Two National Guard sergeants from Louisiana invented a way to make American forces in Iraq less vulnerable to insurgent hit-and-run tactics. They didn't do it in a laboratory. They did it in the battle zone.
Their invention and nine others were named the Greatest Inventions of 2003 by the Fort Belvoir based U.S. Army Materiel Command last Wednesday at an awards luncheon.
"These inventions here today are what makes us the best in the world," said General Paul Kern, AMC commanding general.
Gathered at the McLean Hilton Hotel were Research and Development teams from a variety of U.S. Army facilities that concentrate 24/7 on developing equipment and firepower to give U.S. soldiers a battlefield advantage. And more importantly, to save their lives in critical situations.
The latter was typified by the "Squad Automatic Weapon [SAW] Pintle Mount Assembly" used on HMMWV vehicles. Attached mid-way between the HMMWV's front and rear doors, the mount allows a SAW to be swiveled in multiple directions from both sides of the vehicle, significantly increasing its firepower.
Sgt. Corbett Reddoch and Sgt. Kenneth Kennedy, members of the Louisiana National Guard, found themselves in Iraq serving as convoy security. "We didn't have any armor. You do have to have something to hold a 50-caliber gun for 800 to 1,200 miles. It gets real heavy," they said.
To solve that problem they designed a mount that allowed the weapon to have a 360-degree fire zone with safety stops that prevented it from swinging fully forward or rearward, thus minimizing the possibility of friendly fire accidents. Additional modifications allow SAW's to be mounted on 50-caliber ring mounts on a variety of military vehicles.
For their invention the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center was recognized as one of AMC's Top 10 award recipients for 2003.
"Soldiers who have this assembly installed on their HMMWV's in Iraq credit them with helping save lives," said General Richard A. Cody, newly nominated U.S. Army vice chief, joining General Kern for the presentations.
To Reddoch and Kennedy it was just a matter of common sense. But they admitted they did get some ribbing from their National Guard Commander upon returning from their 14 month deployment.
"He said he couldn't understand what was so special. We've been shooting out the back of pick up trucks forever in Louisiana," they said.
"These inventions have more than doubled in just the two years we have been holding this ceremony," said Gen. Cody. "This conflict is testing the regular Army, the Reserves and the Guard."
THE FATHER OF two sons also in the U.S. Army who have just returned from duty in Iraq, Gen. Cody added, "They will be going back and we need to give them the best we have. That's what they deserve. Our battlefield deaths in this war are the lowest in history."
Sergeant Greg Binford, who served as the announcer for the awards ceremony noted, "Each of these winners and all those nominated represent the best research and development available for our soldiers." The 10 winners were selected by U.S Army G-3 from 32 nominations submitted by the Army 's Research, Development and Engineering Command.
"Half of our Reserve components and National Guard are involved in this conflict everyday. And all of this work really is making a difference for our soldiers," Gen. Kern said.
To emphasize that fact and to illuminate the point that the research and development is based on practical upfront observations and fact gathering, Gen. Kern asked Sgt. Maj. Enoch Godbolt from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Delphi, Md., to stand and be recognized. Godbolt recently was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained in Iraq while assembling data from field commanders.
"We were out in the field investigating the operations of some new weaponry and what more the commanders needed when we were ambushed," he said. "I was hit in the leg."
Kern has recently been named to head the investigation of alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He will also remain in command of AMC, he verified. When asked about his new role, he replied, "The investigation is already underway."
OTHER WINNERS in the 2003 competition and the U.S. Army Facility Teams responsible for their development were:
*VIRGIL Chest Trauma Training System, Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. It combines a realistic mannequin with a PC based graphical interface to track the internal position of chest darts and chest tubes during training exercises.
*Battlefield Medical Information System, Telemidicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. BMIS-T is a point-of-care handheld "personal assistant" that contains complete medical records, thus giving care providers an all-in-one tool for medical readiness.
*Golden Hour Container, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. A lightweight, reusable container that holds four units of red blood cells at low temperatures for more than 78 hours in harsh environments without batteries, ice or electricity.
*Anti-Tank for Confined Spaces, Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center. The AT4 C5 provides the first large caliber anti-tank weapon capable of firing from an enclosure to support units operating in an urban warfare environment.
*Cartridge 120 mm, XM1028 Canister, Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center. It is the Army's first antipersonnel round to be fired from an Abrams Main Battle Tank. The round expels tungsten balls by high pressure upon firing.
*Anti-personnel Obstacle Breaching System, Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center. An explosive line charge system that allows safe passage through anti- personnel obstacles such as mines, and/or wire obstacles. A self-contained system light enough to be carried by two outfitted soldiers and deployed in minutes.
*Agentase Nerve Agent Sensor, U.S. Army Research Laboratory. A handheld disposable advanced chemical sensor for the detection of nerve agents.
*BA-8180/U Zinc-Air Battery, Communications-Electronic Research, Development and Engineering Center. An immediate solution to overcoming the "energy shortfall" of numerous portable devices by the use of vacuum forming techniques.
*Portable Omni-Directional Well Camera System, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. A lightweight, waterproof, battery - powered camera system designed for safer, faster and more efficient inspection of areas that are unfit or unsafe for human inspection.