A Missouri National Guardsman is sharing the experience he gained in Afghanistan in an effort to improve the military’s ability to detect roadside bombs before they go off.

Sergeant David Silas of Jackson returned last winter from a year-long deployment with the 1141st Engineer Company. He and several other soldiers later met with researchers at the U.S. Army Laboratory.

The Huskey Mounted Detection Systems vehicle, as operated by Missouri National Guardsman Sergeant David Silas while deployed in Afghanistan. Photos courtesy of Missouri National Guard.

Branch Chief with the Lab, Doctor Alan Davison, was part of that team. He says Sergeant Silas’ superiors told the researchers, “You gotta meet this soldier. He really is special.” Davison describes the Sergeant as having mastered driving the Husky Mounted Detection Systems: a one-man vehicle that travels at the front of a convoy with equipment to detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but also having developed visual detection techniques.

Sergeant Silas says a Husky operator has to be good at balancing multiple tasks. “They’re looking in front of them looking for all the visual indicators, they’re watching the people, they’re driving the vehicle, they’re talking on the radio, they’re monitoring their technology, looking underneath the ground, they’re looking behind ’em watching for anything hidden behind rocks, the people that are paralleling the convoy and watching us, they’re kinda doing all of this at once.”

He describes the knowledge he is sharing as “…skills that a lot of Huskey drivers don’t get to learn when they get into country,” and have to develop while doing the job.

Sergeant David Silas stands in a hole left by an IED that destroyed a road in the Khost province of Afghanistan. Photos courtesy of Missouri National Guard.

Doctor Davison says the Huskey is a complicated piece of equipment. The Sergeant has helped his team to understand everything an operator must do and interpret, in making snap decisions about potential threats along a convoy route.

With that input, the team is working to develop new training techniques and technology to help the Huskey and its operator work together. “We have an individual that works a model, that looks at the equipment that a soldier has to operate. It helps us understand how much of his resources; his cognitive and visual resources and other resources had to be committed to that machine versus the other tasks that he has to do.” Davison says that information could lead to equipment designs that are less distracting and easier for a soldier to use and interpret.

As his work progresses, the Doctor says a visual detection research project will take place in the second week of December at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.  Soldiers will participate in varying training programs. The ability of those soldiers to detect IEDs will be compared to the ability seen in soldiers who have undergone the standard Army training program, to look for differences and improvements.

Sergeant Silas continues to work with that research team. “To be able to take what little bit of information I learned and begin to pass it on to the next generation of war fighters out there, the next generation of engineers that are truly doing this job day-to-day and they have to make that life-and-death decision in an instant? Yeah, I want to pass this on. I want to teach other people, and that really is what motivated me.”

The Lab has also recommended Silas work with other groups studying route clearance and new equipment development.

AUDIO:  Mike Lear reports – 1:00

AUDIO:  Mike Lear interviews Sergeant David Silas with the Missouri National Guard – 10:51

AUDIO:  Mike Lear interviews Dr. Alan Davison with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory – 11:24