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News | April 12, 2023

With 'Capability Days', USAMRDC charts course for future success

By Ramin A. Khalil U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command

The U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command hosted the second annual Capability Days event from April 4-6 at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The event, designed to spotlight the key roles the command plays in both supporting and expanding the scope of military medicine, attracted more than 200 people from across the U.S. Department of Defense, the larger federal government spectrum and a variety of private sector entities for a sprawling, immersive series of scientific presentations and engaging product demonstrations.

"The purpose of this event is to give everyone a peek into what we've been doing," said Brig. Gen. Tony McQueen, Commanding General of MRDC and Fort Detrick, regarding the overall goal of the event. "One of the key things we try to focus on is to not fight the last conflict. Rather, our goal is to create, develop and acquire tools that will aid us in the next fight, in confronting the next threat."

The main focus of the event was the practical application of MRDC's cumulative efforts, with attendees having the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of current and emerging medical devices and solutions, as well as the acquisition and development pathways of said materiel. Following morning discussions with command leadership – talks focused chiefly on MRDC's goals, reach and impact – attendees were treated to a number of live-action combat scenarios featuring next-generation battlefield medical technologies. One of those scenarios, officially called a "Medic-Robot Teaming" exercise, featured a robot dog – named "Spot" by its developers – working alongside a human Soldier to provide medical care for a battlefield casualty. Later in the program, in a smaller and more personable setting, attendees were given the opportunity to engage with Soldiers and scientists from all seven of MRDC's affiliated laboratories on a number of different topics.

"It's the innovation that's so amazing," said Lt. Col. Jeremy Braswell, chief of the Strategy and Lifecycle Branch at the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency. "In my previous deployments, we were always wondering when we'd get to this level of modernization. Now here we are – I'm watching all this right in front of me."

The concepts of Warfighter protection, performance and resiliency took center stage during the event, with MRDC subject matter experts speaking to attendees about a number of notable and relevant topics, including the importance of injury prevention, breakthroughs in infectious disease research, the impact and benefits of wearable technologies and burgeoning research in the areas of sleep and rest, among numerous others. Additionally, MRDC SMEs were keen to show the specific ways in which their medical portfolios align with updated Army goals for the Force in both 2030 and 2040; plans focused almost exclusively on the execution of future multi-domain operations, an effort defined by the rapid and continuous integration of all domains of warfare. A key part of this strategy involves the development of tougher, more mobile medical materiel that can withstand the rigors of caring for the combat injured on the future battlefield; situations that will likely take place in areas far removed from standard lines of support – meaning individual Warfighter units will need to support injured personnel for longer periods of time between attempted evacuations to higher roles of care. In this space, and especially recently, MRDC has been focusing on the development of tools and technologies that can operate in extreme weather environments.

"I'm extremely impressed with these technologies," said Col. Laura Porter, surgeon general of the U.S. Cyber Command, during the second day of the event. "My specific interest is how all of this technology is integrated – or will be integrated – from a cyber perspective, and how all these tools, combined, can help us accomplish the mission and achieve our goal."

Notably, the event was designed to dedicate a single day to each of MRDC's unique stakeholders – one each for U.S. congressional representatives and staff, DOD personnel and finally industry representatives. In this way, MRDC was able to tailor its messaging and respond more decisively to the needs of each group of attendees. For example, while congressional staffers were introduced to the broader messaging and goals of the command prior to delving into more detailed explanations of various MRDC efforts, DOD personnel were treated to a more robust discussion on both current and future medical research, as well as product acquisition techniques. Additionally, DOD personnel were given a tour of MRDC's U.S. Army Research Institute for Infectious Diseases on the second day of the event, with highlights including access to the Institute's noted biocontainment chambers and, further, a discussion of the importance of medical surveillance as it pertains to potential global virus transmission.

"It's always good to know what's going on and how it affects the broader Force," said Col. Maiya Anderson, chief of Planning and Programming at U.S. Space Command. "Space is – or will be – involved in so much of the communications used in these technologies. In addition, we need to know what medicine looks like in space. In perhaps as little as 25 years, as we put more people into space, we need to be more aware of how people, medicine and that environment interact."

Overall, attendance for the three-day event more than doubled from last year's showing, proving both the audience for MRDC's message and the interest in its sizable capabilities and scientific research portfolios continues to grow.

"From my perspective, this is an incredibly smooth and impactful way of showing all the resident and expeditionary future capabilities that we have here at the command," said Joseph Holland, USAMRDC Deputy to the Commanding General. "At MRDC, we are always looking to the future."