Scientists in the Service

Fighting the Elements
Helping Human Performance Conquer Natural Environments

By Richard F. Johnson

Richard F. Johnson

The path that took me to my position as a civilian research psychologist at the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine – the USARIEM – in Natick, Massachusetts, may seem unique, but it’s not so unique to anyone exposed to cooperative education as an undergraduate. Before graduating from Northeastern University with an ROTC commission, I was an attendant nurse of a mental hospital, a manager of a sheltered workshop for chronic schizophrenics, and used an NIMH grant to study the effects of emotion on physical appearance. Since my last undergraduate assignment was as a research assistant at USARIEM, my career path has clearly been circular.

How did I reach my current employment at USARIEM? It was not by luck. First, my active duty was delayed while I attended graduate school. At Brandeis University I was in the general experimental psychology program, which was structured to train students to be teachers and researchers. I received training from Abraham Maslow and George Kelly in personality, Brendan Maher in psychopathology, and John Senders in statistics. Theodore X. Barber, whom I had met on one of my undergraduate work assignments, offered me a job in his laboratory at the Medfield Foundation for two summers. Barber’s generosity and rigorous experimental approach has had a profound influence on the rest of my career, in terms of how I approach research problems. He was a very involved outside reader on my dissertation.

Upon receiving my doctorate, I entered active duty at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and was assigned to USARIEM’s neighbor, the Army’s Natick Laboratories, doing human factors psychology work on protective clothing systems. We determined how clothing and body armor systems interfere with performance and what can be done to attenuate these impairments. We also surveyed soldiers’ attitudes toward combat rations. One survey showed soldiers would like to have beer available in the mess hall. This was not an unexpected finding (to say the least), and some administrators ran with it; for a while it was actually available at some military posts. Before long, though, its obvious detrimental effects, such as arguments in the mess hall, put an end to the program. Upon release from active duty, Barber and I were awarded an NIMH grant to study how emotions and thoughts can lead to changes in the skin, including warts, blisters, and the rate of healing in burns. We also studied how experimenter bias is manifested and can be diminished in psychological research.

In 1976, I returned to the Army’s Natick Laboratories, this time as a civilian. I worked closely with Carolyn Bensel in the human factors group, studying the effects of combat clothing ensembles on performance. I learned much, working in close collaboration with leather chemists, footwear technologists, and clothing and textile technologists, among others. To assess the usefulness of military gear and compare ours to that of the Canadian Army, we winter-camped in the Canadian wilderness for a week, living in tents at 40 degrees below zero. In this environment you learn how good your gear really is – ours was very good.

In 1983, I again joined USARIEM, 18 years after my cooperative work assignment in 1965. As a research arm of the Army Surgeon General, the Institute studies the effects of extremes in the natural environment and protective systems (protective clothing, drugs, training, etc.) on human performance. Much of my time at USARIEM has been spent studying vigilance and psychomotor performance. I developed a simulated sentry duty model to study a soldier’s ability to maintain alertness while watching for the infrequent appearance of targets over a three hour time period. I based the model on Norman Mackworth’s classic work with British Royal Navy sonar operators during World War II. The target exposure schedules and rates are literally the same as those used by Mackworth. This research program has enabled us to determine vigilance decrement curves associated with demands placed upon the sentry, and to offer suggestions to improve performance.

Since my work assesses subjective responses to unusual treatments, the Army has given me the opportunity to collaborate with psychologists, epidemiologists, and pharmacologists at the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the University of Zurich (Switzerland), among others, in the evaluation of the side effects of antimalarial medications and the efficacy of anti-jetlag medications.

Working as a career military psychologist has been very rewarding. I feel that I have been able to make meaningful contributions both to the military and to civilians.

Richard F. Johnson is a research psychologist at the US Army Research Institute. He received his bachelor’s from Northeastern University and his US Army commission in 1966. He was a NASA pre-doctoral fellow and a Woodrow Wilson dissertation fellow at Brandeis University, where he received his PhD.

Psychological Fly-By
A Brief History of Industrial Psychology in the US Air Force

By William H. Hendrix

William H. Hendrix

A significant era in what we might call personnel or industrial psychology started with major research efforts funded by the Army in World War I. Then-APA president Robert Yerkes, working with an Army grant, developed the Army Alpha test for screening and assigning literate army recruits, then later the Army Beta test to serve the same need for illiterate candidates. During the same period, Walter Scott focused on methods for classifying and assigning recruits into job categories. He conducted performance ratings of officers and developed job qualifications standards for more than 500 jobs. These efforts gave credibility to industrial psychology that not only captured the attention of the military but also the business community.

During World War II, many psychologists were brought into the Army to help with the war effort. The results of their research were eventually published in a series of 19 Army Air Force Aviation Psychology Program Research Reports. Most of these were published from 1946 to 1948 and dealt with the core issues of industrial psychology, including classification tests, pilot, navigator, and bombardier selection and training, and equipment design. Many of these psychologists were already, or later became, leaders in the field, such as John C. Flanagan, Robert L. Thorndike, Paul M. Fitts, Arthur W. Melton, and Edwin E. Ghiselli. These volumes are an exciting contribution to the fields of industrial and human factors psychology. In particular, report number three, Research Problems and Techniques by Robert Thorndike (1947), has served as a reference for much of the research in job analysis and test construction, because it explores problems associated with reliability, validity, and criteria.

The US Air Force became a separate service in 1947 and has since been actively involved in all areas of psychological research. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Air Force had an active partnership with Purdue University, where I received my PhD. This relationship involved sending Air Force officers for master’s and doctoral education in human factors engineering and industrial psychology. Graduates of the human factors engineering program have assisted the Air Force in design of aircraft, missile, and electronic systems, and have served as USAF Academy instructors.

A large percentage of those receiving degrees in industrial psychology ended up at the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory. AFHRL was headquartered at Brooks Air Force Base and consisted of six research divisions. The computational sciences division provided computer support for all of the other divisions. The personnel research division was involved in attitudinal, selection and classification, and development and evaluation research. The third division focused on occupational and manpower research. The remaining three divisions were the flying training division, the technical training division, and the advanced systems division, which researched personnel requirements and simulation techniques.

Unfortunately, AFHRL was abolished as a laboratory during the 1990s. Some of its functions were transferred to other bases. One of its major functions was job analysis research. Today that capability is very active at the Air Force Occupational Measurement Squadron, which employs the majority of individuals considered industrial psychologists in the Air Force. The remaining behavioral scientists – industrial psychologists included – are employed by either the USAF Academy or the Air Force Research Laboratory. These impressive organizations have made significant contributions, not only to industrial psychology but to behavioral and social science in general.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Charles Hamilton, Headquarters, Air Force Personnel Center, Randolph Base, Texas, for providing the latest data on behavioral scientists assignments.

Cronin, C. (Ed.). (1998). Military psychology: An introduction. Needham Heights, MA: Simon & Schuster Custom Publishing.
Flanagan, J. C. (Ed.). (1948). The Aviation Psychology Program in the Army Air Forces (Report No. 1). Washington, DC: US Printing Office.
Thorndike, R. L. (Ed.). (1947). Research Problems and Techniques (Report No. 3). Washington, DC: US Printing Office.
Thorndike, R. L. (1949). Personnel Selection: Test and Measurement Techniques. NewYork: Wiley.

William H. Hendrix, professor emeritus of management, Clemson University, currently serves as director, Office of Character Development Assessment, USAF Academy. His research interests include leadership, character development, decision-making, absenteeism, and sexual harassment. He received his PhD in industrial psychology from Purdue University.

To Air Is Human
Applying Psychology to Air Force Problems

By Barry P. Goettl

Barry P. Goettl

When I first declared psychology as my major, I didn’t have a realistic idea of what kinds of careers would become available with this degree. In fact, all I knew was that I needed at least a master’s to get a decent job. But the more psychology classes I took, the more I learned about possible career options.

In my junior year at the University of Dayton, I took a class in human factors taught by Robert Bateman, who was working as a contractor at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This class had a great impact on me. I learned about a new field of applied psychology and broadened my perspective on the kinds of careers available. This course also affected which graduate programs I would later investigate.

After graduating I attended the University of Illinois and worked for psychology professor Chris Wickens. At Illinois I learned the value that applied scientific theory can have for solving real world problems. I became involved in basic research funded by Department of Defense sources, so there was always an emphasis on addressing applied problems. During this time I learned to approach science by studying problems complex enough to represent real world tasks, yet controlled enough to allow valid tests of scientific theories.

When I graduated from Illinois in 1987, I was hired as an assistant professor at Clemson University, in its new master’s program in human factors. There I had the opportunity to work at Wright Patterson AFB in a summer faculty research program. One thing I learned at Clemson was the vast amount of work required to develop and maintain a productive research program. I also found that my many duties limited my time for research.

In 1991, I learned about a job at Brooks Air Force Base in an Air Force-funded laboratory, doing full time research on automated instruction. The laboratory had 20 workstations capable of producing 800 subject hours of data per week. Combined with a 12-month salary, this was an opportunity too good to pass up, and in 1992 I accepted the position and moved my family to San Antonio.

Working for an Air Force laboratory has given me great opportunities to pursue my research interests, as long as those interests can be applied to Air Force needs. I won’t say that working for the government has always been a pleasure. There is a significant amount of paperwork that must be completed and I am continually asked to justify our programs and funding levels, but that is to be expected, since our funding ultimately comes from taxpayers.

What I like about working for the Air Force is that sometimes a research problem arises that gives me the opportunity to make a difference. I am currently involved in a program called the Visual Threat Recognition and Avoidance Trainer that the Air Force Special Operations Command initiated in 1998.

AFSOC personnel must be trained to detect and respond to various ground threats. We have supported this need by developing a high-resolution threat simulator for training AFSOC scanners to detect and react to a wide variety of ground threats. Our system generates realistic threat simulations as viewed from various altitudes and crew positions, and uses voice recognition to train AFSOC scanners on the appropriate threat calls and tactics.

This program has been well received by AFSOC scanners. Capt. Mike Manion of the 15th Special Operations Squadron said of the training: “Almost every aircrew member I talked to in the 15th SOS that had the training said it was very helpful.” Former Air Force vice chief of staff Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart called the simulator “the world’s most advanced threat avoidance trainer, … with application across the Air Force and Department of Defense.” In addition, we had the opportunity to validate its effectiveness with personnel returning from operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq.

Our study measured Visual Threat Recognition and Avoidance Trainer performance of combat experienced versus inexperienced crewmembers, and found a positive correlation between VTRAT performance and experience observing anti-aircraft artillery fire. These results suggest that VTRAT provides a valid representation of the threat environment. There might be substantial debate over United States involvement in Iraq; however, I can put those politics aside and say that I am extremely proud of the fact that our team has contributed to the safe return of our heroes.

Barry P. Goettl, a research psychologist at the Air Force Research Laboratory, helped develop a training simulator to teach ground threat avoidance tactics for Air Force personnel. He earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Dayton in 1981, and a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1987.

Looking Back With Pride

By Kathryn H. Knudson

Kathryn H. Knudson

After 31 years, I retired in September 2002 from active duty in the Army as a research psychologist in the rank of lieutenant colonel. My years in the service included approximately 26 years active duty plus an additional five years in the active Army Reserve.

I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps in July 1971 after I graduated from the University of Missouri, St. Louis with a degree in sociology-anthropology. I served as a personnel staff officer at Headquarters First Army, Ft. Meade, Maryland until the summer of 1973 when I entered the PhD program in psychology at the University of California, Riverside. There I met my husband, Gregory B. Knudson, an Army Chemical Corps officer, when he entered the PhD program in genetics, also at UC-Riverside. While we were both in the graduate programs, we served in active US Army Reserve units. Duty with the units required a weekend of service each month and two weeks of training each year. I served in areas such as finance, security, and personnel. Greg served as a medical laboratory officer.

In 1978, I received a PhD in social-developmental psychology. My dissertation work involved the study of empathy and role-taking in children under Spencer Kagan. Later in 1978, Greg and I returned to active duty as Medical Service Corps officers. Greg eventually returned to the Army Reserves and retired as an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel. He currently is a senior scientist in government service.

My years on active duty as an Army research psychologist have given me extensive experience in research and research management. I was a staff officer in the Army Systems Hazards Research Directorate at the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command from 1984 to 1988. The directorate managed a research budget of approximately $35 million per year at that time for the following areas of research: toxicology, neuropsychiatry, physiology and altitude research areas, laser performance effects, and certain preventive medicine areas such as sickle cell trait. I also was a project manager for the first $40 million Congressional appropriation for the Defense Women’s Health Research Program in the mid-1990s. This program was also under the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The program funded research at military research laboratories, universities, and other research institutions regarding health issues for military women. My own areas of research included soldier-family health and well-being as well as the epidemiology of posttraumatic stress disorder in Army men and women. Most of this work was a team effort with teams of military and government civilian psychologists, psychiatrists, anthropologists, sociologists, and anthropologists. From 1988 to 1992, I served at the Letterman Army Institute of Research at the Presidio of San Francisco, California. The Loma Prieta earthquake occurred during this period of time. I volunteered to work at the Cypress structure area, which was heavily damaged after the earthquake. President George H. W. Bush visited volunteers at the structure. I was honored to receive the Humanitarian Service medal for my work there. From 1997 to 2000, I served as the chief of the department of soldier and family studies at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, DC. I also served as senior research psychologist in the division of neuropsychiatry at Walter Reed. My last assignment was in the office of research, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences as executive secretary for the Institutional Review Board. I am currently a volunteer emeritus in the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research office of research.

Given the wide range of job opportunities in the Army for psychologists, I would definitely recommend the Army as a career for other psychologists to consider.

In September 2002, Kathryn H. Knudson retired as lieutenant colonel in the US Army. Research during her 31 years in the service included work on soldier-family health, women’s health issues, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

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