FORT BELVOIR, Va. — Secretary of the Army John McHugh spent the afternoon of Jan. 15, getting a first-hand look at the latest and most innovative capabilities being placed in the hands of Soldiers by the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, known as REF, at Fort Belvoir, Va.

“It impresses me every time I have an opportunity to see the novel solutions developed by our Soldiers,” said McHugh. “The Rapid Equipping Force is the tip of the spear for speed and innovation in that regard.”

In a hangar beside the organization’s headquarters building, REF director, Col. Peter A. Newell and his staff walked McHugh through a series of recent and game-changing technologies, ranging from tactical surveillance blimps to traumatic blast sensors.

“The Soldier doesn’t need someone to tell him the problem he’s facing,” Newell said. “He needs someone looking over his shoulder fixing it.”

Based on Soldier-defined priorities, the projects on hand during the visit included improvised explosive detection and reconnaissance in the form of multiple robots, ground-pressure machinery and rocket-launched exploding line charges; tactical ground vehicles for responsive maneuvering; hand-held enemy visualization tools and sensors for understanding the effects of blasts on the human body and vehicle. A recent addition to REF’s repertoire of life-saving Soldier support is its energy to the tactical edge, or E2E, suite of capabilities, which includes hybrid generators, Soldier-worn universal battery chargers, and light-weight mobile solar panels for dismount operations.

“Every great idea we put into the fight demands power,” said Bill Garland, REF’s E2E effort lead. “So we asked the question, ‘What can we do to reduce the energy burden placed on our warfighters?’”

Also during the systems tour, Steven Mapes, the product lead for Soldier power at PEO Soldier, explained to McHugh a project born from a partnership with REF: the Soldier worn Integrated power system. The system alleviates battery load and charging requirements for Soldiers on dismount patrols. These cross-Army partnerships are the lynchpin of REF’s success in fast-action support to ground troops.

“The REF doesn’t do anything in a vacuum,” Newell said. “It’s our partnerships that make us who we are.”

In a briefing following the tour of systems, Newell outlined his vision for REF’s future, which included directly linking Soldiers in the fight to the scientists, engineers and innovators stateside to deliver solutions in real time. Part of that, he explained to the group, will mean making it easier for small businesses and individual inventors to work with the Department of Defense.

“There are so many great ideas floating around out there, but we don’t hear them,” Newell said. “We want to give (industry) an easy way to share ideas.”

After gaining a full-emersion of the REF’s current technologies and future ambitions, McHugh commended the REF and its people for the work done for Soldiers every day.

“It’s clear you make Soldiers’ lives safer, and there’s no doubt that you have saved a lot of lives,” McHugh said. “The challenge we all face now is how do we take what you’ve built, and ensure that this capability continues.”

For additional information about the Rapid Equipping Force, call REF Public Affairs Office at 703-704-9433.