WASHINGTON -- Army officials on Saturday announced it will soon field a personal fitness bracelet that will allow Army leaders to track their Soldiers' fitness in real time.
The technology will enable Army leadership to monitor their Soldiers' activity level, physical location, and intake of foods, liquids, and other substances. It also allows leaders to provide remote mentoring in real time, according to Dr. Duke McDirkington, the lead scientific advisor from the U.S. Army's Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, and the co-chair of the Army's Physical Training Belt Task Force.
"We know for a fact through scientific research and polls that Soldiers already love the 'PT' Belt," McDirkington said. "But they have demanded a device like this that would allow their leaders to send corrective guidance when the system detects a caloric spike due to things like junk food."
The congressionally-mandated joint task force of USARIEM, and Program Executive Office, or PEO, Soldier, has spent seven years developing the device, which is embedded in a reflective, elastic wristband similar in appearance to the PT belt. Like their dog tags, Soldiers will wear the new fitness tracking device at all times.
"This is an exciting component of the Army's modernization strategy and will take readiness to unprecedented levels," said Col. Simon Richards, task force co-chair from PEO Soldier.
How does is work?
The new bracelet features a two-inch screen that provides visualizations of fitness data and progress reports on a Soldier's specific levels of fitness, sleep, carbohydrates, protein, water, and alcohol.
"The bracelets blend perfectly with our PT belts, increasing safety for our Soldiers and survivability during physical training," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, who expressed enthusiasm about the potential of the new technology.
The bracelet collects data through epidermis scanning sensors built into the wristband. Scans automatically synchronize the data to measure the Soldier's fitness profile against the optimal Performance Triad profile established by Army fitness researchers.
Leaders will offer remote video mentoring when a Soldier's fitness profile measures poorly. Should a Soldier's levels indicate they have consumed too much alcohol, for example, the Soldier will have the opportunity to be mentored by his or her first sergeant about the dangers of drinking.
For Army leaders who have been disappointed in the past by Soldiers' seeming indifference to physical fitness discipline, the new fitness bracelet is a promising new tool for shaping the force.
"We're merely a product of the Army's tools and training," Dailey said. "These new fitness bracelets will increase our Soldiers' ability to improve their capabilities and become a better warrior, while simultaneously shifting the ultimate responsibility for monitoring their fitness levels from the Soldiers themselves to Army leaders."
General officers were involved in the pilot and initial testing phases for the device, which will eventually be issued to all ranks. Among the officers who had the chance to evaluate the bracelet was Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, the Army's chief of public affairs.
"Helping to test this device has been both interesting and exhausting," Frost said. "I wasn't sure what the hell this thing was, but my individual readiness has never been higher since Gen. Milley has been able to send me motivating messages at all times, day or night."
The PT bracelet also employs a geo-location feature that will issue proactive alerts to the Soldier whenever the Soldier is within close proximity to an establishment listed on the Army's new "Restaurant Off-Limits List" that garrison commanders compile and maintain.
Army leaders will not be notified unless the Soldier actually enters the establishment. However, the alert, which takes the form of a loud sound similar to that of a foghorn, will not stop until the Soldier retreats to the safe zone, a 50-foot buffer surrounding the establishment.
The bracelet also allows Soldiers to switch the foghorn sound to a more familiar option, such as "screaming drill sergeant" or "banging on a metal trash can."
"We are currently working on an upgrade to the device that will synchronize with their Smartphone navigation app to automatically divert them towards a more healthier dining option, like a tofu bar or an organic vegan establishment," said Dr. Ann Noffunatall, a nutritionist with the Office of the Surgeon General's System for Health Directorate.
"In those areas where such options don't exist the app instead would provide recipes for healthier alternatives so the Soldier can prepare the meal himself," Noffunatall added.
Regardless of the Soldier's location, the bracelet will send a notification to the Soldier's leadership if his or her levels of sugar or alcohol spike beyond optimal levels, at which time the Soldier's first sergeant or other supervisor may choose to provide a real-time, remote mentoring session through the device.
Soldier feedback has played an integral role in the development of the new PT bracelet, according to Richards. "You don't mess with something as iconic as the PT Belt without ensuring buy-in from the troops," he said.
Richards acknowledges that some Soldiers expressed concerns during the feedback phase about having to wear the device even when they were off duty, but Richards insists that just as many Soldiers were excited about the opportunity.
Initially, the task force tested the device with a sample of 300 Soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, but further refinements of the bracelet's features are based mainly on feedback from Soldiers who responded to a Facebook poll, where the device elicited an enthusiastic response.
"This PT-Belt-looking bracelet is really going to maximize my personal HOOAHness," went one Facebook comment by 2nd Lt. Lenny Williams, a Washington, D.C. National Guardsmen.
"I'm a warrior, and it's super important to get my 10,000 steps in each day," commented Carl Steve, who is scheduled to tackle Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, during his senior year. "I jumped all over those old guys on social media. They just don't get why it's important for Big Army to yell at their Soldiers whenever it's needed."
The new fitness device is scheduled to undergo field testing in June of 2017, with an expected Army-wide rollout on April 1, 2018.