What began in 2016 as a partnership between Georgia Southern University and the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart has become a nationally recognized educational and research program with $5.68 million in federal funding to improve soldier health and performance to ensure force readiness.
Now called the Soldier Performance and Readiness (SPAR) program, this Georgia Southern project aligns with the U.S. Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) initiative and represents a multifaceted partnership with the Army to provide onsite training that decreases musculoskeletal injuries; deliver an online certificate program in tactical fitness for college credit; collaborate with the Army’s Research Institute for Environmental Medicine (USARIEM); and develop programs to enhance and assess cognitive performance in tactical situations.
The initial partnership program to prevent musculoskeletal injuries was delivered at first to small cohorts to implement new practices in the physical training of their squads and platoons in a train-the-trainer model. Results were so encouraging, the program expanded at Fort Stewart and to training brigades at Fort Benning last year with the assistance of $1.5 million in Department of Defense funding.
Studies show significant preparedness and financial benefits from reducing musculoskeletal injuries to soldiers during drilling and training exercises. In April 2020, officials determined that 58,000 soldiers (the equivalent of 13 brigade combat teams) had injuries that classified them as non-deployable. In 2019, more than half of soldiers experienced a new injury, resulting in 10 million limited-duty days. Musculoskeletal injuries account for nearly 25% of all military injuries and approximately $557 million in acute patient care. Most of these injuries were associated with fitness training-related activities
Georgia Southern’s online Tactical Athlete Certificate program was first offered in 2020 and is available exclusively to soldiers on active duty, in the National Guard or reserve. Through a series of three courses, the program teaches foundational exercise and biomechanical concepts, strength and conditioning principles, and rehabilitation. The coursework parallels the Army’s Master Fitness Trainer curriculum, with additional rehabilitation principles, and teaches soldiers how to develop evidence-based and well-rounded physical training programs while minimizing risk of musculoskeletal injury. Certificate completion provides soldiers with nine college credits with Georgia Southern, potential promotion opportunities in the Army, and preparation for the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s TSAC-F exam.
“By sharing knowledge, expertise and experience between our faculty and doctoral students with soldiers, drill instructors, and brigade combat fitness teams to create aligned programs that improve tactical performance and force readiness, the SPAR program has become a national model of public-impact research,” said Christopher Curtis, Ph.D., Georgia Southern’s vice provost for research. “We are excited about the future of this partnership. We relish the significant support and encouragement we receive from the Army commands at Fort Stewart, Fort Benning, USARIEM, and the Training and Doctrine command (TRADOC), and we are grateful to Congressman Carter and his fellow members of the Georgia Congressional delegation who have advocated for the value of the partnership on our behalf.”
The progress and continued success of this program would not have been possible without several years of support from the Georgia Congressional Delegation and especially the leadership and support of U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler), who represents Fort Stewart and the Armstrong Campus of Georgia Southern in Savannah.
“Providing for our nation’s defense is the number one responsibility of the federal government. Innovation and research, which is what these dollars will fund at Georgia Southern, will improve working conditions for our brave servicemen and women by providing them with top-of-the-line training and resources,” Carter said. “I am a proud supporter of Georgia’s military community and am happy that the federal government is investing in these necessary programs.”
SPAR programming allocated in the FY23 federal budget will enable Georgia Southern to:
- Develop protocols and expand delivery of the onsite musculoskeletal injury prevention training and the Tactical Athlete Certificate to commands at Fort Gordon in Augusta and to the Georgia National Guard.
- Develop and deploy similar online certificate programs for soldiers in Cognitive Performance and Nutrition to further support the Army’s H2F program.
- Host a national conference on “Charting Future Readiness Needs” in partnership with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and U.S. Army Forces Command that will bring together other research universities who also work in partnership with the Army.
- Work with the Army commands to develop specific academic degree programs to meet the specific H2F professional workforce needs at the brigade level. Army officials estimate approximately 3,000 personnel will need graduate degrees or advanced certifications in the next six years.
- Develop a Tactical Performance Research Lab in Savannah to support the fundamental research and innovation activities of Georgia Southern’s Tactical Performance Group that supports the Army’s H2F program as well as translational research to apply the knowledge and practices broadly to law enforcement and other first responders.