Unique program keeps Special Operators healthy at Kentucky Air Guard

Senior Master Sgt. William Hardin, a special tactics operator for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, works out with free-weights during a session at the Human Performance Program facility on the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Free-weights are one of many tools used in the highly individualized program, which is designed to improve the operational longevity of special operators and reduce injuries in the field. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Senior Master Sgt. William Hardin, a special tactics operator for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, works out with free-weights during a session at the Human Performance Program facility on the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Free-weights are one of many tools used in the highly individualized program, which is designed to improve the operational longevity of special operators and reduce injuries in the field. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Master Sgt. Harley Bobay, a special tactics operator for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, works through an individualized conditioning and maintenance program designed for him by the staff of the squadron’s Human Performance Program at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. The focus of the program is to improve the operational longevity of special operators and reduce injuries in the field. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Master Sgt. Harley Bobay, a special tactics operator for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, works through an individualized conditioning and maintenance program designed for him by the staff of the squadron’s Human Performance Program at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. The focus of the program is to improve the operational longevity of special operators and reduce injuries in the field. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Master Sgt. Jeff Gantt, a pararescueman for the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, works through an individualized conditioning and maintenance program designed by the staff of the squadron’s Human Performance Program at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Gantt credits the program for getting him back to combat status after a severe injury jeopardized his career. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Master Sgt. Jeff Gantt, a pararescueman for the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, works through an individualized conditioning and maintenance program designed by the staff of the squadron’s Human Performance Program at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Gantt credits the program for getting him back to combat status after a severe injury jeopardized his career. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Jake Kilbride, a licensed massage therapist, administers a soft-tissue massage to 2nd Lt. Russ LeMay, a special tactics operator with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, at the Human Performance Program facility on the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Kilbride, an assistant strength coach and facility manager, is part of a three-member staff that develops personalized strength and conditioning programs and rehabilitation plans for squadron operators. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Jake Kilbride, a licensed massage therapist, administers a soft-tissue massage to 2nd Lt. Russ LeMay, a special tactics operator with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, at the Human Performance Program facility on the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Kilbride, an assistant strength coach and facility manager, is part of a three-member staff that develops personalized strength and conditioning programs and rehabilitation plans for squadron operators. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Will Lawson, lead athletic trainer and strength coach for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron’s Human Performance Program, measures the maximal oxygen uptake of Staff Sgt. Robert Willging, a special tactics operator, during a routine evaluation at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Lawson is one of three trained professionals at the base who provide special operators with a multifaceted approach to strength, conditioning, injury prevention and rehabilitation. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Will Lawson, lead athletic trainer and strength coach for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron’s Human Performance Program, measures the maximal oxygen uptake of Staff Sgt. Robert Willging, a special tactics operator, during a routine evaluation at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Lawson is one of three trained professionals at the base who provide special operators with a multifaceted approach to strength, conditioning, injury prevention and rehabilitation. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Lt. Col. Sean McLane, commander of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, looks over his personal workout and rehabilitation regimen during a session at the Human Performance Program facility on the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Evaluating his progress is Will Lawson, the program’s lead athletic trainer and strength coach, who helped design McLane’s daily workout routine. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Lt. Col. Sean McLane, commander of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, looks over his personal workout and rehabilitation regimen during a session at the Human Performance Program facility on the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 14, 2016. Evaluating his progress is Will Lawson, the program’s lead athletic trainer and strength coach, who helped design McLane’s daily workout routine. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Pararecuemen from the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron spend their deployments evacuating troops wounded in combat, but what happens when one of them gets injured?

Master Sgt. Jeff Gantt, a pararescueman with the 123rd STS, thought his career as a special operations Airman was over as he was being medevaced out of Afghanistan.

"In my mind, I knew it was over," Gantt said. "There would be no way that I could recover from basically a broken back, and expect to jump, dive and carry a load of gear across rugged terrain."

That was two and a half years ago. Today, Gantt is on full combat status and an active member of the squadron thanks to the development of the 123rd STS Human Performance Program.

The HPP is a holistic approach to caring for the health of special operators here, using strength and conditioning programs, performance testing, injury assessments, physical therapy, corrective exercise and nutrition education. The objective of the program is to prevent injuries with screening and proper exercise, rehabilitate existing injuries, and develop well-rounded fitness.

"The mind-set that working out is all about how hard you hit the gym and how fast your run can be was one of the major hurdles we had to overcome when the program began here at the base," said Jake Kilbride, facility manager and a soft-tissue expert.

"Breaking that mold and have us come in and show them how to do correct movements, along with injury prevention and rehabilitative techniques, we have seen chronic injuries go way down and performance levels go way up."

Performance level was a major factor to Gantt as he began using the individualized workout and rehabilitation program created for him by the HPP staff.

"It was hard coming in every day when I first started the program," Gantt explained. "I wasn't used to slowing down and working out in the way the staff wanted me to. It really was a new way of doing things for me.

"There were some dark days for sure," Gantt said. "But every day I came in, and the guys here would never let me quit. They encouraged me, taught me better techniques, monitored my progress and made adjustments to my plan."

"The guys" mentioned by Gantt are Kilbride, Rich Moravec and Will Lawhorn, all certified strength and conditioning coaches, each with additional skills and certifications dedicated to the physical well-being of STS operators.

Gantt and other STS operators say they have experienced positive results and progress, and they attribute that progress to HPP.

While the program grew in participants, it also expanded in its different capabilities. New workout apparatuses and new physical testing and evaluation equipment were added.

"One of my goals for this program is the education aspect," explained Lt. Col. Sean McLane, commander of the 123rd STS, who was instrumental in bringing HPP to the squadron. "Teach our guys how to work out intelligently, avoid and recognize an injury; step back and get help for that injury and not just push through it.

"They're doing a variety of techniques that teach them how to jump and absorb the force better, land better, climb better, run better," McLane continued. "The HPP develops the operators and helps them sustain a usable career, longer."

Having a longer career as a special operations Airman was the driving force for Gantt, whose steadfast commitment to HPP helped him get back into the physical condition that he is in today. He also credits the dedication of the staff who built a personal connection to him and many of the STS operators.

"I could walk into the facility and just by my walk or attitude I was portraying, the guys would know what my body could do that day and make adjustments to my work out on the spot," Gantt said. "I know that I am a viable special operator because of what we're doing here.

"I think this program adds literally years to a special operator's operational life, which is substantial to the military. Having my health back is everything to me."