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May 19, 1989

When the Enemy Is the Environment, Medical Research May Help Provide Effective Defense

JAMA. 1989;261(19):2822. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03420190096022

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AT THE ARMY'S research center in Natick, Mass, the environment is the enemy. Investigators develop physiological, psychological, fitness, and nutritional strategies to help soldiers perform optimally in scorching heat, subzero chill, at high altitudes, and under chemical exposure.

The US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine is located 27 kilometers west of Boston, yet its mission has taken researchers to Alaska, Egypt and the Tibetan Plateau. Field trips involve weeks of studying problems confronting soldiers on maneuvers in many environmental conditions.

The institute's research has roots in laboratories set up just before World War II when the Army realized that no agency was studying how a soldier's performance might be affected by such stressful environments as the inside of a tank rolling across a desert.

In 1942, the Secretary of War authorized establishment of the Armored Medical Research Laboratory at Fort Knox, Ky, to study acclimatization to heat, vision, nutrition,