By Sgt. Kyle Fisch, USASOC Public AffairsAugust 3, 2015
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, Aug. 3, 2015) -- U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, or ARSOF, are regarded as the Army's elite fighting force, armed with some of the best warriors this nation has to offer. The Army invests time, money and resources into training these select individuals to become masters of their craft. However, given the potential hazards of the daily lives of Special Operations Forces, the Army decided to test a new fitness, health and nutrition program tailored to their fitness and nutritional needs.
The Army has different training and nutrition programs designed to maximize short-term and long-term endurance and performance of Soldiers at the training and unit levels. Most notably, the Army's "Go for Green" program, which outlines for Soldiers what foods are healthy choices versus those that may be performance-limiting. Now there is a program designed specifically for ARSOF.
"Tactical Human Optimization, Rapid Rehabilitation and Reconditioning (THOR3), is a large program that is based on the Human Performance Program under U.S. Special Operations Command," said Master Sgt. Robert Stone, USASOC G-4 food service noncommissioned officer in charge. "THOR3 is our branding of that program, designed for SOF."
THOR3 is different from other Army fitness programs in several ways. It is not a standalone fitness program, nor a dietary program, it is a combined holistic approach to improve physical and mental performance, through its focus on individual and unit needs as well as its nutritional element.
"The program itself has different aspects including strength coaches, and performance dieticians," Stone said. "And then there's our part, the food service side, which covers the nutritional aspects of the program."
The nutritional aspect of this program identifies and encourages the types of foods ARSOF Soldiers should be consuming in order to maximize their short-term and long-term endurance and performance.
"The duration of your average professional athlete or Olympian is approximately five to 10 years. But ARSOF Soldiers are typically going to do a 15-20 year career," said Christi M. Logan, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School's, or USAJFKSWCS, THOR3 performance dietitian. "The expectation is that they are going to be able to go downrange and do the mission just as well at 46, as when they were 26."
"When these operators are young and new to SOF, their performance levels are usually very high, but their experience is very low. The longer they stay in, their experience level goes up, but their performance level kind of starts to taper off due to things like age, injuries, and stuff like that," Stone said. "So THOR3 is meant to try and find a way to maximize their performance level and keep it as high as possible for as long as possible."
Although the program has been around since 2009, the nutritional element has taken considerably more time to implement.
"It's been around for a few years now, but the nutritional side has been kind of slow to take off," Stone said. "We were asked to conduct a study with the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and Pennington Biomedical Research to validate what we want to do with the nutritional aspect of this program."
One of the desired outcomes, according to Stone, is for the Army to use the data collected from this program to update some of the current nutrition standards, based on THOR3's potential success.
"When it comes to the way the Army spends money on food, none of it is really based in science," Stone said. "This program is designed with science in mind, based on the foods that are proven to be good for you."
Stone also explains that the Army's past views on nutritional values, were mostly just about providing Soldiers with a "taste of home," comfort foods many Soldiers grew up with, but may not necessarily be the best for them. Now, the Army is investing in designing nutritionally-sound programs for its Soldiers.
"Food is an often overlooked performance enhancer. Sometimes we say; "food is a tactical weapon," it's something that we can use for our operators on the battlefield for that "one second more" push that they may need in those mission-critical moments," Logan said.
Logan also notes, that "Truth number 1" of Special Operations Forces states; 'Humans are more important than hardware,' and just like the hardware these SOF operators use, the human aspect has certain requirements to stay in good operational order.
"Our ARSOF operators are essentially human weapon systems, and that specific weapon system requires a certain type of fuel," Logan said. "Our job is to help them understand what the best 'high-octane' fuel is for them."
According to Stone, the Army's dining facilities do not have the same funding as many other Army programs do.
"A lot of people don't understand that DFACs (dining facilities) don't have a fixed budget like most Army functions and programs," Stone said. "Our budget is determined by our head-count that comes through the door. So if only 50 people come in, you don't really have much funding for quality ingredients and better menu items."
The goal of the THOR3 program is to cut the expenses of non-performance oriented foods, such as cakes, ice-creams, candies and such, and instead use those funds for healthier alternatives.
"We believe that in order to make good use of the government's money, if it's not supporting health and/or performance, it shouldn't be on the menu," Logan said. "Our men and women deserve the best food this nation has to offer, and without those performance-limiting items on the menu, the budget now covers better quality ingredients of the foods that are good for you.
"You can serve high-quality food, on a government budget," Logan said.
"We also found that if you put out brown rice, serve the vegetables first and put V-8 juices in the refrigerators, it improves the food choices Soldiers make," Logan said.
The USAJFKSWCS dining facility on Fort Bragg is pioneering the THOR3 nutritional program, and gathering substantiating data that could possibly alter the Army's current nutritional policies, Stone said.
"We haven't had a single complaint about the food or service from the 'SWCS' DFAC. When people go and experience the changes we have made over there, they are very happy with their experience," Stone said. "We have a specific catalogue that we order our ingredients from, that is only available to the 'SWCS' DFAC. We get ingredients (for this study) that are not (normally) purchased for other military dining facilities."
Equipped with specific ingredients designed for the THOR3 nutritional program, USAJFKSWCS DFAC invites ARSOF Soldiers to partake and experience the changes they have made in support of USASOC's THOR3 program.
"What I hope comes out of this study," Stone said. "Is a culture shift in the way the entire Army feeds Soldiers."