Through an education partnership between Vanderbilt University, the Rakkasans now work together with researchers to discuss innovations for field training and operations during deployment.

Army Futures Command and Vanderbilt University signed an education partnership agreement in April 2019, establishing a model that expands opportunities for collaboration between Soldiers and university-based researchers who work in the research, design, development and application of solutions that will enhance the nation’s security, economy and general warfare.

After the agreement was signed, 3rd Brigade Combat Team initiated communication with Vanderbilt University to become part of this collaborative process.

“We sprinted at the opportunity to collaborate with Vanderbilt, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Munoz, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), brigade innovation officer. Col. John “Cogbill [former 3rd BCT commander] pushed heavily. He was one of the major stakeholders in the EPA agreement being signed.”

This put 3rd BCT first in line to start collaborating with Vanderbilt, Munoz said. “Innovation is very important to the Rakkasans, we want to push great ideas to the field.”

The collaboration is all about improving the way Soldiers execute their missions. By observing that process researchers develop innovative approaches to that end, he said.

“It flexes the innovation in Soldiers,” Munoz said. “Every Soldier has good ideas, they have thoughts on more impactful ideas to make things better or more efficient.”

The partnership works because Vanderbilt University has world-class experts open to Soldiers’ ideas, he said.

“Ultimately this leads up to more efficient measures to the training the Soldiers are conducting,” Munoz said. “Everything funnels to impact mission readiness, where we have Soldiers with innovative solutions working with Vanderbilt researchers to use data and discussions to turn their ideas into reality.”

The partnership also promotes greater understanding between the national security and academic communities and enhances knowledge transfer between both parties. Additionally, it increases the educational opportunities for military and civilian scholars.

“I’ve been interacting with the Rakkasans since the summer of 2018,” said Kevin Galloway, director of making at The Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s innovation center, and research assistant professor in mechanical engineering. “Initially, I was explaining the 3D printing process and how it can be used to support operational readiness. That’s really how it got started, we were throwing out a bunch of ideas. We’ve been building up a lot of interest at Vanderbilt and trying to pull together a bunch of different backgrounds of researchers and their expertise.”

Galloway said they began to look at the field litter ambulance, FLA, and how they could streamline and improve the methods of operation in the field and downrange.

Select members of a Vanderbilt research team attended C Company, 626th Brigade Support Battalion’s field training exercise to observe a Role II medical company in action. The researchers initially focused on evaluating the M997 FLA patient loading pulley system and automated medical recording procedures (casualty feeder card).

“The FLA was mentioned as an area where innovation could be needed,” Galloway said. “This trip was a needs-finding visit, this is where innovation starts. It starts with seeing, interviewing and watching how things get done. By taking things we observe to the innovation space, we can better solve the challenges identified.”

The Soldiers were excited to share their methods and also point out how their equipment could be improved to better treat casualties.

“The reason I was most excited about having the researchers come in, was showing them our methods,” Staff Sgt. Timothy Hansen said. “They don’t always see the scenario we are seeing, the real blood, real pain, in combat scenarios. The urgency, managing your adrenaline, everything we deal with.”

The researchers observed a simulated combat MEDEVAC and how Soldiers treat patients with combat injuries. The researchers also saw how Soldiers operate in a variety of conditions, as it was pouring rain and muddy during the exercise.

“I was really impressed,” Galloway said. “I really like it when we have these extreme conditions. If it had been a nice warm sunny day, you wouldn’t see the extent of what they do. When you see Soldiers working in extreme conditions, where things are muddy and raining, and how they still get things done, that’s where you can accurately see opportunities for innovation.”

Hansen and the other Soldiers appreciated the opportunity to trade knowledge and ideas with the Vanderbilt researchers.

“There are a lot of things we don’t know and there are a lot of things they don’t know,” Hansen said. “When we share knowledge, it gives people time to research and to develop these products and improvements for us to employ. This is firsthand knowledge to come here and see it and actually go back and think about it and help us progress as a whole.”

The Rakkasans also showed the researchers their equipment, discussing their likes and dislikes and what areas could use improvement.

“It helped us break down our processes more,” Hansen said. “We all saw the flow from when a patient comes here to us to when they leave here. Having the researchers here brought a civilian perspective of how they do things and the ways they can help us improve our processes. It also teaches them about the military side of things and how we go about taking care of our patients.”

The Rakkasans and Vanderbilt researchers also held a question and answer session, during which they discussed their findings and consulted with each other about processes that need improvement or more research.

“As a team, it also helped us cross concerns among ourselves,” Hansen said. “There are some things that I might see working, like on the trucks that may not be something someone else might be having trouble or concerns about. When we do this, it ultimately helps us figure out where we need help.”

With the first observations completed, the Vanderbilt researchers and Rakkasans will meet again in a few weeks to continue their discussion of findings and ideas from their meet-up in the field to create a plan for developing and implementing their innovative ideas.

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