Saturday, November 16, 2013

How Scientist Soldiers Are Directly Aiding Overseas Military Efforts

Although most people think of scientists as people in lab coats working in University labs and teaching college courses, scientists overall apply their skills to a wide range of jobs and careers.  One of those careers I, and probably most people, don't often associate with scientists is that of a soldier.  Although we don't hear about them much, soldier-scientists are playing important roles in the US military efforts overseas.  Science recently published a relatively brief article about soldier-scientists in Afghanistan, and specifically the experiences of Dr. Alexander Stewart, a glacier morphologist and soldier-scientist of the U.S. Army’s 143rd Infantry Detachment.  Here I am going to just briefly highlight some of the points I found interesting, and bring up some discussion points that I think are worth talking about.  The citation for the article can be found in my works cited, and it is definitely worth a read.

Alexander Stewart (Geologist) examining a repaired wall
at the Band-e Sultan Dam in Ghanzi.  Taken from ref [1].
As many of us are probably already aware, the war in Afghanistan has required enormous combat efforts, but has also required a focus on teaching Afghan citizens and helping them rely more on their government and less on the Taliban.  While this has been done in many different ways, one of the approaches has incorporated the expertise of PhD scientists.  The soldier-scientists advise military leaders, as well as aid Afghan citizens in building and farming projects, projects for promoting education, and projects involving climate research.  According to the article (quoting Stewart), this is the first time soldier scientists have been deployed in noncombat missions in a war zone.  

While this unprecedented approach to fighting is proving to be valuable, it is has not been without tragic cost.  As is explained in the article, while these are noncombat missions, they are still done in war zones, they are very dangerous, and soldier scientists have lost their lives.

These military efforts of incorporating soldier-scientists in noncombat missions has not been without controversy.  Some people disagree with these projects, even claiming those involved are are "weaponizing geology".  I am certainly not an expert on this topic, but I think that these efforts of soldier-scientists are going to continue to be valuable in promoting and preserving peace in Afghanistan.  The improvement of the Afghan education system and farming/construction efforts is a valuable and noble cause, and even seems to be in line the goals of the US Peace Corps, which is cool.  This being said, I am just skimming the surface of a very interesting conversation point, and would love to hear what you think.  Do you agree or disagree with the efforts of soldier-scientists in noncombat missions in Afghanistan?  What information am I, or the authors of this Science article, leaving out?  Leave a comment below and I will be interested to hear from you.  This is all interesting to me and I, as well as other readers, would love to learn from you.

Works Cited

1.  Stone, R (2013). Soldier-Scientists Join Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan Science, 342, 682-682 DOI: 10.1126/science.342.6159.682

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