SOMTE: Bridging the Gap Between Laboratory and Field

SSG Hector J. Vega
SOMTE Soldier, Office of the Director, Command Staff Directorate


SOMTE Soldiers are being timed on target acquisition with different optic candidates.

Soldier, Operator, Maintainer, Test and Evaluation--putting theory into practice.

To Soldiers in the field, the priority is, and always will be, the mission. If a piece of equipment helps them to fulfill the mission, it is invaluable; if not, it becomes a burden and is left behind. Therein lies the gap--between the Engineer in the design laboratory and the Soldier in the field.

Engineers design military equipment according to specifications they understand and for the purpose they envision. Soldiers, on the other hand, do not think like engineers. Somehow, the gap between theory and practice must be bridged. Enter the Soldier, Operator, Maintainer, Test and Evaluation, known as SOMTE. These Soldiers have the unique opportunity for hands-on testing of new and improved equipment before it is fielded to the U.S. military. “SOMTEs have an early look at the equipment while changes to the equipment or manuals can be made,” said Michael Singh, test officer in the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC) Warfighter Directorate. Singh added, “Engineers design the equipment in the lab with what they think the warfighter will use, but Soldiers have a different mentality. They are mission oriented.” This real-world experience adds value to any test, as SOMTEs give feedback not only on whether the equipment works, but also on how they would use it in the field.

Each SOMTE belongs to a key military occupational specialty (MOS) from combat arms, such as 11B (Infantry), 19K (Armor Crewmen) or 12B (Combat Engineer), or to combat support 88M (Transportation). Noncommissioned Officer in Charge SFC Thomas Walter manages the ATC SOMTEs, reviews the SOMTE requests and assigns the personnel best fitted to the test. “It really feels like we make a difference,” explains SFC Walter, “but [we] are capable of so much more.” To maintain proficiency in their respective MOS, SOMTEs approach every test as a training exercise. For SFC Walter, the S and T in SOMTE really strike a chord: “We strive to be great Testers, because we are Soldiers and we know that we will be using this equipment in the near future.” As of now, the SOMTE program is small, and scheduling can be a challenge. SFC Walter envisions the SOMTE program growing to support multiple tests with dedicated personnel to provide consistent feedback, similar to military line units.

Whether as a stand-alone program or as an augmentation to an already established test community, SOMTEs are a great asset. The opportunity for Soldiers to give early feedback on new equipment that they themselves may eventually use is critical to its success.