Though he would be the last person to say it, Sgt. 1st Class Hector Jasso Jr. has become an architect of change for the 17th Field Artillery Brigade.
With nearly 19 years of experience as an Army medic, Jasso teamed up with the brigade surgeon, Maj. Tanvi Patel, to engineer a physical fitness recovery program for injured soldiers that offers something more.
Jasso said the program delivers because they found the right combination of access to care, education, and structure to help give soldiers the best chance at a positive outcome.
Jasso and Patel have assembled quite the team to make this happen.
A physical therapist, physical therapy technicians, a chiropractor, medics, and trained instructors support the recovery of injured soldiers who are used to being high performance athletes.
Jasso and the support team start their day at 5:30 am, preparing to host dozens of soldiers during a daily workout that offers a completely tailored recovery plan for every injured soldier in the unit.
"Our Injured Reserve Physical Readiness program is for the soldier's benefit. We want to show them that they are still part of the team and help them have a successful recovery," Jasso said. "During their time in the IR PRT program, soldiers are allowed to heal, receive education on health and fitness topics, and participate in tailored exercise plans."
On an injured soldier's first day in the program, they meet with a member of the recovery team. Together they will identify a recovery group for the soldier based on their injury and begin an education tack that outlines recovery-supporting exercises, general wellness, and ways to avoid a repeat injury.
"We want to help the healing process by finding the best recovery program for the injured soldier. They work with a medic to look at how we are going to help their healing process."
This starts off a focus on what Jasso believes to be the two keys to helping the soldier-athletes recover.
"Two keys that I see for recovery are taking steps to change how soldiers approach type of activity that caused the injury and building up the supporting tissue to prevent reinjury. Our program uses education and tailored fitness plans to help soldiers make that happen."
Jasso encourages the recovery team to create as many opportunities for education as they can. They work to reinforce learning about nutrition and wellness topics and guide recovering soldiers as they continue their fitness education.
"Overall, we approach education during the recovery process using the Army's performance triad. One third of it is physical fitness, one third is nutrition, and one third is sleep. Improving in each of these categories will support healthy living and promote recovery."
Inside of a recovery group, soldiers find an exercise routine customized to their injury type. This means the best practices are all in front of them, they are easy to do, and because the exercises are done consistently, odds of a positive recovery go up.
Jasso said the regimented excise programs cut down the chances of further injury and help to maintain a participant's fitness level while recovering.
When a soldier's recovery progresses to the point where they can return to normal physical activity with little risk of reinjury, they go through another screening before leaving the recovery program.
During one of their last touch points with a member of Jasso's team, the soldier completes a range of physical activities to assess any lingering effects of the injury and make sure there has been a successful recovery.
In the months since the start of the program, soldiers who have recovered from an injury in the brigade's program felt the difference.
"The instructors and staff really try to emphasize the perofmrance triad during interactions. At the same time, the instructors assist with injury-specific stretching," said Spc. Austin Berrio, a soldier with 125th Forward Support Company, 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment. "They do a good job of making sure everyone does them correctly and help by teaching injury-specific stretches to soldiers new to the program."
Berrio is in the process of recovering from an ankle injury and is still in the program.
"In my case, the instructors recommended I started recovery with resistance band to add strength and stability to my injury," he added. "Eventually, the exercises got easier and the pain went down."
Berrio said he is very pleased with his experience with the program and expressed gratitude to the staff.
For his part, Jasso is proud his team is making a difference.
"As a medic, my goal is to conserve the fighting strength of the force. It is very rewarding to see soldiers come through the program, rehab successfully and get back to normal activity. Seeing that process is so rewarding."