Scientists and engineers train like warfighters during annual Operation Tech Warrior event
By Whitney Wetsig, Air Force Research Laboratory
/ Published October 18, 2018
FAIRBORN, Ohio – Twenty-eight men and women from the Air Force Research Laboratory participated in Operation Tech Warrior, a 10-day, 24-hour immersion event sponsored by the Air Force Small Business Innovative Research / Small Business Technology Transfer Program at the National Center for Medical Readiness here from Sept. 18-28.
The NCMR, a training venue for emergency first responders, transformed into a fully functional deployment environment. Tech Warrior participants stayed on site in bare base conditions and received intense training in field, mobility and combat skills over a span of nearly two weeks.
Participants formed a group known as the Warrior Squadron, which was open to all military and government civilians. Experienced instructors led the squadron through various operations and scenarios designed for military training and field-testing of various warfighting technologies.
The goal is to bring scientists and engineers, closer to the warfighter experience by taking them out of offices and labs and allowing them to experience a realistic military environment. This field insertion provides them with a better idea of how end-users use technology.
“It’s about exposing them to how our warfighters think,” said Kristen Barrera, the exercise director of Operation Tech Warrior. She explained that, “They are building these really cool things, but maybe if they designed [their inventions] just a little bit different, [they] would be more useful in the field.” That is a realization that often occurs during this practical experience, she said.
Barrera, who served as the AFRL lead for the event, is a Senior Research Psychologist in the 711th Human Performance Wing. She manages a portfolio of research efforts within the Airman Systems Directorate.
This year, she organized all aspects of the Tech Warrior training exercise. This is her fourth year supporting the event. In previous years, she served as the logistics, communications, and network lead.
The event offers technology providers, from both AFRL and small businesses, a unique opportunity to demonstrate their devices and collect data based on experiments with end users.
“The warriors were able to really use [these devices], get their hands on them, get briefings on them and then provide feedback,” said Barrera. This year, the featured technologies ranged from infrared markers to small-unmanned aircraft systems, to an inflatable boat.
“You name it, they had it out here,” she said.
IR markers, which create secret messages in the dark using the infrared spectrum and night vision devices, drew a great deal of interest.
Ultimately, inventors benefit from end user feedback they gather at this event. In turn, they apply the lessons learned to make improvements.
This year’s squadron training focused on construction, command and control, first aid, rescue operations, perimeter defense, land navigation and orienteering, basic weapons familiarization, driving and convoy operations and disaster response techniques.
“Everything that you see during the event is a real military device,” said Barrera. “The Warriors carry real weapons.”
She explained that staff members have a great deal of responsibility because of the realness of the exercises and the location.
“We are not out on a range or set away from neighborhoods or on base,” she explained. “It is a huge responsibility to ensure not only the safety of the staff, but of the families in the surrounding neighborhoods, Barrera said.
While physical fitness tests are not required for registration, the website advises that participants should be reasonably fit to engage in all activities.
Operation Tech Warrior culminated in a three-day Capstone Field Training Event with integrated technology demonstrations and testing. The Tech Warriors used the skills they developed in training to complete a series of exercises in combat rescue, disaster response and airbase defense.
“To me, Tech Warrior is family,” said Barrera. The event focuses on learning, she said. “You are able to share and be creative, and it’s pretty cool to see [all of this] happen in a short period of time.”