Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Marine Reservist Uses Science to Defeat IEDs

As a "Warrior Citizen" or member of the reserve forces of the United States, I have been proud to serve my country as both an Army warrior and as a police officer "warrior" on the street.

During my time in the military, I have also had the pleasure of working with reservists and/or National Guardsmen from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. All are dedicated professionals who have TWO jobs - civilian and military.

This story from the Boston Globe tells a great story of a Marine reservist whose civilian talents helped develop a system to detect IEDs before they could hurt our troops:

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Boston Globe
September 10, 2008

Reservist's Science Talent Lights Safer Way In Iraq

By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff

For seven months, Marine Sergeant Jason Cox patrolled near Fallujah, Iraq, from the turret of a Humvee, a gunner for a squad whose greatest fear was the unseen. Roadside bombs were the gravest threat, and often went undetected until it was too late.

So Cox, a graduate student in chemistry at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, put his scientific background to the test, designing a groundbreaking device that used infrared imaging to detect improvised explosives from a safer distance. With the help of other members of his unit, Cox worked during his few off-hours to modify existing thermal-imaging equipment to identify specific light characteristics, then tested the technique on patrols.

Able to identify remotely detonated devices from more than 200 yards, Cox's system proved an immediate success and marked a critical advance against the bombs. Cox's research, conducted during his tour in 2006, has now spurred the Marines to purchase new detection technology that incorporates Cox's findings.

Cox, a five-year reservist in the Marine Corps and a Worcester resident, was recently honored for his work with the US Navy and Marine Co rps Achievement Medal. The award recognizes Cox's "initiative, perseverance, and total dedication to duty," which honored "the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."

Cox, a 27-year-old who returned in 2006 after his tour and is researching pharmaceuticals at WPI, said his brainstorm was born of intuition and necessity. "This particular threat was very dangerous, and infrared and night goggles couldn't see it," he said, describing a specific type of explosive widely used against American troops at the time in and around Fallujah. "I became curious if there was another way to image things, and we found a way to make them really stand out."

The device allows military personnel to locate roadside bombs' triggering systems, which are almost impossible to see with the naked eye or other imaging techniques, by recognizing differences in thermal expansion, or how materials swell when heated. The technique is mainly used at night.

Cox's breakthrough earned him instant popularity among his fellow Marines, as well as some good-natured mockery of his bookish leanings. But Cox said he has been touched by the military's gratitude and takes great pride in helping protect other service members.

His platoon commander, Staff Sergeant Chris Singley, said Cox's system is used throughout Iraq and has doubtlessly saved lives.

"The biggest thing he did is create standoff distance," Singley said. "Instead of seeing it at the last minute, we were able to have some warning."

For his thesis adviser, Venkat Thalladi, Cox's discovery showed the value of scientific expertise on the front lines. Cox's work paid immediate dividends, he said.

"With pharmaceuticals, it could be one year, two years, or 10. There's no way to tell," said Thalladi, an assistant chemistry professor. "Here is a person who with simple deductive logic saved lives in real time."

Cox, who grew up in Southborough, received his bachelor's degree in 2005 and had entered graduate school when his unit was deployed to Iraq. Upon his return, he resumed his studies and is working toward his degree while serving in the reserves.

Like many who serve in combat, Cox struggled with the transition back to civilian life. For a time he drank heavily, he said, and last December was charged with assault and battery for his involvement in a bar fight. The charges were continued without a finding and will be dismissed if he stays out of trouble, Cox said.

He said he has worked to help other returning veterans adjust to the home front. While he deeply regrets what happened, Cox said the incident also provided a wake-up call.

"That was a silver lining," he said. "I realized I had a problem."

Married with a 4-month-old daughter, he is savoring life at home, but would proudly serve a second tour. "I enjoy working in the lab," he said. "But I enjoy being a Marine equally."

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America could never fight or win any war without the courage and dedication of its Warrior Citizens.

Charles M. Grist

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