By Christina Hager, WBZ-TV

NATICK (CBS) – Scientists from the Natick Labs took an elaborate field trip to a huge outdoor test lab in the woods Thursday.

“They try to do as much as they can to walk in a soldier’s shoes for a day,” said Cpt. Justin Fitch, an Army Commander who helps researchers test military gear.

The day began at Natick’s Army Soldier Systems Center, where a Black Hawk helicopter picked up the group and took them on a thrill ride to the Fort Devens training ground.

Once there, engineers experienced what it’s like to walk with more than 70 pounds of body armor and backpacks.

“It’s incredibly heavy, and you know we have the soldiers come and tell us how difficult it is for them to carry all this stuff, but it’s really ringing true right now,” said mechanical engineer Karen Horack.

They hiked through the woods, ate MRE’s (meals ready to eat) that Natick Labs created. They sampled self-heating meals like tortellini, cheeseburgers, fajitas, and even cappuccino.

“I saw one person heat up meatballs with the flameless ration heater, put them in a tortilla, and as he bit into it he said, ‘This is just like being in the North End,’” proud food engineer Lauren Oleksyk said. She says the trip inspired her to think about creating meals that can be eaten while moving.

Armor engineer Deana Archambault tried on the bullet-proof vest she help create especially to fit women in combat.

“Female soldiers just had a lot of complaints with rubbing on their hips,” she said. “They were getting bruises.”

There are even larger inventions on display at a Fort Devens base camp, which is made to look like a camp in Afghanistan.

Scientists walked through air-tube tents they helped develop with no metal or wood parts, and portable solar power panels that can be folded and packed away.

It’s the kind of science that only works when those who create it take their work away from the lab… far away.


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