This month's focus on Special Ops fitness provides a unique glimpse into the world of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) warriors — the nation's greatest investment and weapon against terror. After more than 10 years at war, the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) have learned valuable lessons on mission readiness, best practices for preparing these brave service members for combat and the most effective rehabilitation protocols when they are injured in battle.
The Tactical Human Optimization Rapid Rehabilitation and Reconditioning (THOR3) program, developed by SOCOM over the last few years, is revolutionizing the way special operators train, eat, rehabilitate and live their lives, and in the process creating more resilient, combat-ready specialists.
“We have had great success with the THOR3 program, which is designed to increase combat performance, prevent injuries, improve health and longevity and facilitate rapid return to duty,” says Brig. Gen. Edward M. Reeder Jr., USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne). “These professionals are all working in the area of preventative care as well, to enhance resilience and stress hardiness.”
Following the performance-enhancement model prevalent in professional sports-training settings, THOR3 staff train SOCOM personnel like tactical athletes, with exercises specifically designed to mimic the type of movements they will be asked to perform in full gear while deployed in hostile territory.
Ray Bear, a human performance coordinator who runs the THOR3 program for 3rd Special Operations Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C., says the training is having a positive impact on the overall readiness of these tactical athletes, creating more resilient and smarter Special Forces operators who are less prone to injury.
“I have guys telling me that they wish they would have had this program 10 or 20 years ago, because they feel stronger and better overall,” says Bear.
That feedback speaks volumes about how far SOCOM and DoD have come in regard to mission readiness. In fact, one of the primary reasons for the creation of THOR3 was in response to the proliferation of injuries to service members during training leading up to deployment.
That is why a major aspect of the program is focused on prehabilitation, an idea based on the concepts of injury prevention and resiliency.
The program incorporates prehabilitative movements that focus on joint flexibility and joint mobility through different stretches or different movements that Bear says were not done prior to THOR3.
Today, the human performance staff at Fort Bragg, for example, works a lot on the shoulder girdle and hip joint because “those two alone would be the majority of injuries that we see throughout the Army,” says Bear. “Until now, that kind of flexibility and mobility was just not worked on enough.”
When special operations personnel do get injured, either during training or combat, better support networks are now in place to get them back to duty faster, and the latest advances in rehabilitation and therapeutic protocols are helping them to heal faster both physically and mentally.
With advancements in care for traumatic injuries, new technologies in prosthetics and innovative rehabilitation programs such as integrative restoration — a meditation-based therapy that is having great success in VA and military facilities — service members are now starting to get the vitally important support they so need, and deserve.