320th STS facility strengthens battlefield Airmen

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer
  • 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
"Humans are more important than hardware" is a SOF truth heard continuously throughout the special operations community. One Special Tactics Squadron has a facility that turns words into action.

The 320th Special Tactics Squadron's Human Performance Training Center offers battlefield Airmen an opportunity to ensure they remain mission ready.

"Much like our aircraft have dedicated crew chiefs and our aircrews have flight medicine, our battlefield Airmen here in the Pacific now have their own dedicated team working to ensure they are in peak physical and mental condition," said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Smith, 320th Special Tactics Squadron, senior enlisted manager.

The HPTC houses the human performance program, which is part of a United States Special Operations Command preservation of the force and family initiative. This human performance program focuses on not only strengthening the battlefield Airman physically, but also rehabilitating the individual ensuring the Air Force's human weapons system is performing to its maximum potential for as long as possible.

"While deployed, we are doing direct and close combat on a daily basis and that is the nature of our mission. We are extending ourselves, both body and mind, to the limit," said Maj. William White, 320th Special Tactics Squadron commander. "We have got to do more to preserve the force, so we can continue to provide the same caliber of combat skills for years to come."

In an effort to preserve the force, the HPP includes a 7-person team of medical personnel that provides each STS Airman with an individual plan making this facility more than just a gym. The staff includes a physical therapist, social worker, operational psychologist, strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, physicians assistant and a flight doctor. Each providing a specialty that ensures the Airmen are constantly challenged or correctly rehabilitated.

"If I have one Airman who is running 12 miles an hour at a 15 percent incline, I need to be able to challenge him. If I have another who is coming back from an injury, I need to rehabilitate him," said Maj. Mark McElroy, 320th STS, physical therapist. "With the equipment here like the force treadmill and the antigravity treadmill, I can individualize each workout making each workout count."

As a combat controller who has deployed nine times, White understands firsthand how important this specialized approach is to the STS community. After his last deployment, the back issues he was working so hard to move past caught up with him. Even after surgery, the pain was still there, and he was not seeing the improvement that he needed in order to continue meeting the high physical demands of his mission.

"Structurally they fixed me," said White, "but without the proper rehabilitative workouts, it was just a band aid that was covering up the problem."

Finally White had the opportunity to visit the athletic institute that was used as a benchmark to create the program used in the HPP and immediately saw results that lasted.

"In just three and a half weeks, I went from running assisted to completely healed," said White.

While this facility is a huge step in the right direction for the special tactics community, they are just getting started.

"This facility is a bridge to the future," said Smith. "The long term vision is to increase the size of the facility, so we can continue to preserve of force and enable the Air Force to ensure a continuum on its investment."