NATICK, Mass. — What is the true measure of today’s Soldier?
If the question were philosophical, the answer could stir some debate. From a physical standpoint, however, Dr. Claire Gordon and Cynthia Blackwell will soon provide as accurate an answer as you’re likely to find anywhere.
Gordon, Blackwell and others at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center have been working since October 2010 on ANSUR II, an anthropometric survey of 11,961 Soldiers — including active duty, aviators, Army Reservists and National Guardsmen — over 18 months that is expected to improve the design and fit of clothing and individual equipment. The data will also help shape future combat vehicles, aircraft and weapon systems.
When they finished collecting data in April, the NSRDEC researchers had 94 body measurements and three-dimensional surface scans for males and females gathered from numerous units across the country at 13 measuring locations.
“Literally, the Army’s been doing anthropometry since the Civil War,” said Gordon, senior research scientist in biological anthropology at NSRDEC. “Everything a Soldier wears, carries, flies, drives, rides in, works in and sleeps in depends on anthropometry.
“The Army is the most diverse user group of any kind in the world, because we’re a melting pot as a country. So we have more variability in body size and shape than anybody in the world.”
The Army hadn’t conducted a comprehensive survey of body dimensions since 1988, however, and Soldiers have evolved a great deal since then.
“All of the military … are heavier, without being taller, than they were 20 years ago,” Gordon said. “That extra body fat changes the meaning of a lot of our dimensions. It’s the kind of thing you can’t forecast.”
The NSRDEC team showed great persistence in gathering data from the survey’s start Oct. 4, 2011, at Fort Hood.
“Basically, we had to plan by the half-day for the entire timeframe,” said Blackwell, the project manager. “You can imagine the amount of coordination that’s required. It required a lot of innovation in our thinking, a lot of flexibility. We had to be really very agile in terms of how we operated.
“People out there were willing to help us. They understood the value and the power of what we were trying to do.”
In addition to traditional measurements, the NSRDEC team employed 3-D scanning techniques that were previously unavailable.
“We did them both,” Gordon said. “It takes an hour and a half to collect three scans and 94 measurements for a given Soldier. For a unit, it took all morning.
“In ’88 it was said that (ANSUR I) was the best engineering database in the entire world. And I’m convinced now that with our 3D scans, and the traditional dimensions, and the way we’ve done the sampling again in ANSUR II, it will become, again, the best engineering database in the world.”
That explains why government agencies such as NASA, along with industry, will once again want the data, which should be released late in fiscal year 2013.
“Because it’s public data,” said Gordon, “we share it.”
But the military and homeland defenders come first. Gordon and Blackwell hope to provide data that will help those organizations acquire the right quantities of clothing and equipment in various sizes.
“We’ve got to fit them well enough to protect them, well enough that they can … function in the field, and we’ve got to do it mostly right off the shelf,” Gordon said. “We have to minimize special orders because it’s too costly for the taxpayer, and we can’t afford to do that if we’re deploying quickly.”
The ANSUR II study will have an impact for decades to come in the way workspaces, work stations, field kitchens, vehicles and aircraft are designed.
“We’re designing it now,” said Gordon of the hardware. “We’re going to field it in seven or 10 years, and it’s going to be out there for another 20. So we’re talking 30 years from now, conceivably, is the population of users we’re going to have to fit.”
Gordon said the study was as rewarding as it was challenging.
“You can do science until the cows come home, but in the end, it’s a survey like this … where the rubber meets the road,” Gordon said. “It saves lives. It saves money. It saves time.”