KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- "Humans are more important than hardware" is a saying heard continuously throughout the special operations community. One special tactics squadron has a facility that turns these words into action. The 320th Special Tactics Squadron's Human Performance Training Center here 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, the senior enlisted manager at the 320th STS the senior. The HPTC houses the Human Performance Program, which is part of Preservation of the Force and Family, a U.S. Special Operations Command initiative. The HPP focuses not only on physically strengthening a battlefield Airman, but also rehabilitating them to ensure they are performing to their 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, the 320th STS 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 seven-person team of medical personnel who provide 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 of these specialists ensure 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 a physical therapist 320th STS. "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 knows how important this specialized approach is to the STS community. After his last deployment, his back issues finally caught up with him, he said. Even after surgery, his pain persisted. He also didn't see the improvement needed to continue meeting the demands of his mission.
"Structurally they fixed me," White said. "But without the proper rehabilitative workouts, it was just a band-aid that was covering up the problem." Finally, White visited the athletic institute, which was used as a benchmark to create the program in the HPP.
"In just three-and-a-half weeks, I went from running assisted to completely healed," White said. While this facility is a huge step in the right direction for the special tactics community, the program is just getting started. "This facility is a bridge to the future," Smith said. "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."