Volunteering as a Human Resource

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I spent some time at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. (about 20 miles due west of Boston) this week, and like any government organization worth its salt they have their own set of acronyms. So if you were not wise in the ways of Natick and I walked into a room and said, "HRV," you would say?

Exactly.

Well, an HRV is a "Human Resource Volunteer." According to the HRV handbook "Soldiers are the key element in research efforts. The results from test conducted by these volunteers determine which items the Army will adopt and how much energy a Soldier will use under various climatic conditions."

In other words, HRVs are guinea pigs -- but they're voluntary guinea pigs . . . unlike, say, the Soldiers who may have been unwittingly used by the U.S. Army for experiments in the past.

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Private Grant Huffman had just finished advanced infantry training and was cooling his heels around Fort Knox waiting to start learning how to drive a tank when the Natick team headed by John Ward, who is an Army vet and former HRV, approached him with their HRV pitch. Huffman was looking for a change of scenery and the idea of participating in studies that might help other Soldiers appealed to him.

Soon enough Huffman found himself walking on a treadmill in a climate chamber in full combat gear with a next-generation pack strapped to his back. Durning the course of testing, the Natick staff might make the treadmill go faster. They might make the chamber hotter . . . then colder. They could pelt Huffman with wind and rain . . . all in the name of making Soldiers safer, more effective, or more lethal.

There have been approximately 3,700 HRVs since the program officially began in 1954. (Obviously there were HRVs before then; those Soldiers just didn't know it.) These days HRVs might test a new uniform item or see what effect a probiotic substance has on their gastrointestinal tract.

But as the HRV handbook states, "[The Natick] program is strickly voluntary. No one does anything he/she doesn't want to. Period."

Plus, Fenway Park is only a short jaunt east on I-90. Who wouldn't risk a little bodily discomfort for that? Okay, maybe a Yankees fan wouldn't, but still . . .

-- Ward

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