By Connie Lee | National Defense Magazine
Marine Corps Training and Education Command is working to protect troops by investing in technology that can detect potential injuries.
“I think we can drastically reduce attrition rates,” said Sparta Science founder and CEO Phil Wagner. “If you have force plate technology, and you have proper nutrition and programming, I don’t see any reason why we can’t reduce attrition 50 percent or so.”
The command is using Sparta Science’s “force plates,” which are able to analyze the user’s movements after he or she stands, planks and jumps onto the system. The product then determines where the user may be susceptible to musculoskeletal injury by also incorporating data such as age, gender and
occupation, according to the company.
“Those force patterns from the force plates are fed into our software, which uses machine learning,” he said. “The machine learning basically identifies patterns that humans couldn’t identify because there’s so much data, and so many points to actually evaluate.”
The effort kicked off in September 2019 under a paid pilot program and was expanded to a five-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract in September 2020, according to the company.
Retired Col. Stephen Armes, Sparta Science strategic advisor and former director of the Marine Corps Human Performance Division at Marine Corps Base Quantico, said an average of more than 400 infantry Marines per year are held back due to musculoskeletal injuries. The plates have been sent to multiple locations, such as officer candidate school, recruiting depots, and the Marine school of infantry and infantry officer course, according to the company.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, officer candidate school was going to be the next test bed due to the high female attrition rate, Wagner noted.
“When I say high attrition rate, we’re looking at places with … high musculoskeletal injury attrition rates,” he said. “We did get some folks through before COVID, in late ‘19, early ‘20. But they were at the infantry officers course, which is another course that has a very high attrition rate as well.”
The force plates could also be used to assess a Marine’s potential for injury prior to shipping off to boot camp, Armes said.
“We can screen them with [the] force plate before they even ship to training,” he said. “We already give them a physical fitness program to make sure they’re fit. But from a physiological perspective, we don’t know if that program is suitable for them because of any imbalances they may have in their body they don’t know about.