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Engineer endorses Greening Program

In October I had the opportunity to attend a five-day field exercise aptly titled the Greening Program. It was a real eye-opening experience for a civilian and new member of the Natick Soldier Center (NSC) community such as myself.

In mid-July, I began working as a chemical engineer in the Collective Protection Directorate. The ability to research and develop equipment for soldiers is what originally attracted me to join the NSC.

When I heard there was a program that allowed civilians to spend several days in the field living as a soldier would under simulated combat conditions, I knew I had to jump on the opportunity right away. Through contacting the senior enlisted advisor from Operational Forces Interface Group (OFIG), Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Newland, I was placed on a waiting list and eventually selected for the October Greening. It’s not every day an engineer can see where the rubber meets the road.

As a civilian, I had preconceptions of the needs and mentality of the Army’s infantry soldier.

Before participating in the Greening Program, I was under the impression soldiers were hardened annexes of liberty who received the latest in equipment that allowed them to execute their missions and protect our freedom. I believed soldiers could move on a moment’s notice with the swiftness of a New England weather pattern and the effectiveness of an elephant stepping on an ant.

Instead, I learned that an infantry soldier is encumbered by gear, impeded by the load they must carry and demoralized by their footwear. I also learned an infantry soldier is able to break just about any piece of equipment.

The Greening Program was held at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La. Upon arriving at the airport, I was introduced to U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command employees Adam Young and Ron Gamache, who were the other two Greening participants. Corralled into a minivan, we rushed to assemble our gear in hopes of making it into simulated battle zone called the “box” before nightfall.

As we finished assembling our gear, we arrived on base to be issued our Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) and eat our first Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE). The MREs, which are developed at Natick, were surprisingly very good.

After dinner, we became familiar with our gear and how to properly pack a rucksack so that you can retrieve your items in the dark. We then loaded up in a Humvee and proceeded into the box to conduct a bivouac in the vicinity of the friendly troops.

The friendly troops consisted of nearly 1,000 soldiers from the 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) who were conducting a 12-day training exercise at JRTC.

While friendly forces conducted their military maneuvers, a highly disciplined guerilla-style unit named CLF (Cortinian Liberation Forces) played the opposing forces.

We witnessed our first dismounted attack through NVGs shortly after securing our bivouac. As our brains struggled to coordinate the green, depth-perception-impaired view of our surroundings, we stumbled and tripped like a bunch of moose through the woods.

Automatic gunfire rang out as the reality of soldiers trusting their lives to NVGs began to manifest.

My respect for soldiers fighting under night conditions soared as I thought of the possibility of forgetting to replace the batteries in the NVGs.

Over the next few days we had the opportunity to observe and question soldiers from both sides. The one universal thread that ran through their words of wisdom was, “You guys need to build a better boot.”

The need for a better boot became even more apparent on the third day when we conducted a 2.5-mile road march.

The purpose of the road march was to stress the importance of the need for lightweight, functional clothing and equipment.

With a full rucksack, helmet, rubber M-16 and M-40 protective mask, the lesson was quickly learned. As we nursed our feet upon completion of the road march, we began to realize the magnitude of the need for a breathable, waterproof and comfortable boot.

Fortunately, the Army approved a new infantry combat boot in November, already used by the Marine Corps, that has those attributes.

On the second to last day of the Greening Program, we had the opportunity to role-play as civilians on the battlefield in a mock Third World village appropriately named Shughart-Gordon. Shughart-Gordon was designed to simulate the urban warfare nightmare of trying to attack a fortified town, which has entrenched guerrilla fighters living among the civilians.

The dismounted attack by the 101st Airborne occurred over the course of a day and a half with friendly forces breeching the village shortly after midnight.

The Greening Program was an excellent opportunity to learn the importance of the need for lightweight, waterproof, chemical proof, “GI proof” (durable and unbreakable) equipment firsthand.

I believe the opportunity to use the equipment we are trying to improve upon, under field conditions while interacting with soldiers, is vital to our ability to give the soldier our best possible product.

I highly recommend this program to the entire work force and encourage everyone to at the very least consider the opportunity.

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