Fueling the SOF human weapon system

Photo By Staff Sgt. Victor J. Caputo | Airman 1st Class Celine Aima Joy Castro, a food services apprentice with the 633rd Force Support Squadron out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, prepares a batch of chicken breast during Emerald Warrior 18 at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Feb. 27, 2018. Airmen from across the United States came to Hurlburt Field to prepare a healthy menu for Emerald Warrior 18, catering the menu to the dietary needs of Special Tactics operators participating in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Victor J. Caputo)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. – Special Tactics operators function as state-of-the-art human weapon systems and are force multipliers integrating airpower onto the battlefield. Dozens of different factors play into their ability to project forces, but there’s one area that can be easily overlooked: nutrition.

Lindsey Pfau, a performance dietitian with the 720th Special Tactics Group and part of their Preservation of the Force and Family team, is setting out to make people rethink how an ST Airmen should be fueled in a deployed environment.

“We’ve got years of nutritional science to tell us what foods are good for our bodies from a health perspective and from a performance perspective,” said Pfau. “This is to push your body to the limit, to be bigger, faster, and stronger, to stay awake longer, to avoid muscle fatigue, to prevent cramping, to think more clearly. The food you’re eating throughout the day out in the field is affecting your decision making; your precision, speed, and movement as you’re carrying 60 pounds of kit and gear; and your decision making that potentially impacts you, your team, your unit, and your country.”

More than 15 years of continuous deployments enabled many standard operating procedures to fall in place, and the types of food offered became somewhat standardized to satisfy the needs of the typical deployed troops. However, due to often times high-intensity missions, Special Operations Forces have unique nutrition needs to meet the daily operational demands they face.

“The idea is to provide these warfighters with food that is more performance-based than traditional field feeding and gives access to larger portions to provide the calories they need to perform their duties,” said Pfau. “These guys are easily burning up to 4,000 calories in a day just to do their job, so we can’t base their nutritional necessities on a generic 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.”

Trial Run

Emerald Warrior is an annual irregular warfare exercise directed by U.S. Special Operations Command out of Hurlburt Field. This year’s installment, which started Feb. 22, was the first time that Pfau and USSOCOM Deployment Cell personnel were able to collaborate on providing an updated, specialized menu to Special Operations Forces personnel.

The exercise operates out of a simulated deployed forward operating base set up by D-Cell, with a dining facility running out of a tent, hosting hundreds of patrons during the three meals offered every day.

Integrating herself with D-Cell, Pfau worked to increase the number of hot meals available per day from two to three, provide more fresh vegetables and fruit, and allow the patrons to serve themselves as opposed to having set portion sizes.

“We need food that is going to be digested well, satisfy them, give them sustainable energy, and, once their mission is done, will help with muscle recovery,” she said.

The long-term goal of the changes is to develop the nutrition plan to benefit all Special Operations Forces down the line, instead of just a single exercise.

“We’re starting to evolve the menu planning for all of SOCOM, so it’s not just for Special Tactics but also SEAL teams and other SOF,” said Tech. Sgt. Flint Almiron, a services craftsman with the USSOCOM D-Cell. “Right now, we have more fresh-item selection, more variety and the quality of the food is much better, it’s not just MREs.”

Long-term Health

The realities of being an ST operator include a lot of hard, physical and cognitive work. The tough work those Airmen go through requires special care, and the nutritional side of recovery is just as important as physical and mental fitness.

“These jobs place a lot of stress on your joints and your bones, there’s a lot of inflammation going on, and then if we’re serving up high-inflammatory foods throughout their career, it takes a toll,” said Pfau. “That’s why on our menu, we have lots of anti-inflammatory foods like avocados, blackberries and blueberries. We’re trying to reduce our saturated fat intake, we’ve reduced the amount of butter in our recipes, and we’re using leaner-quality meats and fresh ingredients.”

Education can go a long way while at home station and each individual can directly control their diet, but ST Airmen rely on the food provided to them while deployed. The success and overwhelmingly supportive feedback received during Emerald Warrior 18 is a good first step into improving this area, said Pfau.

“Ultimately, the goal is to optimize the human weapon system for Special Operations Forces on the battlefield to have the best chance at meeting our objectives,” she said.

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