Insight by The Citadel

Changing ideas about military medicine is also changing how professionals prepare

There is a revolution currently happening within the military and it revolves around how service members are cared for by medical professionals.

In the past, the military relied on prescriptive medicine and a tough attitude to keep its employees healthy, but advances in sports medicine, mental health and traumatic brain injuries have shown that approach is neither efficient nor effective.

“We’ve reached a point where we couldn’t deny the science anymore,” said Daniel Bornstein, director of the Center for Performance, Readiness, Resiliency and Recovery at The Citadel, during a discussion sponsored by the school. “We’ve known for decades about the scientific relationship between strength and performance. We’ve known for decades about the importance of mental health on performance.”

The military is now embracing a new approach toward medicine, one that is holistic and preventive. The Army is embedding sports medicine experts within battalions to ensure soldiers do not do long-lasting musculoskeletal damage to their bodies. The military is encouraging service members to keep an eye on mental health and to reach out to experts, and the Defense Department is buying and researching equipment that protects troops from repeated head trauma from actions like artillery fire.

The Citadel is also embracing that attitude by developing new online and residential education programs for those interested in training tactical athletes.

“What we saw was a gap,” Bornstein said. “That gap was an educational opportunity in this specific discipline of not just tactical strength and conditioning, but what we call tactical performance and resiliency. There was no academic degree or certificate program in the country that offered that level of expertise, true subject matter expertise, in not just understanding the physiological aspects of how to train tactical athletes to perform optimally, but also how to understand where you fit in that holistic health and fitness team. We created these programs specifically to meet this need.”

That fits nicely in with a military occupation specialty that the Army is considering creating around strength and conditioning.

“Instead of the sport athlete, now we’re talking about the tactical athlete and the tactical athlete is the military service member, but could also be a first responder like a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or an EMS worker,” Bornstein said. “The tactical athlete, just like the sport athlete, has a unique set of physiological demands that are being asked of them. They need to be trained properly to meet those demands. They can minimize the risk of injury and maximize their performance. It’s this tactical strength and conditioning field that has emerged as a sub-discipline of exercise science, and then even a sub discipline of strength and conditioning.”

Bornstein said it’s not just people who want to advance their military career that would benefit from this type of education. DoD is hiring contractors and academics to oversee programs and help develop better ways of caring for service members.

“If you’re going to be a tactical strength and conditioning coach, you need to be able to know how to interface with the behavioral folks, the cognitive folks, the physical therapists, the athletic trainers, all the other members of that team,” Bornstein said. “There was no academic degree or certificate program in the country that offered that level of expertise. We created those programs.”

Featured speakers

  • Dr. Daniel Bornstein

    Director, Center of Performance, Readiness, Resiliency and Recovery, The Citadel

  • Scott Maucione

    Defense Reporter, Federal News Network

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