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Athletic trainers keep pilots in seat

Photo of Airmen exercising.

Kourtney Menches, strength and conditioning coach, right, spots a 20th Operations Group (OG) pilot at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Oct. 15, 2021. The 20th OG Optimizing the Human Weapons System program provides general fitness support to Shaw pilots to improve the longevity and readiness of aircrew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Ingold)

Photo of woman working.

Katrina Shelton, certified massage therapist, lays out equipment at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Oct. 15, 2021. The 20th Operations Group has implemented Air Combat Command’s new Optimizing the Human Weapons System program across Shaw’s three fighter squadrons, providing targeted care to 20th Fighter Wing aircrew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Ingold)

Photo of Airmen providing care.

Caroline Ferguson, athletic trainer, right, provides care to a 20th Operations Group (OG) pilot at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Oct. 15, 2021. The 20th OG’s Optimizing the Human Weapons System program provides prehab and rehab to Shaw aviators. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Ingold)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --

The 20th Operations Group has implemented Air Combat Command’s new Optimizing the Human Weapons System program across Shaw’s three combat fighter squadrons, providing targeted care to 20th Fighter Wing aircrew.

The 20th OG hired two athletic trainers, a strength and conditioning coach and a certified massage therapist to provide care to aviators in an attempt to increase operator resilience to the stresses of the fighter aircraft flight.

“Fighter squadrons traditionally already have a flight surgeon and an independent duty medical technician,” said 1st Lt. Zachary Carson, 20th Operations Support Squadron aerospace physiology chief. “However, those providers are not musculoskeletal experts and athletic trainers are. Pilots have access to the trainers from the minute they step into the building at the start of the day to when they leave work.”

Carson said an ACC canvas of fighter pilots revealed that 80% of aircrew have had some sort of neck or back issues. A serious neck or back issue could temporarily disqualify a pilot from flying a sortie and limit their skill development.

“This program addresses how years of flying under high G-loads can impact their neck and back,” said Carson. “This program brings the prehab and rehab to the pilot rather than them having to seek out the treatment themselves.”

Due to the F-16’s small cockpit, pilots of different shapes and sizes need to adjust their body position to properly operate the airframe.

“I have been flying for 2000 hours and have seen plenty of pilots get grounded for herniated discs and stress on their bodies from flying,” said Maj. Rolandus Scherders, 77th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations. “The athletic training we receive helps us prepare for and recover faster from high stress flight and from the long missions we fly.”

Addressing injuries before they become more severe leads to a faster recovery and increased readiness across the 20th OG.

The OHWS program is the newest part of the comprehensive support the 20th OG provides to aviators. By investing in building more resilient pilots, the 20th FW enhances its ability to project combat air power anytime, anyplace.