FORT POLK, La. — Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital planned, coordinated and executed the 2023 Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark U.S. Army Best Medic Competition Jan. 22-25 at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.
During the competition the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command participated in more than one way. In addition to having a team competing for the Best Medic title, they had another team supporting the competition with the Health Readiness and Performance System.
Command Sgt. Major Timothy J. Sprunger, Medical Readiness Command, West, wanted to use HRAPS after learning about it at an exercise last year at Fort Irwin, California.
Sprunger said HRAPS is a small, wearable device that monitors a variety of health metrics and the geographical location of the contestants.
“It’s usually worn on your chest, and it picks up your heart rate, core body temperature, activity level and location,” he said. “I thought it would be a great addition to the Army Best Medic Competition because not only does it monitor specific health data, but it also allows us to track the geographical locations of each competitor.”
Sprunger said seeing the biometric data and location of contestants in real time was useful during the competition.
“This technology allowed us to view each person, their heart rate and activity levels during each lane of the competition,” he said. “We can use that information to examine the physical demands on competitors to help with the planning process for next year.”
Sprunger said there are countless opportunities for this type of technology.
“I can see this being used in future iterations of Best Medic, Best Leader and Best Squad competitions,” he said. “The data provided in real time is valuable for the health and safety of our competitors. By monitoring their heart rate and core temperature we can intervene if a contestant is in distress or about to go into distress.”
Emily Krohn, assistant product manager with the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity’s Warfighter Health, Performance and Evacuation Project Management Office, was on site in the tactical command post for the entire competition.
Krohn said HRAPS is a Defense Health Agency advanced effort currently in development at USAMMDA.
“The goal of HRAPS is to provide real time health and performance monitoring on warfighters, both in high-risk training events and real-world operations,” she said.
Krohn said the primary purpose of HRAPS is for injury prevention and situational awareness of a warfighter’s general physical state.
“In an operational environment there is no way to tell what a Soldier’s core body temperature is until it’s potentially too late,” she said. “Each year there is a high number of heat casualties in the training environment, so the primary focus of HRAPS is safety and minimizing preventable injuries.”
Krohn said for the Best Medic Competition they were primarily focused on body temperature and location.
“There are a lot of preventable things we are trying to help leaders manage, things like lack of sleep and heat injuries,” she said. “We are also looking at future capabilities and applications to reduce muscular-skeletal injuries and provide early warning of infections.”
Krohn said one day Soldiers may be able to tell they are getting sick before experiencing symptoms based on wearable devices and human performance algorithms.
“Participating in the Army Best Medic Competition is a great Soldier touch point for us to get feedback on the wearability and placement of the device,” she said. “From a leadership standpoint it also helps us understand if we are gathering the information needed to help commanders make informed decisions to plan and execute future competitions.”
1st Lt. Ilnur Sibagatullin, a member of the MRC, W team, assigned to Weed Army Community Hospital, Fort Irwin, said he had the opportunity to test other wearable health performance technology when the Performance Triad initiative was first implemented.
“But I’ve never worn something like this during a competition so I’m really looking forward to getting feedback from the crew once the competition is over,” he said.
Krohn said the senior medics in the competitions are using the software to monitor the Soldiers’ core body temperatures and locations.
Staff Sgt. Cameron Joyner, a combat medic assigned BJACH, is the senior medic for the Army Best Medic Competition. He said HRAPS has been a useful tool for him and the medical support personnel.
“It’s really taken the guess work out of tracking down casualties and monitoring the competitors,” he said. “At one point in the competition we noticed a competitor had an elevated body temperature and was moving around on the GPS in a weird fashion. We took that information, located the individual and checked him out. He was perfectly fine, but if it was something, we could have prevented it before it became life threatening.”
Joyner said HRAPS is a good tool he hopes to see in wider use in the Army one day.
“This technology would be very helpful with our jobs,” he said. “Often there is only one medic assigned to a platoon of 30 people, [and] this system would be invaluable if fielded in the Army. You can’t always see everyone at once. It would be helpful with monitoring, management and care of patients, allowing us to catch problems a little sooner.”
Sprunger said this technology may one day help medics on the battlefield.
“It will allow a medic to quickly pull and monitor vital signs by scanning a wearable device versus trying to do it manually in the dark or under extreme conditions,” he said. “A wearable device like this could potentially assist medics in a prolonged casualty care situation to monitor trends and potentially pass along important health information to the next level of care. The possibilities as a record and continuity of care are limitless.”
In the meantime, Sprunger said the HRAPS data gathered this year will ensure the continued relevance, rigor and realism of future competitions.