Air Force Special Tactics members tour ECU

Experts from the Air Force 724th Special Tactics Group toured several East Carolina University Health and Human Performance and Physical Therapy laboratories July 23, as the group was briefed on university assets that could help support their airmen and medical staff.

“We’re really looking to take care of our airmen from cradle to the grave,” said Maj. Chad Morrow, a psychologist with the 724th Special Tactics Group. “We want to create a prevention model that synchronizes mind, body and spirit pillars. By identifying potential health problems before they become an issue, we can adjust our personnel before they have to miss time in the field.”

Ultrasound demonstration to examine muscle stiffness

East Carolina University associate professors Tony Kulas, left, and Zac Domire demonstrate to a team from the Air Force 724th Special Tactics Group how researchers can use ultrasound technology to examine muscle stiffness before and after injury.

The group said it was also interested in identifying best practices – crafted by leading experts like ECU’s faculty and researchers – and improving the way they train their medical personnel.

Stops on the tour included ECU’s Human Performance Lab, Performance Optimization Lab, Visual Motor Lab, Sensory Motor Integration Lab, Human Movement Analysis Lab and Balance and Gait Lab.

With an emphasis placed on identifying how to collect baseline data on new service members, musculoskeletal injuries and traumatic brain injuries, the group found plenty of researchers willing to lend their ability and technology.

“Tours like this remind us that we’re not in the academic world,” Morrow said. “We wish we had more time to spend researching some of the same areas that ECU researchers are working in and apply it to what we’re doing.

“However, we may have to explore using external resources, like those at universities, to allow us to study those topics,” he said. “I think we saw some technology that was interesting. It’s great to see what the researchers here are working on and think about how we can build that into what we’re doing.”

The group was intrigued with the way researchers in the Performance Optimization Lab used ultrasound technology to study the role of stiffening muscle tissue in injuries. ECU also offers technology used for physical and cognitive testing that may be useful to the Air Force but may not be cost-effective for the branch.

“Universities may have equipment that we don’t have, usually because the equipment is in low demand for us and we’d only use it once every two years,” Morrow said. “There are some specific tests that we wouldn’t conduct on our own because we do it so infrequently, but may be able to partner with universities – like ECU – that may be able to fill that demand. Those are the things we look to leverage with academia.”

Air Force member tries out virtual reality equipment

Maj. Jack Tuepker, group surgeon for the Air Force 724th Special Tactics Group, tries out virtual reality equipment with assistant professor Chia-Cheng Ling in ECU’s Balance and Gait Lab.

ECU researchers also presented their work in areas including muscle tissue load and tolerance, nutrition, pre- and post-fatigue cognition, adverse condition testing, sequential motor programming and visual eye tracking and point of gaze training.

The group plans to return to their team at Pope Field in Cumberland County and examine how ECU’s resources may be able to improve their personnel readiness in the future.

“Our experts will go back and talk to their teams and inform them about what they saw today,” Chief of Staff Michael Rizzuto said. “Together, they’ll brainstorm what areas they might want to pursue, then follow up with ECU. As a test and evaluation organization the research that ECU is conducting is very close to our heart.”

Air Force Special Tactics operator’s lead global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations all over the world as the Air Force’s ground special operations component. Special Tactics combines the core skills of Special Operation Forces with the tactical integration of air power to find unique solutions for ground problems. They are the Air Force’s special operations ground force comprised of highly trained airmen who solve multi-domain problems across the spectrum of conflict and crisis.

The group attending ECU also included Maj. Jack Tuepker, the group’s surgeon, and Maj. Andy McCampbell, who serves as the group’s human performance manager. The 724th Special Tactics Group includes medical and human performance experts, including civilian strength coaches and athletic trainers.

“It was exciting to see all the great interactions today between the 724th Special Tactics Group team and our ECU researchers,” ECU Director of Military Engagement Jim Menke said. “It is this type of engagement that will help lead ECU in increasing its amount of Department of Defense collaborations and research in the future.”