New training concept for stronger RAAF

Gone are the days of trainees hiding injuries out of fear of getting held back.

CAPTIONRAAF Security and Fire School students take an ice bath after conducting firefighting training – a measure of recovery and rehabilitation introduced by the Human Performance Optimisation team. Story by Corporal Melina Young. Photos by Peter Longland.

Now they have access to the latest wearable technology that monitors physical and mental stress.

Royal Australian Air Force’s Human Performance Optimisation (HPO) teams can point to higher pass rates and fewer injuries to demonstrate how applying concepts that are normally used to train professional athletes is paying off.

The pass rate at RAAF Security and Fire School (RAAFSFS) doubled to 94 per cent in the three years since its HPO team introduced new training concepts.

Lost training days went down from 7644 to 936, and there were no medical discharges.

At 1 Recruitment Training Unit (1RTU), the course failure rate dropped by 35 per cent, leading to a saving of more than a million dollars.

There were similar results at a handful of bases across the country.

The HPO program was recently recognised – as part of the broader Human Performance and Safety team in RAAF – as a finalist in the 2023 Comcare National Awards Scheme for preventing injury among trainees.

In just a few years, their work modernising training and recovery techniques brought about a shift in culture at RAAFSFS, according to former Commanding Officer Group Captain Craig Nielsen.

“It dramatically increased first-time graduation strike rates, training capability, and is optimising the individual as best as possible,” he said.

Group Captain Nielsen said adopting a bespoke approach to training and recovery, which included psychological and nutritionist advice, helped get the most from his people.

Fire fighters took ice baths after exposure to extreme heat to recover quicker between scenarios, while airfield defence guards were fitted with technology to measure field and battlecraft activities.

“We initially put the technology on instructors, so the system learnt correct procedures, then we placed them on trainees,” he said.

“The system knew what good looked like and was able to compare a trainee’s movements to that of a highly skilled member.

“We could see where the performance was breaking down and adjust the strength, conditioning or skilling aspects to better optimise the performance of the student.”

But there was more than physical monitoring – at 1RTU, athlete management systems provided early warning of physical or psychological injury.

When aviators enter trade school, commanders receive a handover with a history of injuries from initial training and whether they’re at risk of injury.

Individuals are then re-assessed and managed with a tailored plan.

Group Captain Nielsen said this transparency with access to specialists for open discussions has created a culture where problems are accepted and difficulties overcome.

“The physios engage with the students during physical training – we see our students voicing their physical concerns and issues and then accepting help,” Group Captain Nielsen said.

“Trainees understood that early intervention and alternative training methods to remove impact and allow recovery were OK.

“This allowed them to return to ‘normal’ quicker and not end up being back-coursed because of an injury.”

RAAF Base Williamtown’s HPO team sports and exercise physiotherapist, David McGinness, noticed a trend of lower-back issues among combat controllers.

He uses force plate testing and camera tracking on treadmills to measure strength and gait to improve performance while pack marching.

This was just one of the techniques on offer to get the most from the workforce.

CAPTIONStrength and conditioning coach at RAAF Security and Fire School Sammi Frost conducts an isometric mid-thigh pull test on airfield defence guard students using force plate technology to measure strength and power – equipment introduced by the Human Performance Optimisation team.


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