Army Using Wearable Tracking Devices to Learn How Soldiers Perform Under Pressure

A soldier uses a fitness tracker
A U.S. soldier prepares for a run using a fitness tracker. (Amy Bushatz/

Some 530 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division are taking part in a yearlong human performance study in which they wear special watches and rings that track not just their physical exertion, but also how their heart rate responds under stress.

Infantrymen from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team's 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, at Fort Drum, New York, were issued the new gadgets to collect physical performance and physiological data, such as resting heart rate, changes in body temperature, respiratory rate, sleep cycles and activity levels. It’s part of the Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness (MASTR-E) program, according to an Army news release.

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"Some of the things we are looking at are physical exertion and training load, sleep and recovery," George Matook, MASTR-E program manager for the Army's Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC), said in the release. "And if you can tie those basic things together, then you can get a picture of how they are training, how hard they are training, and [whether] they are training too much. Are they sleeping enough ahead of a training event -- going into it already at a deficit, or are they really getting ready for an event?"

During an Oct. 28 event, 4-31 soldiers ran through a 200-meter stress-shoot course -- which had squads conducting fire and maneuver drills -- to evaluate their speed, accuracy and decision-making ability under pressure, according to the release.

The leaders and soldiers know one another from training together, but the wearable sensors "allowed us to see ourselves a little bit better than we normally would," Maj. Adam Cucchiara, 4-31 infantry operations officer, said in the release.

"This has helped us to quantify what is arguably pretty hard to quantify in terms of how we're doing," Cucchiara said. "Now we can say, 'This is exactly how well you slept last night,' or 'This is how fast you ran and here's how your heart rate changed when presented with this tactical problem.'"

The research team followed soldiers closely as they were rotating through the stress-shoot course to monitor the activity being recorded from the sensors.

"There are two efforts going on here -- Optimizing the Human Weapon System, along with Tactical Stress Marksmanship Assessment," Joseph Patterson, CCDC SC's work package lead for the MASTR-E program, said in the release. "We are trying out a research methodology on tactical stress and decision-making. The Army believes in 'train as you fight,' so we are trying to put soldiers through this assessment course in the conditions in which they would fight the current fight and future fights as well."

The day before the test event, the sensors even showed when a soldier had an elevated heart rate just before they ran through the course for practice, Cucchiara said.

"Just understanding they were about to go into this competitive environment -- it may look like that soldier is perfectly calm and ready to go, but inside, he or she is really getting amped up," he said. "Then we see how that may translate into decisions that they make, right off the bat. Now that we are able to quantify exactly what 'better' is, we can go back and see what we can do before we get to an event to make you better, make you faster, and give you more control over your breathing, your heart rate and your marksmanship."

Soldiers are encouraged to wear the sensors at all times -- even when they are off duty -- so they can use the physiological status monitors to see how different behaviors, both day and night, can affect their performance, Patterson said. Both researchers and soldiers can see the performance data, he noted.

"The watch and the ring give them insights into their internal operating systems," he said. "So, they can understand how certain life decisions -- like playing video games until 2 in the morning -- will then [affect] actions on the objective."

The study is a partnership between the CCDC SC, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, and the 10th Mountain Division. It's designed to tie into the Army's Holistic Health and Fitness doctrine, which deals with physical, mental and spiritual fitness to increase soldier readiness, Patterson said.

"Our entire intent is to make them smarter, faster, more lethal and more precise," he explained.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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