LACKLAND, TX – The Battlefield Airmen Training Group, with squadrons located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; and Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, continues pushing boundaries; training innovative, scholarly, tactical athletes for U.S. Special Operations Forces.
The BATG’s mission is to select, train and mentor Airmen for global combat operations. Since its activation on June 2, 2016, the BATG has raised its overall graduation rate from 10 percent to 21 percent, according to the 37th Training Wing’s website.
“The most important question for us is ‘how do we move the human body in the most efficient way possible?’” said Chief Master Sgt. Joshua Smith, 350th Battlefield Airmen Training Squadron superintendent. “This question is important because historically injuries have been one of the biggest causes of attrition in the Battlefield Airmen training pipeline. To figure out the answer, we have to look at things scientifically.”
This scientific approach is a drastic change to the way things have been done in the military for years, according to BATG superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Todd Popovic. In the past, instructors would require things like holding a pushup position for 40 minutes without considering what kind of damage it could do to trainees’ shoulder and elbow joints.
“We still train just as hard, but now we’re asking ourselves what the most efficient way to improve human performance is,” Popovic said. “We’re doing everything we can to take it to the next level and create the best warfighters and people possible.”
As a first step, the BATG leadership took a comprehensive look at all aspects of their operation for efficiency opportunities that would not reduce training or curriculum standards.
“Our first challenge was decreasing the amount of time students await training,” Popovic said. “There are many sequential courses in the pipeline that take place in different locations. We need to ensure the most efficient order to prevent gaps in training that result in muscle atrophy and therefore injuries.”
The next step the BATG leadership took was adopting a scientific and methodical approach to training. The BATG now collects massive amounts of data, staying on the cutting edge of technology.
“We have biometric sensors on our candidates that measure approximately 300 data points per day,” Smith said. “We use all this data to find out when candidates are being stressed the most, what kinds of things contribute to injuries and what factors are the most important for maximizing human performance.”
The new biometric sensors have been instrumental to identify periods of high stress that contribute most to injuries.
“We recently found a research paper which shows that college athletes have much higher injury rates during finals week. No one has ever looked at this kind of stuff in our training before,” Smith said. “Our scientific approach has enabled us to find this type of information and use the data we collect to see where we can effect stress levels and reduce injuries.”
In addition to finding new ways to combat injury, the BATG leadership has started quantifying other factors that will increase human performance, such as nutrition and proper sleep.
“We have an excellent dietician on our staff that focuses on not just getting our candidates the right amount of food but the right quality as well,” Smith said. He also confirmed that “proper sleep increases performance but also reduces injury rate.”
Since the BATG has adopted this scientific-based approach to training, it is enjoying unprecedented success. The most recent Tactical Air Control Party graduation was the largest ever, with 34 graduates.This represents a 21 percent increase from the previous high of 28 graduates, and exemplifies the current trend of falling attrition rates, as 85 percent of the starting class graduated.
“It all comes down to finding the most efficient ways to create capable joint warfighters,” Popovic said. “If we can continue to build on what we’ve done in the past two years we are well on the way to becoming the recognized leader in the Special Operation Forces community.”