NATICK, Mass. (March 22, 2016) -- When working to enhance and better understand Soldier performance, sometimes the best approach is to jump right in.

Scientists and engineers at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, are working closely with the 82nd Airborne Division to garner new insights into the cognitive, physical and emotional performance of Soldiers. The hands-on approach, which takes place in the environment where the Soldiers live and work, gives researchers insights not possible from working in the lab alone.

NSRDEC's work with the 82nd is part of a larger, all-encompassing science and technology effort called the S&T Project Integration Pilot, which is part of the Soldier and Squad Performance Optimization, or S2PO, initiative.

By becoming immersed in the Soldier's living and working environment, NSRDEC will be better able to develop more appropriate tools, techniques, products and technologies for the nation's warfighters, on and off the battlefield.

"We are studying cognitive, physical and social sciences," said Rick Haddad, NSRDEC's S2PO Program Integration lead. "It's in line with the Army's human dimension strategy."

NSRDEC's work is focusing on cognitive science, biomechanics, load carriage, nutrition, Soldier-borne sensors, and squad resupply efforts -- to name just a few areas.

"The laboratory work is, of course, important," said Haddad. "But this enables the scientists to actually see the Soldier perform the task collectively and individually. So they can understand the task better. If you read about doctrinal tasks, you don't get to see all the things that happen in between those tasks. The communication, the cohesiveness of a squad, and how collectively a squad will overcome a challenge. Those things can only be observed when Soldiers are in their organic environment."

Haddad has worked with Lt. Col. Phillip Kiniery, battalion Commander, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne, to build the bridge between the 82nd and Natick. Kiniery, his staff and company commanders, provided NSRDEC with a unique white paper that detailed the battalion's cognitive and physical challenges.

"This partnership is all about the paratrooper and readiness. NSRDEC's feedback to our leaders gains efficiency in training and closes the cognitive experience gap in junior paratroopers," said Kiniery. "We are truly building adaptive and agile paratroopers that can leverage the full capacity of their cognitive capability to match the physical ability, optimizing their overall performance as an individual and collective team."

"By encouraging a dialogue between active-duty Soldiers and Army scientists, Lt. Col. Kiniery has given Soldiers the opportunity to guide our work from the ground up," said Dr. Caroline Davis, a member of NSRDEC's Cognitive Science Team.

"Collaborations like these allow the Soldiers to see NSRDEC scientists who care about them and who are willing to integrate into their world and their culture," said Dr. John Ramsay, an NSRDEC research biomechanics engineer. "We ask them their thoughts, provide quick answers, and then return to NSRDEC with Soldier-driven research problems. This is where we truly can make a difference. Rather than using Soldiers to answer research questions that we think are important, collaborations like this allow us to ask and answer questions that are actually important to the warfighter, originating from their mouths directly."

"Our current pilot efforts with the 2-504 82nd Airborne are creating an environment of two-way interchange between NSRDEC and FORSCOM to the benefit of our scientists, engineers and Soldiers alike," said Dr. Joseph Moran, a member of NSRDEC's Cognitive Science Team. "NSRDEC scientists gain the incomparable experience of observing Soldiers in the field while gaining invaluable first-hand feedback about the impact of our work, whereas Soldiers get to hear directly about how to optimize their performance through design, engineering and science."

"This is an invaluable opportunity to recruit much-needed participants for our laboratory and field studies at Natick, as well as solidifying a relationship that will allow us to take our science to the next level by testing whether our findings hold in the high-stress training operations being conducted at Fort Bragg," said Davis.

"Both material and nonmaterial solutions will come out of this with the intent of reducing the cognitive and physical burden of the Soldier," said Haddad.

"The scientists get a true understanding of what the Soldiers are living," said Mary Giacalone, an NSRDEC program analyst. "The intent is that these technologies will solve a real problem."

"I think this mutual investment will allow Soldiers to know that someone out there cares about them and is trying to solve their problems," said Haddad. "They have the opportunity to help develop it, improve it, and understand its origin. They are being treated as the professionals that they are."

In addition to working with the 82nd, NSRDEC is working to partner with other units directly, as well.

"Informal discussions and face-to-face interactions are where the game-changing ideas will come from," said Davis.


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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.