Rapid Equipping Force improves force protection

Photos and story by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg
13th SC(E) public affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — When commanders see a shortcoming in their unit’s capabilities during a time of war, time is of the essence.

“It’s better to have the 70 percent solution quickly, than to have the perfect solution when it is too late to matter,” is the motto of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, said Lt. Col. Donald Phillips, the team chief of REF Forward Iraq, at Victory Base Complex in Baghdad.

Phillips said the REF, out of Fort Belvoir, Va., works to fill capability gaps for units on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing them with commercial and government off-the-shelf products to enhance survivability, improve force protection and increase lethality.

“Our mission is to rapidly provide capabilities to Army forces through current and emerging technology, in order to improve operational effectiveness,” said Phillips, a Kalamazoo, Mich., native.

Phillips said the REF began in 2003 at the direction of the vice chief of staff for the Army. The initial effort was to provide a robot that could investigate the caves of Afghanistan. After the success of the mission, the REF expanded to provide battalion and company-level solutions in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since 2003, the REF has answered the call of Soldiers on the ground, providing necessities including enhanced optical and imaging equipment, and medical equipment. Perhaps the most recognizable piece of equipment the REF has created is the Rhino, a counter-improvised explosive device measure found on almost every Army tactical vehicle.

“All these ideas come from Soldiers,” said Glenn Clark, senior logistics analyst for the REF, out of Joint Base Balad, Iraq. “We just try to make them a reality.”

Not to be confused with the rapid fielding initiative, Phillips said, the REF deals with units at the brigade, battalion and company level, and fabricates and distributes equipment only in limited quantities.

Roughly two weeks ago, REF provided a unit in the 16th Sustainment Brigade with a video and power management system for the PAS-13 thermal imaging sights of the crew-served weapons in their convoy vehicles. Phillips said the original PAS-13 system required Soldiers to keep their faces near the scope of the weapon in order to scan their sectors and the Soldiers were looking for a better option.  That’s when the REF team fabricated a system that put a monitor inside the turret, so gunners could more easily utilize the optics.

“Once it’s developed, the hard part is done,” said Clark, a native of Port Antonio, Jamaica, and retired Army chief warrant officer four.

After the REF provides Soldiers with a limited supply of test units, they look for feedback so they can make improvements and deal with any shortcomings, Clark said.

“The best person to test it is that private who actually has to put it into operation,” he said.

Phillips said units with a request for the REF need to fill out a 10-liner – a request and authorization form similar to the Operational Needs Statement. He said commanders can get the information they need from the REF’s Web site, http://www.ref.army.mil.

“If you need us, we are here,” said Clark.

Clark said the REF comprises experts in engineering, logistics and informational technology, but it is only one part of the solution to enabling the Warfighter.

“The next big idea is going to come from the guy working in the motorpool,” he said.


news photo
A Soldier tests out a PAS-13 thermal imaging monitor, developed by the Army Rapid Equipping Force.
(Courtesy photo)