Soldier Center researchers attend all-important Soldier physical performance forum

By Jane Benson CCDC Soldier Center Public AffairsMarch 20, 2020

Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center
Researchers from the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center recently participated in the 5th International Congress on Soldiers’ Physical Performance, or ICSPP, in Quebec City, Canada. The conference is considered one of the most important physical performance conferences in the world for Soldier research. Researchers from the Soldier Center organized thematic sessions and gave presentations, educating attendees about the work being done by the Soldier Center and its many collaborators in industry, academia, and throughout DOD. Meghan O’Donovan (pictured here), a biomechanics research engineer in the Soldier Performance Optimization Directorate at the Soldier Center, addresses attendees. (Photo by Jessica Schindler/CCDC Soldier Center) (Photo Credit: Jessica Schindler/CCDC Soldier Center) VIEW ORIGINAL

NATICK, Mass. – Researchers from the Soldier Performance Optimization Directorate, or SPOD, and the Combat Feeding Directorate, or CFD, at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center recently participated in the 5th International Congress on Soldiers’ Physical Performance, or ICSPP, in Quebec City, Canada.

The Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center is dedicated to using science and technology to ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. CCDC Soldier Center supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the CCDC SC’s chief areas of focus. The center’s science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. CCDC SC is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers’ performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.

The ICSPP, which is attended by experts from all over the world, was hosted by the Human Performance Research and Development Director of Fitness, Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services. According to the ICSPP website, this year’s themes included the optimization cycle, Soldier systems and performance, health, and knowledge transfer. Specific areas included mental and physical resilience, optimizing the winter Soldier, regeneration, innovation in physical training, personal protective equipment evolution, emerging technology to alleviate burden, emerging technology to achieve goals, sleep and fatigue management, holistic health and fitness/the performance triad, prevention/reduction of musculoskeletal injury, cognition and physical fitness, implementation – science to practice, monitoring scientific integrity in the field, military physical performance analytics, and Basic Training as a platform for research.

Researchers from the Soldier Center organized thematic sessions and gave presentations, educating attendees about the work being done by the Soldier Center and its many collaborators in industry, academia, and throughout DOD.

“This is probably the single most important physical performance conference in the world for Soldiers,” said John Ramsay, Ph.D., the Biomechanics and Engineering team leader at the Soldier Center. “Everyone involved in research supporting Soldiers was there and it only happens every three years. The conference provides the opportunity for people doing similar work to share information, discuss how our work is complementary, and identify how we can learn from each other. This direct communication can really advance the understanding of Soldier performance across specific areas, including the study of sleep, exoskeletons, marksmanship, injury prevention, and squad dynamics.”

“This was my first time attending this ICSPP, and one of the major advantages I noted was the information sharing and harmonization of work done in the area of Soldier physical performance by colleagues across the globe,” said Erin Gaffney-Stomberg, Ph.D., RD, performance nutrition team lead in the Combat Feeding Directorate at the CCDC SC. “Attending this meeting provided me the opportunity to meet with nutrition colleagues and fellow delegates of the Technical Cooperative Program ‘Nutrition and Resilience Activity Group - TP21.’ We discussed the challenges and successes associated with meeting nutrition needs of our warfighters in operational environments. As nutrition is one modifiable factor associated with Soldier performance, it was great to be able to have these discussions within the broader context of the ICSPP.”

Joan Johnston, Ph.D., a senior research scientist and S&T manager at the CCDC Soldier Center’s Simulation & Training Technology Center in Orlando, Florida, presented at the conference and noted its importance.

“Research scientists from around the world assemble at ICSPP once every three years to focus on learning how to improve Soldier performance via psychological, physical, and physiological research,” said Johnston. “All of the presentations are scientific papers that, in addition to providing valuable information about methods for assessing and/or improving Soldier performance, provide the necessary statistical evidence in support of the findings.”

Johnston participated as part of the session entitled "Methods for Assessment of Soldier Performance and Effectiveness at the Individual and Small Unit Level." The session was chaired and organized by Leif Hasselquist, Ph.D., a research physiologist in SPOD at the Soldier Center. Johnston’s presentation was entitled "Lessons Learned for Measuring Dismounted Soldier Performance and Effectiveness under Stress."

The session also included two other presentations, including Hasselquist’s “A Methodology to Measure the Interplay of Cognition and Physical Performance of the Individual Soldier during a Field Exercise” and Ramsay’s “Characterizing Tactical Performance during Sustained Live-Fire Exercises.”

“The small unit performance work presented by myself, Dr. Ramsay, and Dr. Johnston will all directly feed into the study designs for the aspects of the Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness, or  MASTR-E, program that are also focused on small unit performance,” said Hasselquist.

Hasselquist also chaired and organized the thematic session entitled “The Soldier Behind the Weapon: Context Driven Tactical Marksmanship.”  

The Soldier Center’s marksmanship research garnered widespread interest. Hasselquist presented Quantifying the Physical Attributes and Performance Metrics of Expert Marksmen Relative to Novice Marksmen. Stephanie Brown, M.S., a researcher on the Human Factors Team in SPOD at the CCDC SC, presented “The Benefits of Using a Marksmanship Simulator for Training and Rapid Assessments of Performance across the Entire Marksmanship Process.”

“The marksmanship work highlighted by both myself and Stephanie Brown includes methodologies and assessment tools that will be used directly in the MASTR-E program to measure and assess tactical marksmanship performance during 72-hour mission cycles,” said Hasselquist.

“The marksmanship talk looking at experts versus novices generated a lot of international interest,” said Brown. “Many other nations are also trying to quantify and model the biomechanical factors that are important to predict greater lethality in marksmanship performance. Future collaboration on these efforts may be useful in order to generate the amount of data required to improve model accuracy.”

Brown briefed a variety of research and product assessment areas.

“One impactful session was on gender differences and the need to fully understand the impact of females in the combat-related roles,” said Brown. “This session in particular was focused on the necessary redesign of equipment that was originally focused on the male-only population. The equipment is limiting the performance of some women in these new roles, and must be addressed quickly to reduce risk and increase the lethality of our entire force. The outcome of this panel was the possible creation of a NATO exploratory effort to further address these issues.”

Another research area that generated a great deal of interest was ongoing work in exoskeleton technology. Heavy loads can increase injuries as well as impact mobility, and exoskeletons are a potential solution to some problems related to load carriage. They are wearable devices that enable warfighters to perform physically strenuous activities, such as movement and supply handling, with greater strength, endurance and safety.

The Soldier Center’s Meghan O’Donovan, a biomechanics research engineer at CCDC SC, presented research that is part of an ongoing effort with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Lincoln Laboratories which contributes to CCDC SC’s larger ongoing, exoskeleton program.

The CCDC Soldier Center is a leader in optimizing Soldier performance. (The sessions/presentations mentioned in this article are just a glimpse of the work presented by the Soldier Center at ICSPP.) The conference provided an important forum for others to learn about the center’s leading edge research and to form future collaborations.

“CCDC SC researchers are vetted and well known on the global stage. Although this conference is heavy on science, there is also a focus on military applications,” said Ramsay. “It’s a good place for members of the military to find out what work is being done for the Soldier. It’s a meeting of all the great minds in Soldier performance. At the end of the day, the ICSPP attendees all want what is best for the Soldier. That’s what it is all about.”