News: Spartans conduct PDS
Story by Staff Sgt. Richard Wrigley
FORT STEWART, Ga. - The day had started early. Earlier even than a normal day in the Army. There were a lot of people in the motor pool bay, more than it usually sees. Yet despite the unusually early hour, no one present seemed to be lethargic. The expected grogginess, and slowness of action that accompanies a person before the mind and body have completely woken up was simply non-existent. Everyone seemed to move with a true purpose. The excitement for the day’s events could be felt in the air. Before the sun had time to rise, Soldiers were going about their mission, performing physically demanding tasks, while experts gathered data for future analysis.
The above description does not just describe the beginning of one day however, but the beginning of every day this week. All week long, the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team “Spartans,” 3rd Infantry Division, in conjunction with U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, have conducted a Physical Demands Study here in the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiments’ motor pool, from March 10 to 14.
More than 140 Spartan Soldiers, male and female, voluntarily participated in the PDS, a study important to the future of the U.S. Army.
“The PDS is an effort by the Army to determine what the physical requirements are for doing certain tasks related to combat-arms MOSs in the United States Army,” said Col. Scott Jackson, commander, 2nd ABCT.
However this effort did not just start this week, and it did not begin with the Spartans either, this effort began over two years ago, and has been a methodical process ran by TRADOC and USARIEM, explained Edward Zambraski, Ph.D., division chief, Military Performance Division, USARIEM.
“First we contacted the different combat branches and asked ‘What tasks, critical to your branch, are the most physically demanding?’” said Zambraski.
After generating the task list for each branch, the process was still two fold because TRADOC and USARIEM still had to confirm two things: First, they had to confirm the list was actually indicative of what Soldiers in these Military Occupational Specialties had to do to perform their job, and second, could the current male population performing in these MOSs actually do these tasks?
After testing more than 500 Soldiers, and conducting many in-depth focus-group studies, USARIEM came to the conclusion that the task list was valid, and proceeded to the next phase of the study, which was to determine the physiological requirements for a person to perform these tasks, said Zambraski.
“That is the goal of what we are doing here,” Zambraski said. “The data we are gathering now are things like heart rate, oxygen consumption, the study subjects rating as to how hard the task was, respiration rate, the time it takes to complete the task -- all this data is giving us a measure of how demanding the task is, and what part of our physiology is the task actually taxing.”
The Soldier volunteers of the Spartan brigade are indeed finding out just what their bodies are capable of, as they have been but through a grueling regime all week long.
A total of 20 tasks were evaluated. Since the Spartan were divided up into four different platoons for the four different MOSs, 19K - M1 Armor Crewman, 19D - Cavalry Scout, 11C - Indirect Fire Infantryman, and 11B - Infantryman, some of the tasks were for just one specific group, while some were considered common tasks for all four.
The tasks were tough, and many found them difficult to perform. Such as the task "Drag a Casualty to Immediate Safety (Dismounted)," which consisted of pulling a 273-pound dummy 16.5 yards while in full battle kit. Or the task "Prepare a fighting position" in which a person had to shovel approximately 910 pounds of sand with a government issued Entrenching Tool, while in full kit, to simulate filling 26 35-pound sand bags. Then the Soldier had to transport 26 sandbags (weighing exactly 35 pounds each) across a 16.5-yard expanse and build a three-sided box three levels high with the sand bags.
The list goes on, however while the two above tasks were common tasks everyone had to complete, some had to also complete tasks specific to their own MOS, such as the 11C task, "Lift and hang a 120mm round", where a Soldier had to lift a 120mm round, weighing approximately 30 pounds, and hold it in the breech of a 120mm motor tube, which its at about five and a half feet tall, for ten seconds without dropping it.
Despite the difficulty the Soldiers performed admirably, and impressed many.
“They told all the Soldiers on day one ‘You are a volunteer for a study and this is not a competition, just do the task in accordance with the standard,’” said Jackson. “But still I see them always trying to go above the standard, they never leave anything in the gas tank, the perform the best they can -- and in the rare occasions when they can’t accomplish the task, it really bothers them. You can see they are extremely committed to this thing, and I am really proud of them.”
As Jackson alluded to, the Soldiers, both male and female, were grouped together from day one. However, day one for them was not actually the first day of testing, rather it was about a month before
To ensure the study was not skewed in anyway, there was a month of task familiarization, which allowed the female Soldiers to become familiar with the tasks and equipment, all of which most had never seen before.
“You can’t physiologically adapt too much in three or four weeks of training, but you can learn about the task, try it, and reach a point that you are much more comfortable than if you were to see [the task] for the first time,” Zambraski said.
This goal of familiarization seems to have been met, as the people from TRADOC and USARIEM had nothing but good things to say.
“The training program here for the Soldiers has been as ideal as we could have asked for,” said Zambraski.
Taking this into account, it seems likely that TRADOC and USARIEM will have reached the objective of this study, however that objective is often misconstrued, as the PDS’s objective is not gender integration.
The purpose of the study is just to figure out what it takes to do each task. With that knowledge in hand, predictive tests can be designed, so that when a future Soldier wants to join the Army, they can take a physical test, and decision makers can have a better idea weather or not that recruit will be able to successfully perform in a combat MOS, regardless of gender.
“These tests weren’t geared towards determining weather or not women should be in combat arms,” explained Jackson. “These tests were designed to show what it takes physically for a Soldier in a combat-arms MOS to do his or her job. Whether it is a ‘his’ or ‘her’, that is a decision for later, and what we’ve done here is simply help the Army by providing the data to make an informed decision.”