Natick division tests Soldier performance

By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsMarch 12, 2012

Testing Soldier performance at Natick
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Testing Soldier performance at Natick
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Testing Soldier performance at Natick
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NATICK, Mass. (March 12, 2012) -- It's not every day that you see Soldiers throwing grenades at Natick Soldier Systems Center.

As Marilyn Sharp of the Military Performance Division of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine at Natick Soldier Systems Center, or NSSC, pointed out, however, that unusual sight March 8 on a driveway beside the Barnes Building was all about finding better ways to measure Soldier performance.

"We're always interested in how a Soldier can perform," said Sharp, a research exercise scientist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, Military Performance Division, or MPD. "Often, they use the Army Physical Fitness Test as a measure of performance, but what does that really tell us about the type of things the Soldiers have to do?"

Because combat places little emphasis on what the APFT measures -- sit-ups, push-ups and two-mile run -- Sharp began to look at other avenues.

"The purpose of this study was to come up with some measurements that we thought would represent things that Soldiers really have to do," Sharp said.

According to Leila Walker, a physiological research technician with MPD, the first phase of the study began in 2006.

"We looked at seven different tests to find a battery of the most reliable, repeatable tests," Walker recalled. "After doing all the analysis, we found that the most reliable ones were these four that we're doing now."

In addition to the grenade throw, those tests include a running long jump while wearing a helmet and vest, a box lift, and a two-mile ruck march with full gear.

"This is the second phase of the study," Walker said. "This test battery gives a better assessment of Soldiering (performance), versus doing push-ups and sit-ups."

So on a mild March day, five Soldiers took turns lobbing inert grenades toward an orange target placed 30 meters down the driveway. Numbered orange traffic cones marked the grenades' landing spots.

After completing that test, the Soldiers moved indoors to the long jump and box lift before grabbing their gear for the ruck march. The series of tests, administered four times over five weeks, ultimately will involve more than 40 Soldiers.

"We also collect laboratory measures of physical fitness," Sharp said. "We want to see how laboratory measures correlate with the Soldier performance tests."

Some of the tests are already being used by the Army and Marine Corps, but Sharp pointed out that further study is needed.

"You have to establish that this is a reliable measure," Sharp said. "If I measure you four different times over a prolonged time period, and I haven't changed anything about your training or about your diet or anything else, you should get a fairly close score each time. There's been a lot of interest in this. The test battery could also be used to determine if a Soldier is fit enough to return to duty following an injury."

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