Army Exploring The ‘Human Dimension’

Researchers used cognitive, performance and psychological studies and surveys to better place soldiers in military occupational specialties where they’d have a better chance of succeeding. Here, trainees are in-processed during basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Senior Airman Micky M. Bazaldua)

The Army realized in the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that in addition to conventional warfare, soldiers were being asked to perform a lot of nontraditional functions, some of which they were often ill-equipped to do.

These included negotiating with tribal leaders and helping develop infrastructure and services for local populations, tasks they were never trained to perform, said Col. Thomas Meyer, chief of the Human Dimension Task Force at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC.

In 2006, Gen. William S. Wallace, who was the commander of TRADOC, realized that since more was being asked of soldiers, they would need to improve their performance, Meyer said.

Wallace concluded that “tanks, trucks and guns were not the primary reason for battlefield success. Rather, it was the soldiers on the ground,” Meyer added.

TRADOC responded by adding the “Human Dimension” to its six other dimensions of study, Mission Command, Movement and Maneuver, Protection, Fires, Intelligence, and Sustainment.

Since then, human performance has moved toward the forefront of Army research .

The goals of Human Dimension research are to create a more resilient, knowledgeable and adaptive force through improved selection, talent management and training, Meyer said.

Because those goals are so broad, TRADOC enlisted the assistance of business and industry, academia and science, since each of these sectors had already been doing a lot of human performance studies. Army research labs, G-1 personnel and Army medicine were also consulted and information was shared across the services.

Researchers used cognitive, performance and psychological studies and surveys to better place soldiers in military occupational specialties where they’d have a better chance of succeeding.

Placement is critically important, Meyer said, not just to make a happier and more productive soldier, but from a cost perspective as well. A soldier who doesn’t have the aptitude for a particular specialty, for example, might not make it through training, he said. And training can be very expensive, especially in these times of fiscal austerity. Also, that soldier might not be as successful later on the battlefield.

Meyer provided an example of a 68W, or combat medic, whose training is extensive, 13 months. To succeed, that person should have the right mix of knowledge and skills.

Also, the chemistry of the brain and personality factors could determine who succeeds and who doesn’t.

The ultimate test, Meyer said, might be when they experience their first casualty on the battlefield. There are some individuals who can’t function or cope in that traumatic environment, he said.

“Through research into how the mind and body works, we are learning more about those individual characteristics that will enable us to better place that person,” he said, resulting in lower rates of attrition during training or after and the high cost associated with that.

In addition to better placement, Human Dimension is looking at ways to deliver improved training methods that are also more cost effective.

Some individuals respond better to different learning methods and the pace of learning is not the same for all soldiers, he said. So the Army is adding virtual training, online courses and simulations, where soldiers can learn at their own pace and get immediate feedback.

A traditional method of training involves creating a mockup of a village in a particular country, hiring actors to play the parts of locals, and then sending soldiers on orders to remote training centers. All of this costs time and money, he said.

Now, a lot of this type of training can be run through simulations, he said, adding that a visit to a training center might still take place but by the time the soldier arrives, he or she would have already become familiar with the training through virtual means and would likely be better prepared.

Human Dimension also is working with researchers on ways to optimize soldiers’ physical and cognitive abilities, as well as to increase their resilience to hardships. TRADOC is including soldiers’ families and Army civilians in its scope of study.

TRADOC’s studies, while important and relevant for the Army today, are focused on looking ahead to 2020 and even 2030 and beyond.

People are an important investment for the Army, said Meyer, noting that more than 40 percent of the Army’s budget is dedicated to manpower. And, he added, that manpower pool is dwindling, making that investment all the more critical.

“Now 75 percent of those 17-to-24-year-olds are not eligible for service either because they don’t have the educational background, have physical limitations or they’re overweight,” he said. “Also, our population is aging and we’re behind other countries as there are fewer young people with backgrounds in science, engineering and math.”

That makes selection, training and adaptive strategies all the more important, Meyer said.

As America and its Army face an uncertain fiscal future, the nation continues to expect to have the same level of security in the future that it has currently, he concluded. To succeed in the Army’s mission, therefore, investing in the soldier is paramount.

By David Vergun


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