A legacy of research: USARIEM researcher receives lifetime achievement award

By Ms. Mallory Roussel (USARIEM)February 21, 2020

NATICK, Mass. (Feb. 21, 2020) -- Marilyn Sharp, a recently retired exercise scientist from the Military Performance Division of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, was recently presented a lifetime achievement award during the final night of the 2020 International Congress on Soldiers' Physical Performance in Quebec City, Canada.

The award recognizes Sharp's commitment and dedication to conducting physical performance research focused on understanding and improving the occupational standards of all Soldiers. Over her 38-year career, Sharp has pioneered scientifically defensible field research methodologies to provide the highest quality data for Army policy makers, influencing recruit training standards and reducing musculoskeletal injury and attrition.

Most recently, in a series of five major studies conducted over four years by direction of the Chief of Staff of the Army, Sharp led the USARIEM research effort that resulted in the Army-wide Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT. This research effort was in response to a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command tasking following the U.S. Secretary of Defense opening combat roles to women. The research resulted in defined physical employment standards for all Army Military Occupational Specialties.

Her team conducted a final validation study, which concluded the OPAT was able to identify recruits capable of performing the physically demanding tasks of an MOS. This work provided the Army with guidance for the physical qualification metrics for women and men to enter combat arms positions, while also reducing attrition rates and saving the Army millions of dollars.

Sharp earned a B.S. from Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ, in 1979 and an M.S. in Exercise Science from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, in 1981. On that same year, she joined USARIEM as a research assistant in the Exercise Physiology Division. She later became a principal investigator and continued to lead research for the Soldier until her retirement in 2019.

Early in her career, she conducted a unique line of Soldier performance research that examined physically demanding team-lifting and team-carrying tasks. She published some of the earliest work showing the effects of team size and mixed-sex teams on lifting capacity, providing an early foundation for a body of research that culminated in development of the OPAT.

Her body of research also included longitudinal training studies and examining team lifting, effects of deployment on strength and body composition, military occupational risks for musculoskeletal injury, and energy costs associated with specialized job performance.

Sharp had developed an extensive network of collaborators within the U.S. and in international military organizations, and she has frequently been sought for advice on physical employment standards. She had an active role in important NATO symposia and study groups, notably on performance of women in NATO forces (1994), optimizing physical performance of Soldiers (2008), selection of Special Forces personnel (2012) and physical employment standards (2019).

Her team's work has been recognized both within and outside of the military for their efforts in developing the OPAT. They had been awarded the quarterly AMEDD Wolfpack Award in 2015, the Commander's Award for Civilian Service in 2016, the Military Health System Research Symposium Award for Excellence for the Outstanding Research Accomplishment Team/Military in 2017, and the M. Scott Meyers Award from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists in 2019.

She has capably mentored dozens of young military and civilian researchers, including many who completed masters and doctorate theses with her guidance and have moved into successful biomedical research careers.

The ICSPP is considered the most important international congress in applied military human performance research and attracts researchers, practitioners, operators and military leaders from all over the world. It also attracts a number of participants from a range of physically demanding occupations including emergency services, police, fire and ambulance.

In attendance was Dr. Karl Friedl, Senior Research Scientist (Army Physiology), USARIEM, who congratulated Sharp on her scientifically productive and prolific career.

"Marilyn Sharp's career is a model of science for the Soldier, characterized by persistence and dedication required to push useful research solutions across the finish line to benefit Soldiers and the Army," Friedl said.