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Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force

Integrated Task Force supported by researchers, corpsmen

By | | November 18, 2014

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Owing to its status as a detailed research project, the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force carries a more robust medical capability than most units in the Marine Corps. The Task Force Aid Station, University of Pittsburgh researchers and the unit’s athletic trainer each play a key role in keeping Marines and sailors physically prepared for the rigors of their broad training.

The Task Force Aid Station or TFAS, is operated by Navy medical personnel, and serves as the usual first stop if a Marine or sailor sustains a physical injury or illness.

“Corpsmen triage injuries from the field or as a result of physical training,” said Lt. Cmdr. Stephanie Elenbaum, medical officer, Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force. “They are also capable of teaching the Marines basic lifesaving and first aid skills and making sure they feel confident with those skills in the event of deployment.”

In addition to hastily checking in personnel the past several months, TFAS has also accomplished an iteration of combat lifesaver, or CLS, course for the task force.

“We stood up and got folks checked in, did a CLS class for about 40 Marines, and now we’re working on getting trackers to evaluate for trends so that the companies can find and modify training programs accordingly to eliminate injuries,” Elenbaum said.

The personnel hope to mitigate injuries during training through the use of a tracker that will record statistics and appropriately modify training, if needed.

“The tracker is something to be used to see if there’s a pattern for both the male and female volunteers that could result in modifying the training schedule,” Elenbaum said.

All corpsmen have a unique obligation to be prepared to treat Marines if and when needed, regardless of gender.

“We were attempting to keep female corpsmen with female Marines,” Elenbaum said. “Now, we’re getting male corpsmen comfortable and educated with treating females.”

The corpsmen are assets to the task force, but above that, to the Marine Corps. Through their time with the GCEITF, they will continue developing their skills to better serve Marines.

“We want to further training for the corpsmen to make them better assets,” Elenbaum said. “Our goal is to help with their career development as well.”

A team of researchers with the University of Pittsburgh (UPITT) screen groups of Marines within the task force as they check into the GCE ITF at Camp Lejeune. Their mission is to test baseline physical, physiological, and performance characteristics as predictors of military occupational school and unit integration outcomes.

“We are working for UPITT(assisting the GCE ITF) to provide three aims,” said Megan Frame, faculty research associate, University of Pittsburgh. “To provide recommendations on test protocol to determine predictors of MOS school and ITF unit integration and outcome; provide surveillance and analysis of musculoskeletal injuries (throughout the GCE ITF); and (perform) task and demand analysis in the field.

In order to provide a thorough scientific approach to testing and analysis of tactical requirements and physical profiles, an array of machines combined with scientific analysis capabilities are utilized to evaluate Marines within the task force.

Among these machines are a “bod pod” used to determine body composition; a force plate used to measure how well a subject can keep their balance on one leg or with their eyes closed during stationary and dynamic movements; a Biodex isokinetic dynamometer used to measure muscular strength; motion capture system used to obtain kinetic and kinematic analysis of tactical movements; and a metabolic unit to measure maximal oxygen uptake during a treadmill test.

The maximal oxygen uptake test is a treadmill test to find a Marine’s aerobic capacity, and also assess their blood lactate concentration through a series of finger pricks, Frame said. She added that the researchers look at the Marines’ lactate threshold relative to their maximum volume of oxygen uptake and can compare this data to their peers as well as tactical athletes.

This type of screening, combined with an individual Marine’s statistics as measured in the physical fitness test and combat fitness test, make up the baseline for Marines in the task force. The evaluation process continues as the task force takes their training to the field.

“For the task and demand analysis, we will collect data using portable versions of the instruments we use in the lab, such as heart rate monitors, portable metabolic units, global positioning system watches, and picture and video to identify the physiological and musculoskeletal demands that are in the field,” said Katelyn F. Allison, PhD, assistant professor, University of Pittsburgh.

Additional factors in research and overall capabilities of the researchers come in the form of their collaboration with the athletic trainer and corpsmen within the task force.

 “We worked with the athletic trainers in School of Infantry-East and West,” said Kathleen M. Poploski, research associate, University of Pittsburgh. “They would collect information, ask the same questions as UPITT and keep track of it. Now, we are working with the corpsmen in the GCE ITF, and we’re collecting any injuries they evaluate, and putting that info in the database to see if there are specific times with injuries, or with events and MOSs.”

Corrine Ruttiger serves as the task force athletic trainer. Her role is one that revolves around the identification, evaluation, and prevention of musculoskeletal injuries. With a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and athletic training and a master’s degree in education, she brings more than 20 years of experience to the task force.

“I work hand-in-hand with the (Task Force Aid Station),” Ruttiger said. “The idea is to identify the injuries right away; evaluate and treat them; and determine duty status to identify if it is safe to continue or if the injury needs to be further addressed.”

If a Marine sustains a musculoskeletal injury as a result of physical or field training, Ruttiger evaluates the physical integrity of the patient by checking factors such as range of motion and flexibility.

“If something is not functioning properly, chances are you’re going to injure it further,” Ruttiger said.

After the injury is addressed, Ruttiger works with the patient to assign rehabilitation to be conducted for the purpose of steadily having their injuries recover until they are once again fully physically capable for training.

“A Marine needs a good plan of action to prevent further injury,” Ruttiger said.

The Integrated Task Force has a long training process cut out for them, but with medical support from three sides, Marines and sailors can be assured that in the event of an injury, the road to recovery is in good hands, and they will re-join the fight before they know it.

From October 2014 to July 2015, the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force will conduct individual and collective skills training in designated combat arms occupational specialties in order to facilitate the standards based assessment of the physical performance of Marines in a simulated operating environment performing specific ground combat arms tasks.


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