make sure they have appropriate recovery time, and sometimes these principal investigators err on the side of caution. … The principle investigator is thinking, ‘I want to make sure my subject is protected, and that they are not doing something outside the realm of the study.’ And HRDD is thinking, ‘I want to make sure my Soldiers are ready to be able to do the PT necessary and additionally anything physical they have to do as Soldiers.’”

Because Soldiers’ careers were being affected, Martinez saw he needed to get involved.

“The PIs actually started explaining, ‘This is what I will be doing, this is what I want,’ and Capt. Curiel, and I will make sense of it,” Martinez said. “We will agree, or we will debate. Eventually, we come to a good middle ground, and everybody is happy.

“We told the civilians, ‘We can help you; we can do all these things to help your project and not be in conflict with your study,’” he said.

For Martinez, it helps to have someone such as Ross, with her military experience, serving in her position.

“If there are any questions I might have that are study-related, she is my go-to person,” Martinez said.

Ross couldn’t be happier that she ended up in a job she loves. Despite separating from the Army, she still works with Soldiers every day.

“Although I have been here eight years, I am still learning,” Ross said. “I have to make sure I am aware and updated, and that I am familiar with [federal regulations on human subjects and how Soldiers should be treated] so I can be the best facilitator with the program. At the same time, I love these Soldiers. I have the best job in the Army. I still get to serve without wearing the uniform … and I get to meet 30 new selfless Soldiers every 90 days. I meet 120 new Soldiers every year, which is so cool.”

Ross is part of a growing population of veterans who found work at Natick after leaving the military.

“The veteran population is pretty strong,” Ross said. “It’s close to 300 veterans who work at this installation. I think in this environment [being a veteran] is instrumental to [Natick’s] success.”

Despite its size, the work done at Natick extends far beyond its small confines. Valuable Soldiers’ feedback goes a long way toward building projects and contributing to the readiness of the big Army.

“Here, it doesn’t matter what your rank is,” Ross said. “It doesn’t matter how long you have been in the Army. What matters is that you give us your opinion and that we are going to take that under consideration. That is one thing that I love. I don’t know where else that happens.”

The experience has proven invaluable to NCOs such as Martinez, who says there are still many tasks he wants to work on to better the detachment.

“When I leave here and I continue my service, I will always keep Natick on the phone,” Martinez said. “Now that I have worked here, I want to continue to work and would like to tell Natick they have an open door with me.

As a veteran, Ross is particularly grateful for the opportunity to work with Soldiers. It’s not unusual for Natick to have about 20 studies running at the same time.

“This place is incredible,” Ross said. “The things that we do for the Soldier in this small installation blow my mind. At the same time I am talking to you, there is a Soldier down at the biomechanics lab doing a VO2 max ride test, at the same time they are blistering Soldiers in this front room, at the same time another scientist is doing a thermal test and burning a uniform, at the same time there’s a change of command over here, at the same time there is a glove dexterity test happening and at the same there are Soldiers at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, testing a uniform in an obstacle course.”

The Soldiers, scientists, engineers and civilians form a powerful team at Natick, with a common goal, she said.

“We have all of these facilities, and we are all just working toward giving the best equipment and making sure Soldiers can function to the best of their abilities,” Ross said. “You could argue that Soldiers/warfighters are the best athletes in the world, and we have to make sure a team of 100 people goes out with every Soldier [on the field]. They might not be present with Soldiers, but they are there.

“They are there in the uniform that Soldiers are wearing,” she said. “They are there in the boots Soldiers are wearing. They are there in that Kevlar. They are there in that weapon. They are there with Soldiers without actually being physically present, and that’s incredible to me.”

Natick’s ‘Pack Man’ aims to lighten NCOs’ load

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

If they ask, he will make it. Chances are, if a noncommissioned officer pitches an idea for a new piece of Army load carriage to Rich Landry, the equipment designer is going to turn it into something tangible.

A former Pathfinder in the 82nd Airborne Division, Landry understands the struggle of NCOs on the battlefield who are often weighed down with body armor, weapons and other

Rich Landry discusses the Airborne Tactical Assault Panel, which is an effort to design a fighting load chest rig compatible with the T-11 static line parachute harness.
Rich Landry discusses the Airborne Tactical Assault Panel, which is an effort to design a fighting load chest rig compatible with the T-11 static line parachute harness. (Photos by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

equipment. During a visit in late June to Fort Belvoir, Va., Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn reiterated the Army’s desire to lighten the Soldiers’ load during a visit to Program Executive Office Soldier. “I appreciate what you are focused on … better kit and lighter weight,” Allyn told PEO Soldier staff members.

It’s a challenge Landry embraces.

“The beauty of what we’re able to do here is a Soldier comes to us with an idea, and in a very short period of time, they have something in their hands,” said Landry, individual designer in Load Carriage Systems, Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. “Soldiers leave here with at least a concept. It might be a 60 percent solution, and it might be a 90 percent solution if we’re lucky. But typically the 60 percent solution we are happy with right out of the starting gate.

“And then we evaluate,” Landry said. “We will have 50 of them built, and we let Soldiers tweak it. We do the tweaks to it very quickly once again, get something back in Soldiers’ hands and they will look at it and say, ‘That’s good.’ Then, we can go to test with it. We may have 100 of them built, either [at Natick] or by a small manufacturer. Then, a company-size evaluation [follows].”

The rows of backpacks on his office walls serve as inspiration to the former Pathfinder, who often goes to the field to survey Soldiers about the military gear in use. The walls

Durability is a key piece in military equipment design for Rich Landry. Landry said silent closures to replace Velcro and snaps are being considered.
Durability is a key piece in military equipment design for Rich Landry. Landry said silent closures to replace Velcro and snaps are being considered.

display backpacks used over the years by the Army, including the ALICE, all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment, pack. The ALICE pack was adopted by the military in 1973. The MOLLE, modular lightweight load-carrying equipment, system was due to replace it in the early 2000s. However, some units still prefer this style over the modern MOLLE pack.

“I always keep old stuff on the wall because I learn so much from it,” said Landry, dubbed “Pack Man” by comedian Larry the Cable Guy who visited Natick’s Soldier System Center in 2012 for his “Only in America” series. “You just never know. There might have been a time where they were using that effectively, and it’s good to look at that.”

How he works

Landry recently heard from the 82nd Airborne Division that Soldiers needed a pack that could carry essential equipment for airborne operations.

Out of that feedback came the MOLLE 4000, a 4,000-cubic-inch rucksack that uses a frame out of the U.S. Marine Corps inventory as a foundation. In fact, Landry had also worked on that pack for the Marines. The MOLLE 4000 is in the testing phase, and airborne units may receive the new pack in fiscal year 2017.

The MOLLE 4000 “is really similar to some of these older packs, but it does a good job of transferring the load,” Landry said. “One of the things that’s popular about this pack is it looks very similar to some of these old ones. A lot of Soldiers love the old stuff. You can’t pry the ALICE pack out of many Soldiers’ hands; they love it.”

Speed and simplicity are key points for Soldiers.

“We can take all the good points of these [older Army backpacks], take the science that Natick is so good at, and put it all together,” Landry said. “That’s really what our focus has been for the past 15 years on backpack technology — it’s transferring some load and getting it off the shoulders and onto the hips.”

Contributions from NCOs

NCO feedback is extremely valuable to Landry and what he does.

“A lot of what we do is very, kind of, ‘stubby pencil’ — we listen to Soldiers, we write it down and look at what we think it needs to be and what we need to happen when we build it,” Landry said.

“I always keep old stuff on the walls because I learn so much from it,” said Rich Landry, individual designer in Load Carriage Systems, Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, Natick Soldier Systems Center, Natick, Mass. (Photos by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
“I always keep old stuff on the walls because I learn so much from it,” said Rich Landry, individual designer in Load Carriage Systems, Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, Natick Soldier Systems Center, Natick, Mass.

NCO input comes in different forms for Landry, whether it comes through the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Public Affairs Office, Operational Forces Interface Group outreach efforts in the field or by walking through Landry’s door during a tour at Natick.

“We have an absolute open-door policy for anybody in uniform,” Landry said. “You come in anytime, and we will listen.”

Plenty of feedback also comes during temporary duty assignments to military installations.

“Whenever we travel to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, or Fort Benning, Georgia, etc., there’s always this kind of exchange process,” Landry said. “We will do it through surveys or get Soldiers in a room and say, ‘What’s wrong with this?’ ‘What kind of problems are you seeing with this backpack?’ ‘We’ve had this thing fielded for X amount of years, how can we fix it?’ ‘How can we improve on it?’ Because that’s my job every day — fix stuff, improve, improve, improve. Everything can be improved. Nothing is perfect until we try and try and try, and keep on trying.”

Where it all started

Landry is extremely grateful for the sewing skills he picked up as a young infantryman. Those skills came in handy when he found himself modifying military equipment.

“I was that young Soldier who was changing stuff, who was reusing 550 parachute cord and 100 mph duct tape and showing [others] what I could do to change stuff,” he said.

“I have the best job, and I tell that to everybody,” Landry said. “You never know what you are going to be working on. I travel a lot. I have deployed to Iraq twice. I have deployed to Afghanistan. This is where you get all your good information. This is where you learn. That’s what it’s all about.”

Inspiration often strikes on the spot. While on deployment, Landry often takes photographs of unique ways that Soldiers are carrying or using military equipment.

“We really have to get out as much as we can and see that stuff,” he said. “Sometimes we’re thrown a curve like, ‘They’re carrying what? They’re carrying how? Wait a minute. We have got to get on top of that. We’ve got to figure out a way to do that.’ Sometimes that’s just how it works.”

The MOLLE pack can be credited to Soldiers, Landry said. It “came from learning from Soldiers, because what Soldiers put things through you can’t model in a laboratory,” he said.

“What Soldiers put [their equipment] through is amazing — airborne operations, air assault operations, heavy vehicle use,” Landry said. “Things get driven over. Things get ripped off the side of vehicles in the night when two vehicles pass — on a road sign, on a telephone pole.”

That’s why Army equipment has to be durable and be able to withstand the extreme conditions of Soldiers’ missions.

“We [at Natick] make a difference, and that’s the beauty of it,” Landry said. “Every morning I turn on the news, and I see Soldiers deployed who are wearing stuff that I designed. So the job satisfaction is huge. Everything a Soldier wears is done here, and we all touch it. It’s fun and meaningful.”

 

NCO input

Do you have a great idea on military equipment to tell Rich Landry and Natick’s Soldier, Research and Development Center? Please visit http://nsrdec.natick.army.mil/hotline/index.htm and submit your information.

Physical demands study goal: Identify the ideal Soldier for the job

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

The Army is looking at updating the standards for combat-related military occupational specialties. Once final data from the physical demands study have been analyzed, the Army will be closer to realizing its goal ─ finding the right Soldier for the right job.

Researchers from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine of Natick Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Mass., are working with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command on collecting data in the physical demands study. Hundreds of Soldiers at various Army installations have been tested in the research.

USARIEM researchers watch as volunteers simulate tasks for the physical demands study in Natick, Mass. The study is part of Soldier 2020, which will help the Army determine the necessary standards for combat-related MOS’s.
USARIEM researchers watch as volunteers simulate tasks for the physical demands study in Natick, Mass. The study is part of Soldier 2020, which will help the Army determine the necessary standards for combat-related MOS’s. (Photos by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

The physical demands study is part of Soldier 2020, which will help the Army determine the standards necessary to performcombat-related MOS’s, including those in armor, infantry, field artillery and combat engineering. Soldier 2020 is an initiative designed to integrate women into once-closed MOS’s.

“Soldier 2020 is about a standards-based Army ─ upholding the standards of our profession ─ the Army Profession,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey during the 2013 unveiling of the initiative, when he was TRADOC senior enlisted advisor. “Our work will allow us to match the right Soldiers, regardless of whether they are men or women, to jobs that best correspond to their abilities.”

Testing gets underway

Physical demands study researchers have logged thousands of miles in travel to test hundreds of Soldier volunteers at various Army installations including Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Carson, Colo. They have also tested hundreds of Soldiers in the human research volunteer pool at Natick.

After identifying 31 common and physically demanding tasks in combat-related MOS’s, researchers got to work.

“We went out to different posts, and we [interviewed NCOs] to obtain feedback on the accuracy of the tasks identified for their respective MOS’s,” said Marilyn Sharp, USARIEM’s principal investigator of the study. “We then asked [volunteers] to do the tasks as they were described by TRADOC. We measured. We timed them. We asked them how hard they were working. We try to get the essential aspects of the task.

Marilyn Sharp, principal investigator of the physical demands study for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine of Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., says researchers have visited and tested Soldier volunteers at many installations including Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Sill, Okla. (Photos by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Marilyn Sharp, principal investigator of the physical demands study for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine of Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., says researchers have visited and tested Soldier volunteers at many installations including Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Sill, Okla.

“What we hope to do in the end is come up with a battery of five or six tests of these physical fitness tests and predictor tests, which will predict performance in your MOS,” Sharp said. “That way we can say in order to be qualified as combat engineer you need to [perform] these five tests, and this is what you need to score on those tests or you probably are not going to make it in that job. That’s the bottom line.”

USARIEM researchers also observed and measured small groups of male and female Soldier volunteers who performed critical task simulations. This helped researchers examine the physiological demands of each task. Measurements included heart rate, oxygen consumption and completion time for each Soldier.

“We performed a line of load-carriage studies where we tracked [Soldiers’] motion and force, so we can figure out what kind of stresses and strains are being placed on the Soldier,” said Dr. Joseph Seay, lead biomechanist of the physical demands study. “… If we find out that one particular activity seems to be relaying a lot of injuries, we can try to simulate that activity as best we can and provide information back up the chain.”

Collaborative effort

The team of USARIEM investigators includes exercise physiologists, biomechanists and psychologists, as well as Staff Sgt. Shaun Morand, the NCO in charge of the physical demands study.

“We have about nine or so Soldiers working on this study, rotating throughout,” Morand said. “There’s a lot of travel involved. So the Soldiers, most of them laboratory technicians, we’re kind of working outside our MOS strength, trying to help.”

Once the physical demands study is completed, USARIEM researchers will provide TRADOC with recommended courses of action. Then TRADOC will analyze data, which may ultimately lead to changes in the standards for combat-related MOS’s.

Morand is among the team members proudly sharing and collecting a few new skills while participating in the massive research effort. Working on the study has afforded him several broadening opportunities.

“I think it’s gratifying because you’re seeing major changes that are coming in the Army and you’re a part of that,” Morand said. “This study is going to change the future of the Army. Also, I have never been involved in the research field area, so I am learning a lot as well about the whole process. There’s a lot more to it than I thought.”

Skillful NCOs play an integral role at Natick Labs

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

If a Soldier wears it, eats it or sleeps under it, chances are a noncommissioned officer helped contribute toward its development at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. As the scientists, engineers and equipment designers focus on the science behind the Soldier, a small force of NCOs are charged with sustaining Natick’s mission – maximizing the warrior’s survivability and combat effectiveness.

It’s easy for Soldiers first assigned to the small installation to experience culture shock after coming from posts with larger Soldier populations. Located in Massachusetts, the birthplace

Noncommissioned officers help Aerial Delivery Directorate researchers test the RA-1 parachute’s harness for comfort and fit in the Doriot Climactic Chamber’s Arctic unit. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center)
Noncommissioned officers help Aerial Delivery Directorate researchers test the RA-1 parachute’s harness for comfort and fit in the Doriot Climactic Chamber’s Arctic unit. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center)

of the U.S. Army, the SSC employs about 120 active-duty Soldiers and 2,250 civilians. The majority of the Soldiers at Natick serve as human resource volunteers for studies, ensuring every product is Soldier tested and approved.

NCOs work at SSC’s several tenant units, including the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, also known as Natick Labs, and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. At Natick, NCOs fill roles such as coordinators for the HRVs taking part in studies, parachute riggers in the parachute shop or noncommissioned officers in charge at USARIEM.

For Sgt. 1st Class Adam Nicholas Adams, a senior combat advisor for Operational Forces Interface Group, his 15 years of experience as a Soldier has proved essential in serving as a liaison between the Army and researchers on projects. OFIG works closely with NSRDEC on equipment.

Adams is often deployed to Army installations ─ whether in Afghanistan or Fort Bragg, N.C. ─ to field requests for information from Soldiers on equipment, which will be used in the development of new projects. The NCO extrapolates information from Soldiers in the battlefield, compiles it, then presents it to NSRDEC researchers, who may make adjustments to products.

“My experience in having deployed to combat zones helped me understand exactly what [kinds of issues with equipment Soldiers encountered] because they were exactly the same problems that I had faced,” said Adams, an 11B infantryman. “My deployment time became really important [for researchers] to understand the nature of combat and how we operate in that environment.”

“Coming from the ground up [as a Soldier] and having different tiers of leadership along the way allowed me to interface with [lower-ranked enlisted] Soldiers in a way that no one

Various checks and balances are performed on equipment, such as rucksacks, before the Army rolls out a new product. NCOs serve on advisory panels or as liaisons between the Army and project researchers. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center)
Various checks and balances are performed on equipment, such as rucksacks, before the Army rolls out a new product. NCOs serve on advisory panels or as liaisons between the Army and project researchers. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center)

really can unless they are [an NCO],” he said. “There’s a certain bond that happens … and when you have that, Soldiers tend to really open up to you [in the field]. For the cross talk and information exchange, it just has to be an NCO [in my job]. I can’t imagine it would work with anyone else.”

Respect for the rank

Being an NCO comes with its own set of benefits when working with other professionals at Natick.

“When [researchers] see that you are an NCO, you’re afforded credibility when you walk into a room by nature of your rank,” Adams said. “You bolster that by the way you speak and carry yourself as a professional. We carry ourselves pretty proudly, but we also carry ourselves very professionally, because that’s what they expect from us and that’s what we project.”

Aside from having a group of HRVs under his charge, Master Sgt. Brian David Gemmill, senior NCO of Headquarters Research and Development Detachment at NSRDEC, is on an advisory group and offers a “nonengineering stance” on newly developed equipment. He helps to determine if a new product meets the needs of Soldiers, he said.

“What I try to focus on is working with the acquisition professionals and ensuring that the ideas coming from the field are based off an operational need,” Gemmill said. “Most of these scientists and engineers here haven’t been in the military, so they are working in an academic capacity and they may not understand if the Army or Soldiers are saying, ‘This piece of equipment needs to be improved upon.’ They may not understand the backstory on what the problems are with this piece of equipment, and that’s where myself and these NCOs who have hypothetically carried that piece of equipment can say, ‘Here’s the problem.’

In addition to helping the scientists and engineers in project development, Gemmill said he also trains and continues to develop the Soldiers serving as research volunteers.

“We’re also in charge of maintaining their tactical proficiency while [the volunteers] are here,” Gemmill said. “They’re at Natick for 90 days of research studies, and we want to make sure they are just as proficient when they get to their first duty stations three months later as they were when they graduated [advanced individual training].”

Part of the equation

NCOs are necessary cogs in the machine at Natick, and work collaboratively with the

Sgt. Courtney Williams, left, Aerial Delivery Directorate NCO, and Sgt. Candice Holmes, Personnel Parachute Team subject matter expert, explain an air-drop project they are working on with engineers from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Courtney Williams, left, Aerial Delivery Directorate NCO, and Sgt. Candice Holmes, Personnel Parachute Team subject matter expert, explain an air-drop project they are working on with engineers from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

scientists, engineers and equipment designers to bring projects to fruition. At the Aerial Delivery Directorate at NSRDEC, engineers work side-by-side with NCOs such as Sgt. Courtney Williams, Aerial Delivery Directorate NCO, and Sgt. Candice Holmes, Personnel Parachute Team subject matter expert.

“The most interesting people [we work with] are these guys right here,” said NSRDEC mechanical engineer Marc Tardiff, pointing at Williams and Holmes. “It’s just amazing how helpful they are. We probably pull them in every direction possible, and they still keep coming back for more. … [We appreciate the] knowledge that [NCOs] have, and they get a chance to influence how a project is being developed and created. Then, when they move on to their next assignment, they have that much more knowledge of a particular item and can share it. ”

“In the field, there are a lot of myths about [equipment like parachutes],” Holmes said. “[Soldiers will complain], but they don’t really know the technology and the statistics behind the parachute and how much testing it went through. When I go back into the field [for my next assignment], I can squash those myths and actually show them what I have learned at Natick through the testing and the systems.”

Working at Natick has given NCOs a new appreciation for Army equipment and the people who developed it.

“We have the [military] experience; they are the engineers, they are the designers,” Williams said. “[When you’re using your equipment,] you don’t really realize all the processes it has to go through to get to us [Soldiers]. It takes time, years and years, to get to us.”

“Seeing this side of things, where our parachutes come from, how much testing they go through before they get to the actual units is amazing,” Holmes said.

Broadening their fields

The opportunities for broadening weren’t lost on NCOs such as Williams, who said he appreciated getting cross-trained in his field and learning more about the Personnel Parachute Team while working on new projects.

Staff Sgt. Eric M. Murray, combat arms NCO at Natick Labs, deals exclusively with volunteers, which has afforded him the opportunity to broaden his leadership skills.

“I have been able to develop more of my leadership style because I don’t deal with my actual military occupational specialty as an 11B infantryman on a daily basis,” Murray said. “We get all kinds of Soldiers from all different MOSs. I get to see not just how the 11 bravo world works, but how other branches of the Army work as well.”

NCOs agreed that their experience at Natick, the only active-duty Army installation in New England, has been unique and unparalleled.

“Because I’m also friends with some of the [scientists and engineers who work here], I talk to them and see where some of the products that I have actually worn come from,” Murray said. “I get to see some of the ideas that are going into the future.”

“[Working at Natick] really has recharged my view of what and how broad the military is,” Adams said. “It’s not just the very obvious units out there that are doing great things in the battlefield, but there is an entire infrastructure of civilians, contracting professionals, academia and all the military acquisitions folks here who are all pushing you forward to cross the finish line. A lot of folks sitting in little, tucked-away offices are dedicating themselves to trying to find a new way to create better readiness on battlefields. They are doing amazing things and leaning forward on amazing projects.”

After his experience at Natick, Staff Sgt. William D. Chandler hopes to open other Soldiers’ eyes to the research aspect of the medical field. Chandler is the NCO in charge for the Office of Medical Support and Oversight, USARIEM.

“What being at Natick has done for me is helped me to understand where our military equipment comes from, why we use it and why it was designed,” he said. “When you get to see altitude studies and others like it, it gives you a greater appreciation of why we have a lot of the rules in the Army. If an NCO has an opportunity to come to a military research facility like this, I would say do it because you get to see a side of the Army that hardly anyone gets to see.”