U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: January 24, 2001
Civilians see from a "Soldier" Perspective
Although it was called the "summer phase," Phil Gibson shivered on many days of wind-driven snow and sleet at the Vermont Army Reserve and National Guard Mountain Warfare School, Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho, Vt., last October.
Gibson, a materials research engineer at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick), participated in the two-week course as part of Scientists and Engineers Field Experience With Soldiers (SEFEWS), which is coordinated by the Operational Forces Interface Group (OFIG) at the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM).
SEFEWS is a voluntary program that gives U.S. Army Materiel Command engineers, scientists, technicians and other employees with a "foxhole-level" perspective by permitting them to live, eat and work alongside soldiers in an active Army unit engaged during a field training exercise.
"We want to give them a feeling for what the soldier does, his requirements and limitations," said John Lupien, SEFEWS coordinator at OFIG.
"Civilians I think are isolated from daily contact with soldiers," Gibson said, who researches ways to improve cold weather and chemical biological protective clothing. "These trips keep you motivated, they re-energize you. I think everybody should do something like this, particularly people like me in a lab doing basic research."
Civilians participate as part of the unit or class for a period of 10-14 days. They get the opportunity to discuss problems and ideas that the soldiers have with equipment they are currently issued.
SEFEWS is different from the Greening program. Greening allows the project officers and scientists who cannot participate in the SEFEWS program to gain field experience with soldiers. Greening reduces the amount of time the employees are away from their office.
Unlike SEFEWS, Greening is SBCCOM-controlled, requires no medical screening or physical fitness test, and allows the individual to work with and observe more than one unit during their training time. An OFIG enlisted leader is on-site to escort Greening personnel, assist in training and answer questions.
"Greening is a walk in the park compared to (SEFEWS)," Lupien said.
Gibson has participated in SEFEWS with Fort Lewis, Wash., soldiers at the Yakima Training Center who were conducting mechanized infantry training, but said he liked his trip to Vermont much more because the activity was nonstop each day.
"A school is organized and programmed. It provided continuous activity and interaction with soldiers," he said. "You get a lot more out of it and still get to see and experience the equipment."
The course trains soldiers on mountaineering and consists of daily mountain walks up to the training sites, loaded with a full rucksack. Soldiers climb up and rappel down mountains, tie rope systems to make bridges, navigate the land by day and night, and learn how to care for and evacuate casualties.
During the two-week winter phase, students are introduced to ice climbing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in mountainous terrain.
"I was really impressed with the soldiers," he said, noting that most of them were infantrymen or Special Forces troops. "They're really glad to see civilians there and to have someone to talk to about their equipment."
Through the wind, cold temperatures and precipitation, Gibson said they didn't complain or lose their spirit, and they exhibited teamwork in all their tasks.
In his class, 33 out of 44 attendees graduated. Nearly half of the failures were from physical ailments; the remaining soldiers were academic failures.
Lauren Milch, a food technologist at the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Program, attended the summer phase in 1995.
"I found it extremely rewarding to finish the school," said Milch, who is part of the Equipment and Energy Team. "(The experience) helped me develop better packaging designed for the needs of the soldiers. (SEFEWS) forces you to use your items everyday, and you can't get that any other way than if you're in the military."
Participants dress like the soldiers, using the same helmets, rain gear, uniforms and sleeping bags. Gibson said field-savvy troops knew how to adjust the ALICE pack, which had rubbed a hole into his uniform. They also prepared meals from Meal Ready-to-Eat (MRE) recipes and were aware of new meals soon to be introduced.
Besides gaining an appreciation of soldiering, Gibson learned how various gear performed. He really liked the MREs and Gore-Tex parka. Overall, he said the soldiers liked the clothing, wet-weather gear, rucksacks and food. However, the boots and gloves they used fell out of the comfort zone.
Despite the physical and mental rigors, and often lousy weather, he said it was an experience worth repeating, and he plans on participating in SEFEWS again.
In 1992, the Design Engineers Field Experience With Soldiers (DEFEWS) was renamed Scientists and Engineers Field Experience With Soldiers (SEFEWS), but the emphasis stayed the same.
The Army Materiel Command Field Assistance in Science and Technology (AMC-FAST) manages a program beneficial for employees engaged in or responsible for materiel or weapons research and development. They acquire a first-hand knowledge of the soldier's environment and equipment.
"They'll be treated like a soldier," said John Lupien, the Operational Forces Interface Group representative for the SEFEWS program at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick).
AMC-FAST sends a list of volunteering units representing major Army installations to OFIG, and employees can participate in field training exercises or schools, such as the Mountain Warfare School or Airborne School. Lupien said participants could be exposed to almost anything the Army does.
Among the installations Natick employees have visited for SEFEWS are Fort Knox, Ky.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; the Mountain Warfare School on Jericho, Vt., and Camp LeJeune, N.C., with soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C.
Participants must pass the Army Physical Fitness Test and a medical examination to qualify. OFIG handles all the coordination of what to bring and supplies the necessary field gear.
Dozens of employees have participated over the years, gaining some insight into what it's like to be a member of an Army unit, and taking that knowledge back to the office to design better gear.
Natick is part of the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM). For more information about SBCCOM or the Soldier Systems Center (Natick), please visit our website at http://www.sbccom.army.mil.