FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers with from 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) ran through a 200-meter stress shoot course Oct. 28 to test their speed, accuracy and decision-making ability under pressure.
It wasn’t what they did that was new, but what they wore.
More than 530 Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) have donned the latest in wearable sensory technology to participate in a yearlong human performance study.
It’s called the MASTR-E, or Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness, program, which leverages existing technology to track physical and physiological data during the Soldiers’ daily activities.
“Some of the things we are looking at are physical exertion and training load, sleep and recovery,” said George Matook, MASTR-E program manager for U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC). “And if you can tie those basic things together, then you can get a picture of how they are training, how hard they are training, and (whether) they are training too much. Are they sleeping enough ahead of a training event – going into it already at a deficit, or are they really getting ready for an event? This allows you to start managing movement and maneuver, and mission command, when they get out in the field.”
Matook said that the study went from concept to full operational capability within six months.
“We were able to fully equip the Soldiers with the hardware and the software – it’s athlete management software that ties all the data into as usable form, basically,” he said.
Matook said that the devices – smart watch, ring and heart rate monitor – collects data to include resting heart rate, changes in body temperature, respiratory rate, sleep cycles and activity levels. It can also be used to screen and triage for infection and illness. He said that Soldiers are encouraged to wear them even when they are off duty.
“Because this is research, it’s all on a volunteer basis. We’re not saying you must, we’re saying it would be helpful if you could wear these all the time,” Matook said. “We have noticed they are wearing them on the weekends, which is great to see. They’ll tag that they’re going on a hike, and that’ll create a workout profile on the watch and capture all that data.”
While the Soldiers were rotating through a stress shoot course, the research team followed close behind to monitor the activity being recorded from the sensors.
“There are two efforts going on here – Optimizing the Human Weapon System, along with Tactical Stress Marksmanship Assessment,” said Joseph Patterson, CCDC SC’s work package lead for the MASTR-E program. “We are trying out a research methodology on tactical stress and decision making. The Army believes in ‘Train as you fight,’ so we are trying to put Soldiers through this assessment course in the conditions in which they would fight the current fight and future fights as well.”
Patterson said that using physiological status monitors enables them to get inside the Soldier’s body to gauge performance and see what changes in behavior are needed to become more optimal.
“The watch and the ring give them insights into their internal operating systems,” he said. “So they can understand how certain life decisions – like playing video games until 2 in the morning – will then relate to actions on the objective. Or, if they have a healthy dinner, do foam rolling and have healthy modalities, then they can train better and have a better outcome.”
Patterson said that this study ties into the Army’s H2F, or Holistic Health and Fitness doctrine, which encompasses all components of human performance such as physical, mental and spiritual fitness to increase Soldier readiness.
“Our entire intent is to make them smarter, faster, more lethal and more precise,” Patterson said.
Maj. Adam Cucchiara, 4-31 Infantry operations officer, is among the Soldiers participating in the study.
“This has been really interesting,” he said. “Putting the wearable technology to use has allowed us to see ourselves a little bit better than we normally would.”
Cucchiara said that the Soldiers in his unit work and train together frequently, which naturally develops a collective sense of how well they perform. Now they are getting a second opinion.
“This has helped us to quantify what is arguably pretty hard to quantify in terms of how we’re doing,” he said. “Now we can say, ‘this is exactly how well you slept last night,’ or ‘this is how fast you ran and here’s how your heart rate changed when presented with this tactical problem.’”
A day earlier, the Soldiers rehearsed the stress shoot course, and Cucchiara said even that was revealing. He said that the sensors would pick up elevated heart rates of participants before they even started the exercise.
“Just understanding they were about to go into this competitive environment, it may look like that Soldier is perfectly calm and ready to go, but inside, he or she is really getting amped up,” he said. “Then we see how that may translate into decisions that they make, right off the bat. Now that we are able to quantify exactly what ‘better’ is, we can go back and see what we can do before we get to an event to make you better, make you faster, and give you more control over your breathing, your heart rate and your marksmanship.”
The study is a partnership between the CCDC SC, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and the 10th Mountain Division. Matook said that they couldn’t have asked for a better group of Soldiers to participate in this effort.
“It’s all about having a willing partner, and this is one of those things (that) if you don’t have the full buy-in with the unit, it fails,” Matook said. “They were fully on board with this, and it has been a great partnership.”