Tech Warrior participants arrive untested on the battlefield; leave as technological warriors
By Bryan Ripple , 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs / Published September 17, 2015
FAIRBORN, Ohio - --
There is an old saying that "If you want to understand why someone thinks or acts the way they do, try walking a mile in their shoes." The Air Force Research Laboratory's Tech Warrior 2015 exercise held Sept. 9-17 at Wright State University's National Center for Medical Readiness (NCMR) in Fairborn, Ohio provided about 200 military and civilian personnel the chance to do exactly that.
The shoes they were trying to fill were actually combat boots-those of Airmen deployed to a bare base forward operating location as part of a wartime exercise scenario carefully scripted to provide realistic events through the knowledge and experience of seasoned staff members with who have completed multiple overseas deployments. Subject matter experts such as Army National Guard Lt. Col. James Eriksen, himself an Army Ranger was on the scene providing valuable combat skills training. For the exercise participants, most of whom were research scientists and engineers who normally work in laboratory settings developing technologies for use on the battlefield, in the skies over them, or in the cyber domain, the event provided valuable experience in a simulated operational environment that will help shape future ways of thinking about new technologies developed for the battlefield Airman.
Wearing Airman Battle Uniforms, helmets, Kevlar vests, and carrying M-16 rifles and chemical protective ensembles, the exercise participants arrived at the dusty field at the NCMR, known as Calamityville, and soon built the site into a base camp with defendable entry control points located on the perimeter in an effort to provide them a better understanding of what service members experience in combat.
Participants were divided into a warrior squadron and a technology squadron with both teams integrated into the exercise scenarios. The event provided an excellent opportunity for AFRL scientists and engineers to test, experiment, conduct data collection, insert, and demonstrate state-of-the-art warfighting technologies in a realistic operational environment.
Warrior squadron members completed a number of training modules including mounted and dismount tactics, first aide, base defense, and disaster recovery prior to a 48-hour capstone activity that challenged members to integrate their newly learned skills during increasingly realistic scenarios.
New technologies such as the BioStampRC Wearable Sensing Platform utilized an easily worn patch that provided long-term human performance monitoring and reliable data for biomedical research. Another technology involved the use of video cameras placed around the camp to collect intelligence information that analysts used and provided to defenders in the field real time. Some embedded cadre members also tested and provided feedback for augmented-reality glasses that superimposed symbols and identified where they were in relation to threats.
Maj. Jared Ekholm, Warrior Squadron commander said, "It's been a great opportunity to have our scientists and engineers and some of the junior people of AFRL come out and get some real world operational experience and take those experiences back and make sure the technologies that we're developing better fit the needs of our warfighters."
2nd Lt Carlos Bonano, from the 711th Human Performance Wing, said he's never been on a deployment before, and added "We got to see a lot of what the people down range experience, including their living conditions. It gave us good ideas about how to potentially better our research to make their lives a little easier."
Joel Moore, a computer scientist from AFRL's Information Directorate in Rome N.Y., said "This has been an excellent experience, especially for the younger officers in the lab environment because they don't have the opportunity to do field training like this."
As the senior Air Force Reserve Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) for AFRL headquarters, Lt. Col. David Shahady has been the Tech Warrior commander since 2011. He is also a civilian employee at AFRL and is the branch chief with the Human Analyst Augmentation Branch at the 711th Human Performance Wing. He also learned something during the exercise.
"The biggest lesson I learned is to never underestimate what an individual is capable of doing when they're passionate about it. It warms my heart to see someone with no experience in a particular area jump in and thrive in the environment while saying "I'm going to learn and do this job to the very best of my ability,"" he said.
According to Shahady, initial planning is already being done for next year's iteration of Tech Warrior.
"We created a great model for this exercise and what I think is good about it is that it is scalable. We can add more sites, more types of scenarios, we can have more people at more locations doing various different things and the exercise could actually grow. From a technologist perspective, it's very important that we maintain the flexibility that sparks innovation. As long as we stay within the bounds of safety and security, I think the growth of the exercise is only bound by our imagination," he said.
Participants and supporters this year also included personnel from the 88th Air Base Wing, Wright State University, NCMR, the Ohio Army and Air National Guard, and Sinclair Community College.
"The participants arrived here as engineers and scientists and I hope that they left as technological warriors, and always look at new technology from a warrior's perspective," Shahady said. After walking several miles in the shoes of today's battlefield Airmen during Tech Warrior 2015, they should be able to do just that.