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NEWS | May 7, 2014

New York hospital helps tune up air rescuers' fitness routines

By Master Sgt. Cheran Cambridge New York National Guard

WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. - The Airmen of the New York Air National Guard's 103rd Rescue Squadron - pararescue specialists who must be fit to do their jobs - have a new partner to help them perform.

The Airmen, known as Guardian Angels, have teamed up with New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery, (HSS) which specializes in orthopedic health, and created a "human performance optimization training program, called the HPO for short.

In this program, the HSS staff educates and assists with the fitness and nutritional knowledge of the Airmen. Its six-month training reassment was April 22.

"We are taking all of the data that we collected on the initial assessment and compare it to what we are doing today," said Kara Federowicz, a certified athletic trainer who works for the hospital. "We look at how far the guys have come, if they have made any progress, if they have regressed at all and how we can build their programs for the next six months."

Every month the HSS HPO team comes out and trains with the 103rd and every six months the 103rd's progress is re-assessed. The HPO team consists of a registered dietitian, an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a Certified Athletic Trainer.

Both teams have been working together since October 2013 and this program has already made a big impact on the lives of the operators who are in the program. This type of program, in the near future, will be making even more strides as it becomes engrained across the Guardian Angel career field., said Chief Master Sgt. Brian Mosher, a pararescue jumper.

This program is vital to the sustainment of the Pararescue/Guardian Angel career field, he emphasized.

"We have a lot of guys who are very knowledgeable and have a lot of experience at that 18-year mark, but they acquire underlying injuries that may prevent them from mentoring and passing on their knowledge to the younger guys," Mosher said.

The HPO program takes a holistic approach toward fitness. It includes proper stretching techniques, eating habits, calisthenics, plyometrics, endurance training, running and jumping drills, resistance and weight training.

This type of training is what is needed to maintain the operators' bodes for peak performance, " Mosher said.

"We are the only human weapon system in the Air Force," he explained. "Every other weapon system has a Maintenance Group or Squadron that fixes their aircraft. We do not have any maintenance procedures or a plan in place and that's where HPO comes in. It gives guys the education and the tools to maintain their bodies beyond the 18-to-20-year mark" Mosher added.

Maj. Glyn Weir, a 103rd Rescue Squadron Combat Rescue Officer (CRO) said the HPO fitness program does a better job of preparing Airmen for their combat mission than routine physical training.

"A lot of the military's physical fitness programs that we do entail running straight forward on a flat surface, pushups, situps, maybe some pull ups and those are not necessarily the exercises that will prepare us for a mission. For example, you may be good at running straight forward but, not good at running up a hill with 100 pounds of equipment on or caring for patients in a combat setting," Weir said.

"The concept is to build a battlefield Airmen so that he has the stability in the core to build the strength, speed, stamina and endurance for missions that running straight forward and doing sit-ups may not prepare you for," Weir emphasized. "When you have a strong core, you are less likely to injure your lower back, neck or shoulder."

Mosher also spoke about the positive impact that this program will ultimately have in the Air Force.

"In the end, the Air force is saving money, it takes around 250,000 dollars just to initially train a PJ and for the follow on training I'm guessing it pushes it into the millions," Mosher said. This program, for a lot less money, gives guys the tools and the knowledge to get their bodies where they should be in order to maintain the rigorous training With the HPO team willingness to teach and the 103rd Rescue Squadron's willingness to learn, the fitness knowledge of the operators will increase and ultimately produce fewer injuries in the future.

The 103rd and the HPO team's goals are to create resilient, educated PJs who have the nutritional and physical knowledge to sustain their minds and bodies for years of successful service and they are coming closer to achieving those goals, one month at a time, Weir said.