NATICK, Mass. – Blake Mitchell has dedicated her career to optimizing and better understanding Soldier performance.
Mitchell is the team leader for the Human Factors Team, part of the Soldier Performance Optimization Directorate at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center. The Human Factors Team works to ensure that Soldier clothing and equipment enable or enhance a Soldier’s ability to carry out his or her mission.
Mitchell explained that the team’s research focuses on the functionality of the equipment and the impact on the Soldier in terms of comfort, acceptability, and impact on mission performance.
The CCDC Soldier Center is a longtime leader in the advancement of human factors and human systems integration. Human factors research is key to the enhancement of Soldier performance, Soldier lethality, as well as squad performance.
CCDC SC is committed to discovering, developing, and advancing science and technology solutions that ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. CCDC SC 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.
Mitchell’s interest in human factors was sparked when she took a graduate level course in the subject at Tufts University. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Human Factors from Clemson University.
“One of the things that I love about human factors is that it is so multidisciplinary,” said Mitchell. “It’s a little bit of everything. You’ve got psychology, design, engineering, anthropology, sociology, physics, and cultural geography and mathematics.”
Mitchell pointed out that Soldier input is a driving force in the Soldier Center’s research.
“Human factors is about trying to understand the needs of the human – so Soldier input is extremely important,” said Mitchell. “At the same time, observation and innovation plays an important role in figuring out what humans need as well.”
The Soldier Center’s Human Factors Team focuses on the physical integration of products.
“For example, clothing that doesn’t fit properly, or if the Soldier is wearing the incorrect size, can have a negative impact on performance,” said Mitchell. “So we examine the clothing’s or the equipment’s compatibility with the human and its compatibility with other pieces of equipment. We look at how equipment impacts mobility and range of motion – how far you can reach forward, overhead, etc., and what you wearing and how it fits together with other equipment becomes important and how well it interfaces with your other equipment.”
Mitchell explained that her team works in conjunction with other teams at Natick. She stated that members of her team, along with other teams at Natick, are experts in various aspects of test design.
“We try to incorporate more operational behavior into test controls,” said Mitchell. “So, it is a balancing act between a controlled, rigorous study and a study that incorporates some degree of operational realism.”
Mitchell is proud of the contributions made by her team.
“The whole purpose of Human Factors is to try to design things so that they match human needs and that they integrate well with human beings,” said Mitchell. “The person shouldn’t have to change very much, or as little as possible, in order to use a product, but sometimes training or mitigation is still required. The product should also fit well into the user’s environment. Accomplishing these types of things early in the life cycle saves costs later on and reduces the potential for errors and injury. We work to make sure that the product doesn’t hinder warfighters from performing mission tasks. We are working to give them the very best product that they can have so they can best perform their mission.”