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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: October 29, 2003
No: 03-37

Soldier Systems Center celebrates golden anniversary

NATICK, Mass. -- The Soldier Systems Center celebrated its 50th anniversary with cake, music and stories from the battlefield at a packed Hunter Auditorium Oct. 21.

Kicked off by the singing of the national anthem by Massachusetts State Trooper Sgt. Dan Clark, a prayer by Chap. (Maj.) John Wheatley, installation chaplain, and a few selections from the Massachusetts State Pipes and Drum Corps, the program was a time to reflect on the past, speak about today and look to the future of what started as the Quartermaster Research Laboratory in 1953.

"All of you remain true to your mission-supporting the warfighter. You make our warfighter more efficient, improve the quality of life and indeed, save their lives by the work you do every day," said Col. David Bongi, acting deputy commanding general for operational readiness, Research Development and Engineering Command and installation commander, in his opening remarks.

Lt. Col. Charles Dean, moderator for the event, narrated a brief slide show, highlighting achievements such as food irradiation and improvements made to boots, sprinkled with video clips from former employees discussing their work.

In one video segment, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam recalled how a steel protective plate strapped to his body stopped a .50 caliber bullet, saving his life. In another clip, a former Ranger and Soldier Systems Center employee recounted how his PASGT helmet saved his life while in combat in Panama.

Judging from audience reaction, the stars of the morning were the soldiers invited to give testimonials of how the equipment developed here affected them. Body armor was the common thread.

Sgt. SirVantis Dennis, with 3rd Infantry Division, was struck squarely in the front of his Interceptor Body Armor vest by an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade, causing a bruise the size of the ceramic plate insert tucked inside the vest, while caught in an ambush during fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the same firefight, he was struck again, this time by a rifle round that was stopped by the plate.

"I guarantee you two strikes, and I'm out," Dennis said. "I'd like to thank the Lord and the people who invented this piece of equipment. I'd like to thank you for all that you've done for us."

His tank getting pounded by Iraqis in a separate battle, Sgt. David Dellenbaugh, a gunner also with the 3rd Infantry Division, resorted to leaving the confines of the cabin to return fire.

"There are no right words to say," Dellenbaugh said, who was struck by a rifle round on the outer edge of his protective plate, the vest itself absorbing some of the impact. After discovering he was all right, he kept on firing. "I just want to thank you for saving my life and keeping me in the fight."

Jumping into northern Iraq along with 1,000 fellow soldiers, Pfc. Christopher Taffoya with 173rd Airborne Brigade, 2nd Infantry, 503rd (Airborne) Battalion, benefited from the airdrop mission at the Soldier Systems Center.

On the ground, his unit was tasked with starting a police force. When a grenade exploded nearby during a patrol, he was wounded in the legs but his body armor caught shrapnel in the lower back that would have severely injured or killed him.

The equipment developed here "got me in safely and got me out," Taffoya said.

1st Sgt. Colin Rich, 504th Parachute Infantry, survived a strike in the rear of his MICH helmet from a sniper rifle. He's still suffering from the effects of the injury, but he said he is amazed at how a helmet not designed to stop a large, high-velocity round protected him.

"This facility has a profound impact on everybody in the military," Rich said. "Continue to increase our odds. Continue to make (our advantage) as lopsided as possible."

Dean showed a few animated clips depicting the future, with new and advanced ways to fuel, protect and equip warfighters to provide an overwhelming edge on the battlefield.

"As with any anniversary celebration, we look ahead to the next half century, and the Soldier Systems Center will continue its tradition of excellence in all of our areas," Dean said.

For more information on the Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at

This page last updated on 28 February 2003.