Human performance optimization is a program the Air Force implemented as a support system for those with the most physically and mentally taxing jobs.
With the support of the 355th Medical Group, the 48th Rescue Squadron HPO flight is able to keep its pararescuemen, combat rescue officers and combat mission support Airmen fit-to-fight on all fronts.
Returning from a deployment or general wear-and-tear HPO is designed to keep the “human weapon system” fully capable year-round as well as increase the longevity of the Airmen who are constantly asked to bear a heavy burden for the sake of national defense.
“We are particularly designed to optimize our special warfare operators,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Laurence Pass, 48th RQS HPO flight commander. “We look at ourselves as people who not only maintain and prevent injury to the human weapon system, but truly optimize it and raise the baseline level of functioning across both physical and behavioral health domains.”
The 48th RQS’s HPO staffing consist of an active duty licensed clinical psychologist and an active duty physical therapist. The civilian employment consists of an embedded athletic trainer, a licensed clinical social worker, a contracted athletic trainer, the 355th Wing dietician, a strength and conditioning coach, a part-time massage therapist and a part-time optometrist.
With an access-to-care rate of 0.22 days of requested service to appointment with a provider, anyone seeking care is typically seen during the same day as scheduling an appointment with most of the aforementioned specialist within the unit. Over 95 percent of 48th RQS’s PJ and CRO personnel regularly utilize the HPO program.
“Particularly with special operations forces there is a higher likelihood of increased physical and psychological disturbances,” said James Smuda, 48th RQS HPO program manager. “As a result of that, HPO teams have been implemented across the Air Force to assist these Airmen with increased amounts of stress.”
The HPO flight also assists in spouse support while the service member is deployed by bringing them into the unit and explaining to them what to expect and to also introduce themselves to that spouse to reassure them that they aren’t alone during this process.
“The deployer is so saturated with tasks and trying to get out the door that they don’t have time to explain the context of what’s happening,” said Pass. “We try to bridge that gap by giving them information, letting them know what is actionable, what to expect and how things go so that it can alievate some of that stress that they’re feeling.”
The HPO program that the 48th RQS has adopted has shown longitudinal data that its existence has improved the physical recovery and mental resilience of PJ and CRO personnel that have utilized it. The 355th Wing is building an unprecedented level of operational readiness across its rescue and attack mission by constantly improving the support functions, like the 48th RQS’s HPO program, that develop the most important asset of the U.S. Air Force, its Airmen.