RDECOM prepares S&T advisors for the field
When conflict escalated in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army responded by deploying more Soldiers, as well more experts from the Army’s Field Assistance in Science and Technology, or FAST, program.
Mostly scientists and engineers, FAST advisors are embedded in combatant commands around the world and serve as liaisons between the commands and the thousands of subject matter experts within the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.
To prepare new advisors for their role, RDECOM conducts Orientation and Reach-Back Training, or ORBT, twice each year.
“While newly selected FAST advisors are already experts in some scientific or engineering field, they must be prepared to provide input and advice to commanders on a wide array of areas of research, development and engineering capabilities offered by RDECOM,” said Jim Gibson, director of the FAST program. “To prepare advisors for their role, RDECOM puts them through an intensive three-week long ORBT program.”
Current FAST advisors are located at: U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Forces Korea, U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Army Garrison Japan. As scientists and engineers, FAST advisors have experience in one or more fields, including mechanics, electronics, computer science, physics, chemistry, optics and aerospace design. The assignment as a FAST advisor ranges between two and three years.
Orientation and Reach-Back Training
Eight new S&T advisors attended the most recent ORBT to learn about RDECOM and its full spectrum of capabilities that support Soldiers. While FAST advisors have knowledge in a particular area, the ORBT exposes them to the RDECOM enterprise, and instructs them about areas of research that they aren’t familiar with. In its 14th year, more than 25 teams in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and 35 teams for Operation Enduring Freedom have completed ORBT.
At the ORBT, S&T advisors participate in open-forum discussions with SMEs, and they learn ways to mitigate capability gaps. To kick off this session, Col. Raymond Compton, RDECOM chief of staff, emphasized the Army’s three priorities — readiness, modernization and support to the Warfighter — and how these priorities align with RDECOM’s science and technology efforts.
“Everything that we do within RDECOM has an operational impact on the Warfighter,” said Compton. “We support each mission, which is different, by working together as a team.”
During Army training exercises, FAST advisors see issues that Soldiers experience with equipment and technology in the field. They use this information to query program management offices, SMEs at the Research, Development and Engineering Centers, or RDECs, and industry partners through Requests for Information to expedite potential solutions. For example, nearly 30 RFIs were submitted from a recent training exercise.
“Working through the ORBT program, the science advisors get to meet face to face with SMEs and quick reaction coordinators who will provide reach back support to them once they deploy to support operational units,” said Gibson.
Often, the solution is a prototype developed at a Prototype Integration Facility at one of the RDECs. A prototype offers a quick solution for Soldiers.
During the recent ORBT, FAST advisors visited PIFs at various RDECs and labs within RDECOM. They also learned about RDECOM capabilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Huntsville, Alabama; Detroit, Michigan; Natick, Massachusetts; and Rockaway, New Jersey.
“I now have a better understanding of RDECOM’s support channels, and how they will be able to help me when I begin my assignment as a FAST advisor,” said Maj. Joseph McCarthy, a recent ORBT graduate who begins a three-year assignment as the U.S. Africa Command Fast Advisor in August 2017.
During the training, FAST advisors complete a daily questionnaire that is used to refine the next session’s agenda. The ORBT is updated and adjusted to reflect current technology and changes within the command. At the end of their training, FAST advisors not only have a thorough understanding of RDECOM across the enterprise, but will also have connections with people around the Army who can provide innovative solutions that solve Soldiers’ operational issues.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.