ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Dec. 4, 2014) – Thirty-one civilian employees experienced the “opportunity of a lifetime” when they attended the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Greening Course that was held in late October at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and the surrounding area.
The semiannual 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.
Participants came from throughout U.S. Army Research Laboratory, known as ARL, to include Aberdeen Proving Ground and Adelphi, Maryland; the Army Research Office in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; the Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith Simulation and Training Technology Center, in Orlando, Florida; and White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico.
Throughout the five-day course, participants awoke early to morning physical-fitness training, known in the Army as PT, and then a quick breakfast to get their bodies fueled for the day. Then they lined up for the daily accountability formation to ensure all were accounted for, and then they were off to scheduled activities that included basic Army knowledge classes; marksmanship; assembling and disassembling military weapons; Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer, at the Gunpowder Falls training facility; obstacle-course activities; weapons training; Aberdeen Test Center’s vehicle displays; and shooting weapons at the small-arms range. On the final day of training, they 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. Several of the participants had plenty to say about their experiences.
“The course was exceptional; nothing will ever top cruising in a Black Hawk 10 feet off of the Chesapeake. Most importantly though, since the week-long course was run by Soldiers — all with more than 15 years’ experience — we had a unique opportunity to learn from their experiences over multiple deployments in all areas of the world,” said Mark Griep, researcher at ARL’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate. “Given the week to connect with the Soldiers and having ‘wide-open’ question and answer sessions, we were able to delve into all aspects of the Soldier’s life and perspectives ranging from technological needs/current hindrances to where they would like to see the Army of the future. [I] wish we could do it again.”
In addition to the participants learning about Soldiers’ experiences, the Black Hawk helicopter ride was something many had never had experienced before.
“The ARL Greening Course reminded me just how much I appreciate the personal sacrifices our Soldiers make on a daily basis for our country. I especially enjoyed hearing the NCO’s perspectives on current and past events related to the working environment,” said Natalie Simon, human-capital advisor for ARL’s laboratory operations. “Hands down, my favorite activity was the Black Hawk helicopter ride; it made the 5:15 a.m. PT worth it.”
Many echoed the Black Hawk experience, but just as importantly was the opportunity to interact with the Soldiers with whom they are supporting through their research.
“All of the instruction/demonstration was amazing. I even enjoyed the PT. But, I think that the highlight of last week was the interaction with the Soldiers,” said Larry Holmes, a researcher at WMRD. “They were extremely knowledgeable and offered a lot of insight that I will use in my mission planning. I lead some ARL mission activities in advanced manufacturing, and my priority is to get the best available tools to the Warfighter. While I am dedicated to this, and while it sounds good, the truth is that we [scientists and engineers] have limited interaction with the end-users [Soldiers].
“Just one week of interaction during the Greening Course has changed my outlook on several topics,” Holmes continued. “I already talked with my branch chief about this course. It is a shame that it is only offered once in our career. I think it would be a great idea to have annual workshops with Soldiers … classroom- or roundtable-type environments that may provide focus to our individual research.”
Participants said they want to take what they learned during the course to the workplace to help develop better products for Service members.
“Overall, the Greening Course was a phenomenal experience,” said Ashley Foots, with the Human Research and Engineering Directorate. “The Black Hawk helicopter ride was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Greening Course has provided me with a better understanding of our Soldiers.
“As an audiologist, I think hearing conservation is very important and hearing protection should be utilized in noisy situations,” she said. “During the Greening Course, I discovered that Soldiers are responsible for so much gear, and although for me hearing protection is top priority, for the Soldier, it is just one piece of a kit that ensures their safety.”
Foots also went on the say that Sgt. Maj. Christopher Harris taught her that good leaders lead by example.
“I realized the power of this statement when he led our group in physical training one morning. He did not tell us to do five push-ups and five sit-ups, then stand back and watch; he did them with us,” said Foots, who had the opportunity to serve as a squad leader in the course. Because of this, Foots said, she got to lead by example, completing the obstacle course first for her squad.
Developing capabilities to improve Soldier’s effectiveness was on the mind of many of the participants.
“The week-long training provided a unique opportunity to interact with NCOs and the occasion to become familiar with combat vehicles, [helicopters], weapons (the M249 and M4), protective body armor, MREs [meals, ready-to-eat], and the Army’s PT (including jujitsu),” said Mulugeta Haile, from ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate. “Understanding the day-to-day challenges and hostile environment Soldiers endure has provided me insight into developing advanced and unique capabilities that will further improve the effectiveness of our Soldiers.”
The Greening Course gave some participants firsthand military experiences that they were unfamiliar with.
“The ARL Greening Course was an amazing, once-in-a lifetime experience for me,” said Bryn Adams, biologist for ARL’s Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate. “Coming from a background with little-to-no military connections, I really had no idea what to expect. Through this experience, I gained a deep appreciation for the Soldier, who they are, what is expected of them and the jobs they must perform. I left the Greening Course feeling actually connected to the Army mission for the first time.
“I also had a great time, even with the mandatory 5 a.m. PT,” Adams said. “My favorite part, without a doubt, was the Black Hawk helicopter ride. It was my first time in a helicopter, and to be flying low over the water in a Black Hawk and see three bald eagles fly by was the most incredible experience. It was a pretty grueling week, but one I would do again if I could and would highly recommend to everyone. I consider myself very lucky to have had this opportunity and it has given me another level of passion for the research I do here at ARL.”
Scott Ososky, a research scientist at the Simulation and Training Technology Center, echoed the sentiments of many participants and found the experience rewarding.
“The Greening Course was an excellent experience,” Ososky said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I found that it was rewarding in ways that I could not have anticipated. Of course, the Black Hawk helicopter ride and weapons training were once-in-a lifetime experiences; though I found the obstacle course to be a personal highlight of the course. With the encouragement and support of my ‘squad’ and the NCOs, I found myself overcoming figurative and literal obstacles I would have otherwise never attempted.
“I learned that this sense of teamwork and support is really at the heart of the relationships within and between the Soldiers and civilians,” said Ososky. “Our collective success is dependent upon these ideas of teamwork and support, and acknowledging the importance of every person’s contributions within the Army. I consider myself fortunate to have met someone as charismatic and kind as Sgt. Maj. Harris, and I acknowledge and very much appreciate the time and effort put forth by all of the NCOs in organizing and facilitating the course.”
Sgt. 1st Class German Sanchez, ARL’s training operations NCO, was responsible for arranging many of the course activities. He said the participants were outstanding, and that they surprised him throughout the week.
“For myself and my team, I think this has been one of the most outstanding groups of [Department of the Army Civilians] that we have had the pleasure to train during the Greening Course,” Sanchez said. “During every event that we had for them, especially the obstacle course, which, by the way, I thought a lot of the participants were not going to do; they all proved me wrong. They were very motivated throughout the entire course. Whether we were running around the obstacle course, standing in the rain looking at the static display of vehicles, or conducting weapons training while it was raining and cold, which I also thought was great, because a lot of times the Soldiers go to the range and conduct training under these circumstances or sometimes worse, they were outstanding,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said getting everything organized for the course logistically was sometimes challenging.
“We had NCOs who came from Orlando, Florida, and White Sands, New Mexico, to be course instructors, which made it challenging since we are spread all over the place. We had to go to different locations to coordinate for air at Edgewood, [Central Issue Facility] at Fort Myers, Virginia, and the obstacles course/simulators at Gunpowder Falls. The small-arms range took a little extra coordination with the Aberdeen Test Center, but thanks to the support of Steven Hornbach (ARL’s operations specialist), the team was able to make it work.”
Griep shared a quote by Theodore von Kármán that he said seemed very relevant to his experience with the Greening Course. He also said it seemed to sum up the point of the Greening Course pretty well:
“Scientific results cannot be used efficiently by Soldiers who have no understanding of them, and scientists cannot produce results useful for warfare without an understanding of the operations.” Theodore von Kármán (1881-1963)