Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the US Army's chief of staff, visited the Natick Soldier Systems Center Friday at the urging of local politicians who are promoting Massachusetts military bases in hopes of garnering federal funds for them.
Odierno's visit to the base, also known as the Natick Army Labs, comes as part of a two-day trip to Massachusetts where he was also slated to visit MIT and Harvard.
During the tour, Odierno said the Natick base -- a research and development facility for soldier uniforms, meals, and any other equipment touching a soldier's work -- proved "critical for our [the Army's] future."
"What they do here is an incredibly important mission to the Army, as they continue to work what I consider to be our center of gravity, which is helping our Soldiers do their job," Odierno said in a statement issued by the Natick base. "The Army is about Soldiers. It's about their ability to perform and conduct their mission... This lab is focused on how they can do that better, how they can do it with less load, how they can do it in an expeditionary manner."
In a statement from the office US Rep. Niki Tsongas, who urged Odierno to visit the Natick base, Governor Deval Patrick said that he appreciated Odierno's visit to Massachusetts, noting that state officials are partnering with the Army to invest in the Natick Army Labs, Fort Devens in central Massachusetts, and the state's National Guard sites.
“Our military bases offer incredible assets, fuel our economy and are an important piece of our national security," Patrick said in the statement.
Odierno oversees the organization, training and equipping of the US Army. He serves as a deputy to the Secretary of the Army, and is a military advisor to the National Security Council, the Secretary of Defense, and President Barack Obama.
During Odierno's tour of the Natick Army Labs, scientists and top officials at the Natick base briefed him on female body armor design, multifunctional fibers, vision protection, and operational energy savings for the Army from research done at Natick.
"All of these things are incredibly efficient as we look ahead, and that's what we need," Odierno said. "Those are the kind of technologies that we need, making our individual Soldier more effective, more efficient, better able to do [the] job."
The Natick Soldier Systems Center is the only active duty research installation in New England and one of only two in the country. The Natick Soldier Systems Center works to provide U.S. soldiers with the best equipment in the world, serving as the Army’s one-stop soldier-support organization responsible for researching, developing, fielding and managing food, clothing, shelters, airdrop systems and soldier support items.
A 2011 report by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute showed that the Natick Soldier Systems Center has 14,504 direct or indirect jobs and an annual economic impact to the Massachusetts economy of $4.41 billion, according to the statement from Tsongas.
Last year, the state also awarded $2.5 million in MassWorks and capital funding, which will create infrastructure improvements for the Natick Army Labs and will also improve the traffic flow along one of Natick’s major roads, Route 27.
Odierno's visit follows the US Air Force's chief of staff, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, visiting the Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford last week. Welsh also toured the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, located near the base, at Tsongas' request as she pushes for $450 million in federal funds to renovate the facility, which specializes in developing long-term defense technology.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org