As universities educate, employ veterans, faculties’ studies benefit the U.S. military

Two National Guardsmen play catch during military appreciation day on the Boise State campus.
Two National Guardsmen play catch during military appreciation day on the Boise State campus. Boise State University

Like many universities across the country, Boise State has a proud tradition of honoring our student veterans, not only by recognizing Veterans Day but by making our campuses welcoming places for veterans to learn. This is vital, as more than 1,200 U.S. veterans currently are pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at BSU. In Idaho and across the nation, the number of students using GI benefits is expected to grow.

But even as we focus on the success of our veterans, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that university faculty in Idaho also play a pivotal role in military and defense research. Their research helps ensure the safety of roughly 1.4 million active-duty military personnel stationed across the globe.

Take the work of Tyler Brown, who joined Boise State from the U.S. military as an associate professor of kinesiology. Brown is working to better understand how the load a soldier wears – his or her body armor, ammunition panel, weapon, helmet and backpack – affect their mobility and injury risk. As Brown explains, a soldier who moves more slowly is more susceptible to acute injuries such as stress fractures and sprains, and more likely to be shot. Heavy loads take a toll on joints and an individual’s response time – yet how heavy is too heavy? And at what point does sacrificing necessary gear for a lighter load become a safety risk?

Brown was able to continue the research he began with the U.S. military at Boise State. In fact, his research has taken on new significance, as only in recent years has the Pentagon allowed women to work in front-line combat positions. It is vital for the safety of all troops, and especially unstudied female troops, to understand how the weight they carry affects their efficacy in movement and response time in combat situations.

University research also helps us better understand how military spending affects the lives of everyday Americans. For instance, assistant professor of geography Steven Radil and graduate student Lanny McAden at the University of Idaho have launched a Mapping Police Militarization project, which examines – and nationally maps, by county – the free distribution of surplus military equipment to police departments. Their project is particularly relevant as concerns about police militarization have become an important public policy issue for cities across the country.

Perhaps surprisingly, the team’s research has found that in Idaho, the counties that received the most military equipment are rural – including Franklin, Boundary, Jefferson and Clearwater counties. The next phase of their research is exploring the reasons these police departments choose to acquire military gear.

Military research also helps our military better understand how it is viewed abroad. Nearly 15 percent of our active-duty troops, or not quite 200,000 of them, are stationed at bases across the world. Boise State researcher Michael Allen, an assistant professor of political science, is the lead researcher on a new $1.2 million grant from the Department of Defense to study the positive and negative affects of having U.S. troops stationed in other countries – specifically, whether troops leave positive or negative impressions on native social groups, based on their local interactions and the nature of their work (for example, those doing humanitarian work versus those working in active conflict zones).

Most Americans understand the complex political relationship that the U.S. has with other foreign powers; this research will look at the on-the-ground relationships that individuals from 14 countries, living and working next to U.S. bases, have with troops.

Finally, Allen and his team will be using GIS to map all U.S. troop-based criminal activity that has been reported to the military, as well as all of the protests that have happened because of a U.S. presence or directly outside a U.S. military base.

As Allen points out, his team’s research is a vital first step in understanding what the U.S. military can do to improve its international reputation, and further ensure the safety of its troops, in countries that harbor negative feelings about a U.S. presence. Eventually, Allen hopes to make all the team’s data publicly available.

The U.S. military remains the strongest in the world. It is a vast, complex ecosystem that employs thousands of individuals, many of whom become students on our campuses when they eventually leave service. For these and many other reasons, the research that our faculty provides and the support that universities offer to student veterans play a critical role in its process.

Mark Rudin is vice president for research and economic development at Boise State, where he oversees the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Compliance, and other administrative and technical offices.