FORT HOOD, Texas - When Soldiers on the frontlines are in the midst of an operation, the last thing they need to be uncertain about is whether their protective equipment will hamper their combat effectiveness.
Before new equipment gets to the frontlines, it is put to the test by Soldiers.
Company B, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment "Garryowen," 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division partnered with the U.S. Army Operational Test Command to put the Soldier Protection System through its paces here March 10.
When the Army is looking to improve or purchase a piece of gear, it turns to the Army Test and Evaluation Command for a detailed analysis.
Within the organization is the OTC, which performs tests while its partner unit, Army Evaluation Command, collects and analyzes data from the tests and sends it to the Program Executive Office for a decision based on the results.
After the SPS passed the engineer’s test in the labs, OTC had to partner with a unit most qualified to test the gear. OTC funded the unit’s training while the Soldiers wore the body armor and provided candid feedback.
"We are testing new equipment," said Lt. Col. Anthony Gianopulos, senior test officer, maneuver test directorate, OTC. "And if your unit gets tasked, we are helping you augment your training to get more proficient in your battle tasks, while simultaneously you are getting an opportunity to give us direct feedback on a piece of equipment that the Army is considering putting in the inventory."
And the unit jumped at the chance to play a role in the process of fielding new equipment, said Lt. Col. Andrew Watson, commander, 2-7 Cav.
"It’s a great win for the battalion and the brigade, but more importantly [for] our Soldiers," said Watson. "They know that this equipment can go out to their brothers and sisters in uniform, and this is their opportunity to have that voice and tell the Army what works and what doesn’t."
For the tests, OTC wanted the Soldiers to perform the very same training they always do in order to produce accurate data on how the system performs through realistic combat training.
The process began for Garryowen in February, when they were trained on how to properly wear the prototype. Then, they loaded into their tactical vehicles and headed to the field.
Through day and night, rain and shine, the Soldiers trained and tested the durability of the gear, and how it affected their mobility.
"Today was the final situational training exercise of what has been a six-week SPS testing," said Capt. James Flannery, commander, Company B.
At an urban training facility here, Flannery had his unit attack a mock city, find a high value target, and eliminate the enemy. The squads went from room to room, clearing and eliminating enemy combatants while simultaneously performing basic Soldier tasks.
"You don’t know if a piece of equipment is truly effective unless you’re maneuvering under stress or fire, getting down in the prone, conducting individual movement techniques, and firing weapons," said Flannery. "The only way to get a real, realistic test on any piece of equipment that we would use in the Army, is to try to simulate combat situations as closely as possible to what it’ll be in real life."
They maneuvered through the rooms, alleyways and streets as smoke and concussion grenades deployed in close vicinity, while simultaneously firing simulation rounds from their M4 carbines.
Soldiers participating in the testing had a unique opportunity to contribute to the Army’s acquisition process and have their voices heard, while also training on their tactical skill sets, said Staff Sgt. Cesar Serrano, platoon sergeant, Company B., and a Compton, California, native.
"The Soldiers have gotten a lot of great training out of this," said Serrano. "It helps them sharpen their skills for our upcoming events, such as team and squad live-fire exercises. It gave us the time to dedicate to our Soldiers and our training, so we can develop our procedures."
When the unit finished each training exercise, Soldiers were asked for their honest opinions regarding performing with the armor.
"This is definitely equipment that we will be using in the future, if it gets approved," said Serrano. "So… if we don’t give accurate information, we [will] probably have Soldiers in the future wearing armor that doesn’t benefit them and doesn’t provide the ability to do their jobs. So, we have to give 100 percent when we are doing this."