PANAMA CITY, Fla.
Taking ideas and programs from top-tier professional sports teams, the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC) is implementing several changes this year to increase functional performance, resiliency and cognitive capability while decreasing injury and accelerating the physical recovery of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technicians and Navy divers.
Navy EOD technicians and divers may be known for their ability to stay calm in pressurized situations and possess high levels of fitness that allow them to eliminate explosives or underwater hazards for the most elite special operations forces, but that amount of tactical human performance does not come without the proper instruction and development.
Cmdr. Sam Brasfield, NDSTC commanding officer, said that the legacy human performance programs during an EOD technician’s or Navy diver’s initial training typically relied on the limited knowledge base of EOD and dive instructors, who did not possess formal education on exercise physiology and muscle recovery.
“The insufficient scope of the knowledge in exercise physiology and muscle recovery at these school houses resulted in recurring injuries throughout their time in school and on into their career,” said Brasfield. “The sequence of physical conditioning did not consistently build strength, endurance and recovery across all phases of initial training or result in professional expertise based on proven methods to optimize human performance across a Sailor’s expeditionary career.”
In order to correct this issue, NDSTC initiated a review of its physical therapy program, while calling upon graduate-level research from the Naval Postgraduate School and inputs from professional human sports performance clinicians, to build a framework for tactical combat use. Using this data, NDSTC created the Tactical Human Performance Program (THPP) in 2016 to provide baseline instruction, development and evaluation in all aspects of human performance to dive training students. Today’s program specifically focuses on four key pillars -- mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery -- that optimize human performance and injury prevention.
“In the EOD and dive communities, our people are our weapon systems and we have to do everything we can to make them stronger, decrease injuries, increase cognitive capacity, and accelerate their physical/mental recovery,” said Brasfield. “What we are trying to do with our THPP is get ‘left of boom’ with our folks by giving them the skills and foundation early on that will set them up for success with all these things. As my grandmother used to say, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’”
NDSTC has been temporarily assigned an active-duty Air Force physical therapist and has one contracted athletic trainer who is responsible for coordinating efforts for three training/learning sites. However, with an annual throughput of 1,300 EOD technicians and divers, the Center for Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Diving (CEODD) has plans to hire a data analyst, three human performance program advisors and kinesiotherapists, three strength and conditioning specialists, two performance dietitians and two cognitive specialists who specialize in sports psychology. The Air Force has funded a new tactical performance facility and the associated exercise equipment for the THPP, and the other Services have come together to support this program.
In addition to the new hires, the EOD and diving community is also looking towards employing a complete athlete-data-management-platform, Smartabase, in order to track performance and provide better feedback to Sailors. Putting real-time data at the center of the THPP will digitally transform how the EOD and dive communities can monitor the health and performance of their Sailors over the course of their careers and make it easier to adjust the program’s parameters as necessary.
“Early career training for EOD technicians and divers sets the stage for those Sailors as they develop in their career field. Giving them the best training possible allows them to adapt to the challenges that we face as a Navy in an era of great power competition,” said Rear Adm. Brian Brakke, commander, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. “The Tactical Human Performance Program provides world-class training for our Navy EOD and dive Sailors so that they recover after times of stress and grow throughout their Navy careers.”
As THPP expands, the performance data that is aggregated will serve as the foundation for the EOD Force Resiliency Program (FRP), which protects individuals and teams in the EOD community from debilitating stress through adaptability and recovery and growth across the personal, social, cognitive and physical well domains. Both EOD Groups One in San Diego and Two in Little Creek, Virginia, are currently expanding their staff and facilities to address the current and future needs of their warfighters that will result is a more combat effective force.
Under Navy EOD’s Strategic Vision 2030, THPP and FRP are identified as key lines of efforts that will develop the force to win against near-peer competitors in the future.
NDSTC is the largest diving facility in the world and trains military divers from all services to face any challenge anytime, anywhere by providing them with the skills and the confidence to successfully complete our nation’s missions.
U.S. Navy EOD is the world’s premier combat force for eliminating explosive threats so the Fleet and nation can fight and win wherever, whenever and however it chooses.