National Guard Bureau to Use Machine Learning to Foster Healthier Troops

The National Guard Bureau is preparing to roll out SPRINGboard, a digital tool that’ll give leaders insight into the health risk factors impacting the communities their troops call home so they can tailor prevention efforts accordingly.

During a March 5 media roundtable at the Pentagon, Capt. Matt Kleiman, who serves as NGB’s director of psychological health and directs the Warrior Resilience & Fitness Division, described SPRINGboard as “a predictive model” powered by “machine learning and advanced analytics.” He said the dashboard will synthesize population-level health-risk-factor data and internal data from the bureau to understand geographic-specific risk factors, eventually down to the county level. 

“Each state and each county has different problems that uniquely impact that county, so we shouldn’t be taking a one-size-fits-all approach across the National Guard,” Kleiman said. “Each TAG [state adjutant general] should be customizing their approach … to fit with … data that is relevant for their AOR.”

In this way, Kleiman said, the Guard “can now translate prevention wins into operational gains for the military.”

NGB expects the tool to be unveiled and in use by Spring 2020, bureau spokesman Maj. Rob Perino told Air Force Magazine. The dashboard will be rolled out in multiple phases, with functionality increasing over time, he added.

Maj. Gen. Dawne Deskins, director of manpower and personnel for NGB’s Joint Staff, said the “evidence-based approach, data-driven” resource will assist Guard leaders in making “more informed decisions about the health and well-being of our service members.”

“We’re on the leading edge of science on this, and the other reserve components are very interested in partnering with us based on the information that we have so far, so it’s a pretty exciting initiative,” she remarked at the roundtable.

The dashboard is part of NGB’s Suicide Prevention and Readiness Initiative for the National Guard, or SPRING.

“SPRING is a multiphase approach that will identify risk factors, proven effective interventions, and systematic data collection best practices,” according to a fact sheet on the effort. “SPRING will provide an evidence-based and data-driven foundation upon which NG-resilience and holistic wellness resources are developed, scaled, and evaluated for impact.”

The initiative is simultaneously evaluating “programs at the federal, state, and territory level;” analyzing relevant research pertaining to “suicide risk factors, protective factors, and potential predictive factors;” and deep-diving into data availability, housing, storage, and collection to create a knowledge base, the document explained. This three-pronged initiative will lead to “an analytic data driven solution to suicide prevention throughout the NG and an improved understanding [of] Total Force readiness,” the document continued.

In the March 5 roundtable, Kleiman stressed that SPRING is, at its core, a paradigm-shift with respect to how the Guard approaches suicide prevention and readiness.

“It really isn’t necessarily an initiative with a start and end date,” he told reporters. “It is our determination to take a more evidence-based approach to this topic.”