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Testing a new generation of soldiers
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Marilyn Sharp, principal investigator for U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (left), observes volunteers as they perform a test at Newman Fitness Center on Fort Stewart June 8. The tests are designed to determine whether a new recruit is qualified for specific military occupations. - photo by Photo by Cailtin Kenney

The U.S. Army is working to determine who is best-qualified for its most physically demanding jobs, and Fort Stewart soldiers have volunteered to help researchers design tests for future recruits.

“What’s going on is we are trying to develop a physical screening test for high-physical-demanding occupations in the Army,” Jack Myers said, a lead planner for the Soldier 2020 program at Training and Doctrine Command.

Currently, the only way to know which occupations are available to recruits is from the score they receive after taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, test. This may qualify them intellectually, but their physical qualifications aren’t determined until later. That has the downside of possibly sending soldiers not physically qualified to an occupation where they could fail doing standard tasks and then having to retrain them, which can cost the Army and tax payers.

Training and Doctrine Command is working with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine to recommend the best physical tests for each military occupation specialty that will be given to new recruits to determine their placement in the Army along with their ASVAB score. They are particularly interested in looking at occupational tasks in the infantry, engineers, field artillery and armor.

Researchers came to Fort Stewart’s Newman Fitness Center on Monday to see male and female soldiers go through a series of tests designed to determine qualification for cavalry scout and tanker jobs. The soldiers did long jumps, threw a medicine ball from a seated position and ran back and forth as long as they could at a set pace.

“What this will do is give us an idea of what they are physically capable of prior to entering the Army. So it’s going to open it up to us assessing them at a much higher level,” said Capt. Billy Folinusz, the commander of Delta Company, 1stbattalion, 64thArmor Regiment, whose soldiers were participating in the event.

The tests come from years of research done to determine what are the most difficult tasks in each branch, how are these tasks done, and what makes them difficult.

“We did a bunch of physiological measurements,” Myers said. “So we had soldiers doing the tasks wearing heart-rate monitors, wearing oxygen uptake (masks) to get at energy costs, things like that, and basically determine, of the hard things soldiers do, what makes it hard? Is it strength? Is it power? What is it? So now, we are in the final phases of it, where we are trying to figure out which simple, easy-to-administer tests actually correlate to the tasks.”

The Soldier 2020 program aims in part to open occupation specialties that have been closed to women. These tests are designed to put the best-qualified soldier in the right job, regardless of gender.

“A 155 mm artillery projectile weighs about 98 pounds. I don’t care your gender, you’ve got to be able to lift that,” Myers said. He went on to say, “If you’re going to deny someone an occupation coming into the military, you better be denying it based on their ability to perform the job.”

Marilyn Sharp, principal investigator for the Army’s Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, said soldiers have received the testing positively.

“As long as the standards are not lowered, I think people are fine with it,” she said. “And if you can beat the standard, you can have the job.

“I think we’ll be getting the people that are going to have a better likelihood of being successful in each (occupation specialty),” she continued. “If we do that, it’s going to make training more efficient. We’re going to get people to finish training — less attrition, fewer injuries and more of a unit that can work together. Because we all know, probably in every job, there are people who can’t do the job, regardless of their sex.”

The Army hopes to roll out the test to new recruits as soon as early 2016, but they won’t be binding until more tests are conducted on the implementation of the new standards.

“Not everybody can do everything,” Sharp said. “And so if we get people in each job that are capable of doing the job, the Army should be a better army for it.”

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