Army veteran hopes research helps soldiers
HUNTINGTON -- As a nine-year U.S. Army veteran, David Cottrill knows the stress and physical demands of being a soldier.
So now the Charleston native is using his experience in hopes of helping others in the military.
For the next month, Cottrill, 27, is leading a research study in the Marshall University College of Health Professions on the physiological effects of dehydration.
Currently, it is estimated members of the military can lose up to seven pounds in one hour due to dehydration, according to a release from Marshall University, so Cottrill is studying the physiological effects of dehydration in cadets who drink pure water and cadets who drink an electrolyte solution, such as Gatorade.
"Sometimes the small things fall through the cracks, like hydration or uniform material, and that can boil down to what makes the mission successful," the second-year exercise science graduate student said. "You're drinking so much water when you're going through basic training and it's very controlled how much you should be drinking each day. But there are better products out now, like Gatorade and Powerade, that are used in civilian athletics, but have not been used in the miltiary."
In Cottrill's study, nine members of the Marshall ROTC are asked to dress in full military Army Combat Uniform and carry a heavy rucksack in an 85-degree room for one hour. Each cadet will do this twice within a week.
Cottrill said the focus of his research is influenced by his own experiences when training for the military.
"The conditions our military face in desert environments like Afghanistan are hard to train or prepare for, as these conditions are very specific to that environment," Cottrill said. "The purpose of my research is to accurately replicate these conditions and test the level of performance in regard to dehydration."
Cottrill was 18 when he joined the United States Air Force then transferred to the U.S. Army when he was 24 to gain his commission as an officer. Upon completion of his undergraduate degree at West Virginia State University, Cottrill was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the West Virginia National Guard as an engineer. He is a platoon leader for a combat engineer company based in Parkersburg, W.Va.
Cottrill said he hopes his study gets the attention of the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts, which is responsible for military research and development.
"There's a whole bunch of misinformation available," he said.
"A concrete scientific document doesn't exist that says if you're a military group these are the science-based recommendations for what you're doing. The ultimate goal of the research is for it to get published. When it's completed I'll be able to make recommendations and conclusions based off the data and have it readily available to commanders and other individuals in charge of planning. I want my research to help soldiers perform to the best of their abilities."
Cottrill's research will do just that, according to Dr. Terry Shepherd, director of the college's exercise physiology laboratory. Shepherd serves as Cottrill's thesis advisor and an ideal mentor because of his own research with simulated environments, according to a release from Marshall University.
"The biggest problem we hear from our military is the environmental stress they face," Shepherd said in the newss release. "For example, we've modified training techniques for members of our U.S. Air Force because they've said sand was a huge problem. We decided to convert racquetball courts into sand pits and allow their bodies to train and adapt to this simulated environment so they could perform at higher levels."
Shepherd said research like Cottrill's allows for a practical application of a real life scenario, which could result in major changes for all branches of the military.
"There is a real effort across all military branches to improve human performance," Shepherd said. "Research of this nature could lead to implications of change in policies for our military. In our department, we only do research that can be applied to the real world and used as a practical resource."
Cottrill earned his bachelor's degree in sports studies at West Virginia State University. It was there he became interested in the field. He said he plans to graduate from Marshall in May with a master's degree in exercise science and go on to pursue his doctorate in hopes of having a career as a college professor and researcher.
Follow reporter Kristi Murphy on Twitter, @Kristi_Murphy.
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