Commentary

July 18, 2014

Army has ally in Natick lab

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Ash McCall

Secretary of the Army John McHugh, left, learns about the hypobaric chamber at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine during a March 15, 2012, visit to Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts.

Not far outside Boston lies one of the most important facilities in the U.S. Army, the Natick Soldier Systems Center.

The Natick Army Lab, as it’s often called, is the only active duty installation in the New England states, and its mission is singularly important. If a soldier wears it, eats it, sleeps under it or has it airdropped to him, it’s likely to have been researched and developed on this 78-acre campus.

During a recent visit to Natick, I was able to see, first hand, the new technologies that promise to protect soldiers, produce cost savings, improve energy efficiency and help shape the future Army. Their efforts to improve soldier safety are impressive, and the result of an important science and technology partnership with Greater Boston.

In addition to looking at what soldiers wear, eat and carry, I was impressed too by their work in helping the Army more wisely spend every dollar through advancements in energy and conservation that reduce our energy footprint while ensuring vital services. A shower reuse system developed at Natick can reduce water consumption by 9,000 gallons a day per unit — just one of the things that we’re doing in the Afghanistan theater to create savings and reduce risks to soldiers.

For the Army, better preserving and conserving resources isn’t just about saving money, it’s about saving lives.

In World War II, the average daily fuel consumption for an allied soldier was about one gallon. Today, it’s between 15 and 22 gallons per soldier. The good news is that a large chunk of that increase is based on the fact that our soldiers have better and more equipment that is not only making them more effective, but safer as well.

Getting that fuel and water to Soldiers in Afghanistan represents about 70 to 80 percent of ground resupply weight and, statistically, we suffer approximately one casualty for every 46 resupply convoys. Less energy use means fewer convoys, and fewer convoys mean fewer casualties. If we can find ways to better use and conserve our energy sources, we will, quite literally, be saving lives.

The use of renewable energy sources will decrease the Army’s fossil fuel consumption while lowering greenhouse gas emissions and creating a more assured energy supply.

Development of large-scale renewable energy is good for soldiers, communities and the country as a whole, and through the Army’s new Energy Initiatives Office Task Force we believe we can attract and engage private industry in support of our energy needs.

The U.S. Army and the Boston area have a long and rich history together. Indeed, our Army traces its roots to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, when its members appealed to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to assume authority of the New England army.

Congress voted to “adopt” the Boston troops on June 14, 1775, a date we continue to recognize and celebrate as the Army’s official “birthday.”

Through the community’s strength and leadership in science and research — whether at the Army’s own Natick lab or through the support and research of academic institutions such as MIT, Harvard and Tufts — the Army’s future will be as strong as its past. And our soldiers and our nation will be safer and stronger for the effort.




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