by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer
353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
4/11/2013 - 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
offers battlefield Airmen an opportunity to ensure they remain
"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, 320th STS 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, 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
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, 320th STS, physical therapist. "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. Even after
surgery, the pain persisted. He also didn't see the improvement needed
to continue meeting the demands of his mission.
"Structurally they fixed me," said White, "but without the proper
rehabilitative workouts, it was just a band-aid that was covering up the
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," said White.
While this facility is a huge step in the right direction for the ST community, they are just getting started.
"This facility is a bridge to the future," said Smith. "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