MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Of the more than 600 Marines and Sailors assigned to the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, at least half are volunteers and therefore officially classified as “human research subjects.” With that special classification comes an increased responsibility for oversight of the training the volunteer Marines participate in.
The important task of monitoring the training and insuring the treatment of the volunteers conforms to Institutional Review Board-mandated human research guidelines, falls to a select group of Marines working with the Task Force.
“We are an independent group of research monitors that report to the Institutional Review Board based out of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia,” said Maj. Jane Blair, head of research monitor team, IRB. “Our job is to provide unbiased, unaffiliated and experienced eyes on observation of day-to-day operations and activities in the Task Force.”
The IRB is a committee created to review research and ensure the protection of the rights and welfare of human research subjects, according to their official website.
“Whenever there is a human experiment, the IRB is responsible for ensuring that volunteers are being treated fairly in any kind of experimentation,” Blair said.
The research monitors, including Blair and nine staff noncommissioned officers, operate outside of the normal Task Force chain of command and are assigned to sections based specifically on their expertise within a certain combat arms MOS.
The task force research team consists of four 0369s (infantry unit leader), one 0313 (light armored vehicle crewman), one 1371 (combat engineer), one 1833 (amphibious assault vehicle crewmember), one 1812 (M1A1 tank crewman), and one 0811 (field artillery cannoneer).
“My primary job is to protect the trainees,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth W. Andrews, LAV crewman research monitor, IRB. “I ensure all protocol, such as gunnery and recovery, is legitimately how we would do it in the other operational units.”
As one of the research monitors, Andrews observes on a daily basis the training conducted by the LAV Platoon, Company B. He keeps a close eye on both the operational tempo and conduct of the Marines.
“We have had recovery training where we practice getting vehicles unstuck,” Andrews said. “All trainees, to include the females, were actively involved and safe. They all work hard and have done well.”
The experience of these research monitors makes them fit for the critical job of observing all aspects of training.
“The experience I have gained in the (infantry) field allows me to look at the training the volunteers are doing and ensure it is up to norms with Marine Corps training standards,” said Gunnery Sgt. Clinton Ticer, infantry unit leader research monitor, IRB. “I can look at it with an understanding of what they are actually doing.”
Ticer accompanies Weapons Company, and notes that despite the Task Force being a unit that has only recently stood up, the training is already comparable to other infantry units.
“I think (training) is coming along pretty well,” Ticer said. “One of the big things I am looking for as a research monitor is the (drop on request), and I have not seen Marines dropping because they feel they can’t do it. That says a lot of things about the way we are working up and training.”
The research monitor team follows guidelines published in the 1979 Belmont Report, a document that deals heavily with “basic ethical principles and guidelines that should assist in resolving the ethical problems that surround the conduct of research with human subjects,” according to its official summarization.
The report was put into effect as a response to inhumane experiments, specifically those that occurred during World War II and resulted in the Nuremberg War Crime Trials in Germany.
“(The reason for our being) is because of atrocities committed in the past against human subjects that were inhumane and resulted in loss of life,” Blair said. “As research monitors, we are trained in human research protocol to recognize things that can be considered inhumane or risky behavior.”
Although the Task Force is in no way, shape or form an institution of inhumane treatment, the experimental nature of it requires the presence of the research team, as directed by Secretary of the Navy instruction 3900.39D, stating “research involving human subjects receives considerable national and international attention. Support from all echelons is required to maintain the highest standards of research conduct and to provide for the ethical treatment and well-being of human research subjects.”
The research team currently has their work cut out for them as the Task Force follows through with their lengthy training schedule and eventual deployment to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California. They will likely disband once training concludes, when the Task Force cases the unit’s colors in July 2015.
“The Task Force is going through rigorous mental and physical testing and using human subjects to evaluate performance,” Blair said. “It’s amazing how thorough this is and how everything is done. It’s impressive to see all the wickets come together and how the command has negotiated working in this untraditional environment.”
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.