Center Works to Optimize Warfighters’ Performance

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2011 — A new high-inten­si­ty work­out regime promis­es to build strength and endurance. Ads tout dietary sup­ple­ments as for­mu­la for get­ting stronger, smarter and even less-stressed-out. A “how to” book presents a sure-fire way to bounce back from phys­i­cal or emo­tion­al set­backs.

Defense Department's Human Resource Performance Center
Army Sgt. Ryan Kennedy and Army Spc. Dou­glas Pet­ty pull secu­ri­ty duty and dis­cuss pos­si­ble ene­my loca­tions in Kata­lai vil­lage, Khost province, Afghanistan, June 15, 2011. The Defense Department’s Human Resource Per­for­mance Cen­ter is explor­ing ways to max­i­mize warfight­ers’ per­for­mance, make them less sus­cep­ti­ble to ill­ness and injury and more phys­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly resilient.
Cour­tesy pho­to
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With the wealth of ever-chang­ing and often-con­flict­ing infor­ma­tion on the Inter­net and on the street, what are warfight­ers to believe about the best way to improve their per­for­mance, par­tic­u­lar­ly in com­bat?

Get­ting to the bot­tom of that, and putting word out to the troops whose lives and mis­sions depend on their abil­i­ty to per­form in demand­ing and often extreme con­di­tions, is the mis­sion of the Defense Department’s Human Per­for­mance Resource Cen­ter, Dr. Stephen Frost, the center’s direc­tor, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

DOD stood up the cen­ter in Sep­tem­ber 2009 under the aus­pices of the Uni­formed Ser­vices Uni­ver­si­ty of the Health Sci­ences to gath­er and devel­op sol­id sci­ence for warfight­ers, their lead­ers and their health care providers.

Part research arm, part infor­ma­tion clear­ing­house and edu­ca­tion cen­ter, the cen­ter pro­vides a sin­gle DOD focal point for human per­for­mance opti­miza­tion, encour­ag­ing bet­ter coor­di­na­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion among the ser­vices and with oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies, Frost explained.

The staff seeks out sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly proven data to post on its web­site and answers warfight­ers’ ques­tions sub­mit­ted through an online link. When it iden­ti­fies an infor­ma­tion gap, it reach­es out to experts with­in the mil­i­tary and civil­ian pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­ni­ties to research the issue or eval­u­ate research already con­duct­ed.

To date, the cen­ter has issued a White Paper on the pros and cons of a high-inten­si­ty phys­i­cal train­ing pro­gram pop­u­lar with many mil­i­tary mem­bers. Its find­ings, in a nut­shell: It may be great if you’re already fit, but could be too phys­i­cal­ly demand­ing if you’re not.

The staff also eval­u­at­ed the pru­dence of tak­ing spe­cif­ic dietary sup­ple­ments in extreme tem­per­a­tures or alti­tudes after some deployed ser­vice mem­bers expe­ri­enced liv­er and kid­ney prob­lems, Frost said. The results, post­ed on the center’s web­site, showed that high-pro­tein sup­ple­ments such as cre­a­tine can be extreme­ly dan­ger­ous, espe­cial­ly when users aren’t prop­er­ly hydrat­ed, he report­ed.

“One of our mis­sions is to pro­vide the warfight­er infor­ma­tion that is evi­dence-based [and] sci­en­tif­ic so that they can make deci­sions about things like dietary sup­ple­ments in a bet­ter way than just ‘Googling’ on the Inter­net and get­ting com­mer­cial­ized infor­ma­tion,” Frost said.

The cen­ter plans to look into pos­si­ble ways to mit­i­gate prob­lems asso­ci­at­ed with the sick­le cell trait. Anoth­er project on the center’s radar screen, to be con­duct­ed with NASA and the Defense Cen­ters of Excel­lence for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Health and Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury, will look into the issue of sleep, par­tic­u­lar­ly sleep depri­va­tion.

“That’s a big prob­lem through the ser­vices,” Frost said. “We know that mis­sions some­times require warfight­ers to remain vig­i­lant for long peri­ods of time. So the big ques­tion is: How much sleep do you real­ly need? And are there ways of enhanc­ing your abil­i­ty if you don’t have enough sleep? Are there ways of catch­ing up on your sleep? There are a lot of ques­tions around sleep that apply around the ser­vices, and NASA is inter­est­ed, too.”

“Opti­mal per­for­mance” involves much more than strength, endurance and over­all phys­i­cal fit­ness, Frost explained. It includes all the men­tal, emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal fac­tors that impact a warfight­ers’ abil­i­ty to per­form effec­tive­ly in demand­ing con­di­tions and extreme envi­ron­ments, to stay healthy and injury-free and recov­er from any injuries and ill­ness­es. This involves every­thing from what goes into their mouths to what kind of exer­cise rou­tine they fol­low to behav­ioral issues such as drug, alco­hol and tobac­co use.

But equal­ly impor­tant are what Frost calls “mind tac­tics” — a warfighter’s men­tal tough­ness and resilience.

“In the past, the empha­sis has always been on the phys­i­cal part, and we have become pret­ty good at man­ag­ing the phys­i­cal resilience and phys­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties of our warfight­ers” he said. “But only recent­ly have we come to rec­og­nize that the mind and body go togeth­er. So unless you have that same opti­mal capa­bil­i­ty for your men­tal per­for­mance, then your phys­i­cal per­for­mance can’t be opti­mal, either.”

For this rea­son, the Human Per­for­mance Resource Cen­ter address­es fam­i­ly and social issues that can impact per­for­mance.

“We rec­og­nize that if a warfight­er is wor­ried about his fam­i­ly, he is not going to be in his opti­mal con­di­tion,” Frost said. “If he does­n’t have the social sup­port sys­tems he needs when he comes home from deploy­ments, or if he is going to be deployed, he is not going to be in his opti­mal men­tal con­di­tion.”

Ulti­mate­ly, Frost hopes the mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty will come to rec­og­nize the Human Per­for­mance Resource Cen­ter as the place to go for unvar­nished, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly proven infor­ma­tion about fac­tors that affect warfight­er per­for­mance.

“If we can get the Human Per­for­mance Resource Cen­ter to tru­ly become the go-to place for our warfight­ers, our health care providers, the line lead­er­ship and researchers so they aren’t sim­ply Googling for infor­ma­tion, I think we can go a long way toward enhanc­ing the coor­di­na­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion among the ser­vices and DOD around human per­for­mance,” Frost said. “I think that will be a won­der­ful goal.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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