Pararescuemen risk life and limb in order to save the lives of others. Over time, these great efforts cause strain to the body, and, if not treated proactively, can lead to potential permanent damage.
Pararescuemen of the 48th Rescue Squadron out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., realized that having medical personnel on and off deployments, as well as tackling injuries and discomforts early on, would keep them mobile, deployment-ready and help ensure a pain-free future.
With the help of U. S. Air Force Col. Colleen McBratney, 355th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, a team comprised of surgeons, physicians and mental health specialists was built to accomplish these objectives. Thus, D-M’s Human Performance Optimization program was born.
In its initial phase, the HPO team’s intent was to move non-deployable personnel into deployment ready status while keeping those that are deployment ready in top shape.
“We treat and train our guys like they’re Division I athletes,” said Drew Hammond, 48th RQS strength and conditioning coach. “We track them from the day they get injured to the day they get back to full status and try to find ways to make that time shorter.”
One of the ways the HPO team follows this information is the use of wearable performance trackers combined with phone applications. These combined technologies give the HPO team accurate information on the status of each pararescueman’s heart rate, daily activity and recovery status among other performance based data.
“These technologies greatly help the athlete, as well as their coach and flight leader and see how they’re progressing,” McBratney said. “With that knowledge, leadership can make an informed decision on what kind of training needs to be done for particular individuals rather than keeping a routine plan for every pararescueman.”
Because of the program’s personalized approach, the HPO team increased the full spectrum readiness and lethality of the 48 RQS. Additionally, providing a physical therapist to the squadron decreased the time it would take for the pararescemen to travel back and forth to the 355th Medical Group and receive care. This assigned medical professional asset gave 235 man-days back to the 48th RQS. The HPO team not only want to ensure the pararescuemen were physically fit to fight, but mentally as well.
“From a performance standpoint, both physical and mental health are critical,” McBratney said. “We want to make sure the Airmen are able to do their jobs better and have a good balance between work and home life.”
The HPO program has come a long way since its conception and plans to expand past the 48th RQS in the future.
“This kind of thing should be available to all Airmen,” McBratney said. “There are many different physical and mental stressors that affect all personnel and this program could greatly help them work more efficiently and lead a more pain-free lifestyle.”
The successes of the HPO program shows that a more personalized approach to mental and physical health can greatly increase the productivity and well-being of the individual involved in its processes.
“We want to help all of our people do better and take care of them as people, not products,” McBratney said. “Hopefully, in the future, all Airmen can reap the benefits of the HPO program.”