BostonBruins.com — On a recent afternoon after practice, Jimmy Hayes and Zach Trotman took a drive to Natick, Mass. to the U.S. Army Natick Solider Research, Development & Engineering Center.
Since 1954, the center — also known as Natick Labs — has followed a mandate: to ensure that American Soldiers are the best fed, best protected and the most highly mobile military in the world.
The Bruins received a firsthand look at this mandate in action.
Upon arrival, there was an obstacle course stretched out on an area of land in front of the buildings that make up the research facilities and test labs. There were tables laid out with military food staples and gear designed by the Center.
Hayes learned how the helmets save lives by preventing shrapnel from cutting through. He tried on the gear — all roughly 90 pounds of it. He was shown lemon poppyseed cake infused with Omega-3 to help with inflammation, caffeinated ration components like gum and beef chews, chocolate energy bars infused with Calcium and Vitamin D to help with stress fractures and injuries, and meals that can withstand even the fiercest of environments.
Athletes aren’t unlike U.S. Army Soldiers in that way, a Soldier explained, needing energy and nourishment to perform at optimal levels. Both are constantly burning calories.
In addition to field feeding and life support systems, NSRDEC’s world-class scientists, engineers, and equipment designers provide American forces with clothing, precision airdrop systems, and ballistic, chemical, and laser protection systems.
Hayes even took a turn going through the obstacle course that tests out the movement of gear in all situations, climbing through a tunnel, up and down stairs and a series of calisthenics.
“The obstacle course was challenging and I was doing it just body weight and those guys are doing it with 90-pound vests on and body armor, so it’s pretty impressive to see,” said Hayes. “I can only imagine how tough it is.”
The Bruins also witnessed the climate control system at work in the lab, seeing a chamber that can go well below freezing and also well into the 100s heat-wise, to mimic the various climates that Soldiers could find themselves in.
Hayes received some motivation from the Soldiers at NSRDEC as he jogged on the treadmill that helps research agility in the gear under different atmospheric circumstances.
He and Trotman saw more technology at work at they were taken on a tour, seeing how Natick Labs dedicates its time to the “science behind the soldier.”
“That was a lot of fun — it’s always nice to go to a facility where they’re training to protect us and serve us every day,” said Hayes. “And to see the technology and what they go through is truly amazing, some of the stuff that they’re using and continuing to develop.”
“I’m very appreciative of the military,” Hayes went on. “I have lots of friends in the military and if it wasn’t for them… they’re out there protecting and putting their lives on the line every single day.”
Hayes and Trotman took the appreciation one step further than just speaking it — both Bruins, along with teammates Torey Krug, Brad Marchand, Kevan Miller and David Krejci, all donated $15,000 worth of tickets to local military members and their families for them to attend the Bruins/ Avalanche game at TD Garden on Nov. 12 and meet them afterwards.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s such a small, little thing, but it’s nice to be able to do something at least to give back and show my appreciation for them,” said Trotman.
In conjunction with the ticket donations, the Bruins hosted Military Appreciation Night on Nov. 12, honoring all veterans and those currently serving in the armed forces.
The entire Bruins team wore camouflaged Spoked-B jerseys for warm-ups and camouflaged stick tape during the game to show their support. Military members in attendance and their families are being honored throughout the game. The Bruins Foundation 50/50 Raffle will benefit the New England Warriors Sled Hockey Team, while entrance donations will support Operation Delta Dog, whose mission is to rescue homeless dogs from Massachusetts shelters as well as breed-rescue groups and then in turn, trains them to work as service dogs with local veterans who are suffering with TBI and PTSD.
The appreciation from the players extends far beyond the night, however.
“I’ve always had a great appreciation for all of our military members,” said Trotman. “It’s nice to be able to spend some time with them and be able to meet them, and it’s cool to see them get excited and enjoy watching the games. Obviously we wouldn’t be able to do the things that we do and play hockey and enjoy all of those small things if it wasn’t for them.”