in the workplace

Reservists take up the challenge

12 August 2019 • 5 min reading time

TNO’s reservists roll their sleeves up and do the job. On the payroll of the army, air force, navy or military police, each applies their own specialist knowledge in order to tailor their research to the needs of the men and women of the armed services.

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Operational analist Rudi Gouweleeuw was one of the first TNO experts to join the Royal Netherlands Army on a mission to Afghanistan in 2003. "Our job was to make the mission’s objective of bringing peace and security to the region both concrete and measurable. We analysed what changes needed to be made, if this led to less attacks, and if the attitude of the population towards the military changed. We also wanted to know if the changes could lead to economic growth."

“We used scientific methods and tools,” explains Gouweleeuw. “For example, we used an influence diagram to ascertain which actors played a role and what relationships existed. We also interviewed the soldiers who went on patrol. Our research enabled us to provide advice to the commander and the staff on the likely impact of a particular measure. Should you go west or east? Do you fight or should you build a police station, set up a school or train the armed forces? And how many people do you need to train?”

"It’s easier to understand a country if you have been there yourself. You can use a map to plan a holiday to France, but the country will not come to life until you’ve smelled the Camembert! The same applies to Afghanistan."


Maartje Schuurmans was also an operational analyst in Uruzgan. “It’s easier to understand a country if you have been there yourself. You can use a map to plan a holiday to France, but the country will not come to life until you’ve smelled the Camembert! The same applies to Afghanistan. For example, the sand is so fine that it gets into everything. Your equipment wears out fast, you can’t keep your sunglasses clean and your camera breaks down after three weeks.””

“You can come up with fantastic, intelligent and smart applications, but you also need to understand where and how TNO’s innovations are applied,” adds Roy Mente, who works three days a week as an innovation manager for the Royal Military Police in The Hague. “I became a reservist so that I could better understand the Dutch armed forces. By experiencing how our innovations are tested in real life, I can contribute to improving solutions in the field of cyber and hybrid warfare, for example.”

"Direct contact with the military reveals requirements and solutions to us that we would not otherwise have identified."

Augmented reality

“You cannot ask a soldier to use a mobile device to get information while he is under fire,” says Mente. “If we can provide an alternative interface, for example with augmented reality, we could well solve this particular problem. This is typically the kind of information you can only get in the field. At the same time, direct contact with the military reveals requirements and solutions to us that we would not otherwise have identified, such as the potential of small portable laser weapons for the military police for securing densely urbanized areas.””

“Once when I was outside the camp, on the roof of the governor’s compound, I saw fields where opium was once grown and now potatoes were cultivated,” Schuurmans continues. “I also looked out over the playground of a mixed primary school which the army had helped to establish. There must have been ten kids waiting to use the slide. It showed that the Dutch approach worked: the children were going to school and they were having fun.”

part of the team

“I was really impressed by the way developmet cooperation, Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs worked together,” says Schuurmans. “As reservists, we were full participants in the operations and we really felt like part of the team. This was in part thanks to the eight-week preparatory training we received in the Netherlands, where we got to know each other well during exercises and planning meetings.”

“It was pretty intensive when rockets started to fall on the camp in Uruzgan," Gouweleeuw looks back. "We were fully kitted out (in combat gear and armed) and assigned to the quick reaction force and we had to do guard duty at night. At times like these you’re treated just like an ordinary soldier. So it’s a good thing that we get repeat basic military training every year on the shooting range and in the gas mask exercise room."

New operational concepts

Schuurmans is currently helping the army to test new operational concepts. ‘We are helping to design these concepts and integrate them in the existing exercise and training programme. This involves determining which variables to measure and analysing the consequences for logistical and planning processes or in the event of an attack. We want to know under what conditions a unit will operate more effectively and how to measure if this is the case. We attend workgroup meetings at the army base one day a week, and this autumn we will be participating in an exercise in Germany.”

“But reservists are not only operational analysts or innovation managers," says Gouweleeuw. "For example, one of our colleagues works one day a week as a scientific advisor to the Air Force. Another controls shipping traffic during naval exercises and operations and yet another is advising the army on roadside bombs. We are all only too happy to apply our TNO expertise for the benefit of the Ministry of Defence."

added value

Gouweleeuw can recommend joining the reservists. "It brings added value, and if your are sent on a mission it will really give a boost to your personal development. You learn how to prepare presentations and write reports under tight deadlines, how to work in a team, how to handle working long hours and how to do things in a different culture. In addition to your personal development, you will also learn a lot of things that you can apply to your work at TNO. TNO recognizes this and so fully facilitates reservists with special terms of employment."

“The Ministry of Defence and TNO share a history of more than 70 years and both have benefited from the partnership," concludes Mente. "We see that TNO’s reservists often take up consultancy roles at the interface between the Ministry and TNO, or as programme manager or project leader. They are able to bring the two organizations together, whatever the field of study. The more we commit ourselves to these exchanges today and in the future, the greater the effect of the partnership will be.”

Want to know more about what TNO's reservists do?

Please contact Rudi

Mail Rudi

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