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Building Tactical Athletes...


As we recognize the brave efforts of the Navy SEALs who completed that now historic mission in Pakistan, we are reminded of the physical and emotional sacrifices they make in defense of our nation. As our greatest weapon in the War on Terror, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) personnel today are being trained more like tactical athletes, with the ultimate goal of optimizing performance and minimizing injuries during operations like the one completed by Navy SEAL Team 6.

The Navy Special Warfare (NSW) Human Performance Lab at NAB Little Creek, Va., under

the guidance of the University of Pittsburgh, is helping to fine-tune these elite combat warriors by assessing and correcting deficiencies and imbalances, improving performance and preventing injuries downrange. For example, using high-speed cameras that are linked to computers, the lab can evaluate jump-landing measurements and assess injury risk based on the landing mechanics of each SEAL.

“There is a lot of research on ACL (knee) and back injuries due to faulty hip and knee patterns when landing or lifting,” notes Dallas Wood, Human Performance Program manager, Navy SEAL Team 2. “When we are coaching or teaching, we can see faulty movement patterns, but to get objective raw data that the guys could also see as well – and then to be able to train and retest and see change – is pretty unique.”

The lab is using the data and findings to help create physical training programs that will optimize their performance during operations. As the lab enters phase two of a three-phase initiative, it will be looking at the various physical stresses SEALs put on their bodies in the operational setting – from muscle exertion and movement patterns to energy-system and oxygen usage. The goal is to develop a database that will enable the lab to feed in testing or performance scores and track results over time, as well as have a set of physical norms and data sets for each SEAL.

“One of our biggest goals is operational longevity,” says Wood. “We want the guys to work and operate for as long as possible, but to be able to do that we need to track that over time, and the lab is helping us create a system to do that.”

This type of innovation in training is not exclusive to the Navy, as Special Ops fitness throughout SOCOM is creating operators who are stronger, more resilient and operationally smarter. As the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to grow SOCOM Forces, we are seeing increases in the hiring of more human performance coaches, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, physical therapists and fitness experts – all focused on creating the ultimate combat athletes who are better prepared for the rigors of combat, and capable of returning from injury sooner. In concert with new staff, more specialized fitness, assessment and rehabilitation equipment is being purchased to meet the needs of this new era of Special Ops training.

It is heartening to see fitness and training protocols raised to a level that is commensurate with the level of commitment and dedication of these special operators. These improvements in training – the increased funding to hire the right staff and buy the right training and fitness equipment – tells these warriors that we are not taking them for granted, that the unsung work they do behind the scenes is the reason we are inching ever closer to winning this interminable War on Terror.

And although the SEALs from Navy SEAL Team 6 would not want to be recognized for their actions, their achievement gives us an opportunity to stop and recognize, for a moment, that we would not be as comfortable in our beds at night if not for the efforts of those who proudly wear the SOCOM insignia.