NATICK, Mass. -- The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, is the lead organization in a first-of-its-kind, multi-domain study. The study, called Monitoring and Assessing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness, or MASTR-E, will be performed with the 82nd Airborne beginning in late May.
The multi-domain approach is unique in that it allows for the study of several areas at once instead of studying areas separately.
MASTR-E will focus on biomechanics, load carriage, performance nutrition, equipment use, injury reporting, navigation, and recovery times -- to name just a few areas. Researchers will also monitor cognitive performance.
"In reality, all the domains actually influence each other," said Dr. John Ramsay, an NSRDEC research biomechanics engineer. "The human body is intertwined between all these domains. If you pull on one thread, many others react."
"We'll evaluate the impact of long-term fatigue and duress, incurred during extended training exercises, on cognitive performance, including how Soldiers make decisions on what to eat, where to go, or how they remember information pertinent to their mission," said Dr. Erika Hussey, a research psychologist on NSRDEC's Cognitive Science Team.
The MASTR-E study is the first Soldier study with Soldiers wearing sensors while conducting relevant Soldier tasks, at the squad and platoon level, that is sponsored by a division commander. Sensors will continuously measure heart-rate, breathing-rate, body temperature, and fluid/food intake -- to name just a few items.
"Sensors will provide information about potential risk factors of injury," Ramsay said.
"The research team will begin the study by baselining Soldier performance and then will track performance throughout a training exercise by using sensors to minimize the burden on the Soldier," Hussey said. "The team will also collect data from study volunteers for five days following the end of the training to measure recovery functions."
The MASTR-E study will encompass both the individual and the squad. The study will help researchers gain insights into individual performance, as well as pinpoint the characteristics that make a good team and a good team leader.
The NSRDEC-led MASTR-E study is a collaboration with numerous renowned Army and academic organizations, including the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Army Research Institute and the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences, which is co-directed by NSRDEC and Tufts University.
"We've linked up with some incredible researchers Army-wide and beyond who are excited to bring their respective scientific questions to the field to shape future lab efforts based on what we learn about Soldier performance during sustained training exercises," said Hussey.
The MASTR-E study is the direct result of NSRDEC partnering with the 82nd Airborne and the knowledge obtained by scientists bringing the lab to the field.
"One goal of MASTR-E is to bring what we learn in the field back to the lab to continue refining the science for the warfighter," said Hussey.
The idea to partner with units came about after Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, sought out NSRDEC's expertise to help define what factors contribute to Soldier performance.
"Certain behaviors have emerged as crucial to Soldier lethality," said Rick Haddad, assistant deputy chief of staff, G3/5, Operations and Plans, NSRDEC.
"Typically R&D efforts about lethality are capability-focused, like building the next-gen weapon," said Hussey. "Here, we're studying the intangibles of performance, including the factors about the Soldier that make him or her proficient in using new capabilities. That is, the Soldier is the capability for studies of human performance. We ask, 'how do we measure and improve the Soldier under various conditions?'"
Haddad initially worked with Col. Phillip Kiniery of the 82nd Airborne to build the bridge between the 82nd and Natick. Kiniery, his staff, and company commanders provided NSRDEC with a unique and invaluable white paper that detailed the battalion's cognitive and physical challenges.
NSRDEC is now working with the 82nd Airborne's Lt. Col. Graham White to execute MASTR-E. White is the commander of the 2-505 PIR, 3 Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
"In order to prepare for future combat environments, the paratroopers of the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment are participating in an NSRDEC study led by Dr. Hussey and Dr. Ramsay," said White. "Though still in the preliminary stages of testing and development, our paratroopers are keenly interested in the long-term impacts of such a study on the health, physical, social-emotional and cognitive factors affecting sustained performance for the warfighter. We appreciate the potential impact this study could have on the future of ground combat, and we are encouraged by the strong relationship and rapport already developed between our paratroopers and the professionals at Natick."
"There are several near-term and far-term goals that we have for the study," said Hussey. "One far-term goal is to develop decision aides to inform commanders of their Soldiers' readiness in real-time. Some of the more near-term goals involve identifying better ways to capture and track performance, which is why wearable sensors are an important part of this study. It's important to characterize performance in a way that we can put numbers on, rather than relying entirely on subjective evaluations."
"We're approaching this as a bridge between a training mission and an actual mission," said Ramsay.
"The unit is organizing this as if it is a real mission. Once the mission is completed, we can look at how much recovery time was required to be ready for subsequent team or squad training. Likewise, a leader in combat who has access to this type of information can look across all the different platoons and be better able to determine which ones have recovered so that they can feel more confident that they are sending out their Soldiers more safely. Consider it personnel risk management, driven by data taken directly from the individual Soldier."
MASTR-E's impact will be far reaching. Numerous organizations have already expressed interest in obtaining data gathered during the study. The methodologies developed for the study will also be applicable to other studies.
Hussey and Ramsey believe that the opportunity to partner directly with Soldiers has been invaluable.
"Members of the 82nd believe that human performance is key to mission success and that it is really a critical piece of the puzzle in Soldier survivability and lethality," said Hussey. "We have a lot of work we need to do in the way of understanding performance in different operational contexts. It is rewarding to partner with a unit that puts human performance at the forefront and that is open to working with us. The unit can bring their wealth of knowledge to us so we can shape the science to meet their needs."
"When scientists and Soldiers actually talk -- and there's that lightbulb between them -- that can lead to something remarkable," said Ramsay. "We are addressing a question that Soldiers are asking. They want to know how to perform better. Everyone wants to get the edge and enhance their lethality to win the fight."
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 provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.