Helping Soldiers

Nancy Henderson, an assistant professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program who has also worked with soldiers as a part-time federal employee for 12 years, compares active duty soldiers to professional athletes who push physical limits every day.

seven soldiers working out and stretching in a locker room

In correlation, there are roughly 300,000 musculoskeletal injuries—which may include ankle sprains, knee injuries and shoulder dislocations—reported by U.S. Army soldiers annually. In 2014 alone, more than 10 million duty days were lost due to injuries.

As such, Henderson launched a program, “Soldier Athlete Human Performance Optimization,” last year, in which students are assigned to their own company of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers at Fort Stewart or Hunter Army Airfield for six-week time frames each semester. Students present different injury prevention topics and then help soldiers in the company implement the information. 

“This program provides the students with an opportunity to not only learn more about injury prevention, but also to build confidence and public speaking skills,” said Henderson. “Additionally, the students really enjoy the opportunity to work with high-level tactical athletes and aid in keeping our soldiers healthy and functioning at peak performance.”

According to Lt. Col. Kevin Kelly, the 3rd Infantry’s Division surgeon, there has been an estimated 20 percent drop in duty-limiting injuries among the soldiers as a result of the physical therapy students’ participation in spring and fall semesters in 2017.

“The command team and students are very excited,” said Henderson. “Students who are chosen to participate receive course credit and soldiers receive a certificate of completion for the project.”

Henderson also secured a memorandum of agreement with the commanding general at Ft. Stewart last summer, which allows students to provide various educational opportunities to soldiers and provides faculty and students permission to conduct research with soldiers. In addition, a three-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement was signed with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in 2016. The University’s Department of Physical Therapy works with the research institute to refine military screening and assessment tools used to determine readiness and deployability of soldiers. The two institutions expect to jointly publish conference papers and manuscripts as a result of the project.

“Both the ongoing research endeavors, as well as the Soldier Athlete Human Performance Optimization Program, will continue through 2018, and hopefully for many more years,” noted Henderson. “There are many more opportunities to work with local tactical athletes and I have plans to involve other departments within the college as we move forward. Overall, we have developed a wonderful little triad between the University, the 3rd Infantry Division and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.”

Melanie Simón