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Research Questions

  1. Have the conceptual planning and implementation of U.S. Army Special Operations Command's (USASOC's) THOR3 program been adequate to meet unit-level needs?
  2. How has the program management team utilized resources overall, across programs, and across functions (unit types)?
  3. What are the facility and equipment requirements for THOR3, and how do these requirements and attendant costs vary by unit size?
  4. Is the program able to adequately support all participating personnel? What are its staffing and management needs going forward as the program is extended to other units across USASOC?
  5. What are some opportunities for improvement in the areas of organization, personnel (management, hiring, and retention), leader development and education, facilities, equipment, and performance assessment?
  6. What is the program's likely impact, if any, on Army policy and doctrine?

In 2009, U.S. Special Operations Command provided U.S. Army Special Operations Command with funds to establish the Tactical Human Optimization, Rapid Rehabilitation and Reconditioning (THOR3) program, an investment reflecting "truth number 1" of special operations forces: "Humans are more important than hardware." The goals of THOR3 are to increase the physical and mental capabilities of Army special forces, help these soldiers recover more rapidly from injuries sustained in combat or training, and help them stay healthy and able to contribute longer. The program differs from other Army fitness programs in several important ways, including its holistic approach to improving physical and mental performance, its focus on individual and unit needs, and its reliance on a professional staff of program coordinators, strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, dietitians, and cognitive enhancement specialists to deliver training and rehabilitation services that are on par with those provided to professional sports teams. U.S. Army Special Operations Command asked RAND Arroyo Center to determine whether THOR3 is effectively utilizing the resources provided and to identify opportunities for improvement in the program's planning and implementation, staffing (including hiring and retention), leader development and education, facility and equipment requirements, and ability to support participating personnel.

Key Findings

The Overall Structure and Implementation of U.S. Army Special Operations Command's THOR3 Program Appears Sound

  • The decision about who participates in THOR3 is a command-level issue and affects funding for personnel, facilities, and equipment. U.S. Army Special Operations Command and its parent organization, U.S. Special Operations Command, have different ideas about which units should participate in the program, though neither has proposed extending participation to reserve forces.
  • The program's degree of decentralization will affect both staffing and how the program operates. THOR3 is almost completely decentralized, and its headquarters office is structured to perform only minimal administrative functions. Benefits to this approach include an increased ability to tailor programs to the needs of individual units.

While THOR3 Is Not Unique in the Special Forces, It Is the Largest and Most Comprehensive Program of Its Type

  • Unit-level THOR3 programs are holistic: They include strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, dietitians, and cognitive enhancement specialists (though only one unit had a cognitive enhancement specialist at the time of this research, and that person had held the position for only a short time).
  • There is some disagreement between the THOR3 headquarters office and unit-level program coordinators regarding the role and value of cognitive enhancement specialists.
  • The staffing levels that the THOR3 program has requested appear adequate to meet the needs of the units it will serve.
  • Unit-level programs enjoy autonomy in selecting their equipment, and this practice has been successful.
  • Command-level expectations for improvement (i.e., 20-percent improvement in physical fitness) are unrealistic, given the already high levels of fitness among special forces soldiers.

Recommendations

  • Requirements for THOR3 should be clearly communicated and tied to both U.S. Army Special Operations Command's (USASOC's) expectations and the needs of the units that the program supports.
  • USASOC and U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) should conduct a thorough manpower analysis to determine staffing needs and to forecast expected workloads for program management and headquarters staff.
  • The program's mix of Army civilians and contractors should balance the preference for a stable, permanent workforce with flexibility in staffing levels. Each specialty area in each supported unit should have at least one Army civilian, and the program's personnel services contract should accommodate fluctuations in demand for contracted staff.
  • THOR3 program coordinators should be trained to oversee large, decentralized, and multifunctional staffs. They also should understand the functions of each type of medical and nonmedical specialist on their staff (strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, dietitians, and cognitive enhancement specialists).
  • Each USASOC unit that has been authorized a THOR3 program should have a training facility that meets USSOCOM standards. Temporary facilities can make up for shortfalls while permanent facilities are constructed.
  • Lessons from similar programs, along with USSOCOM guidance, should inform the development of the THOR3 program in all areas going forward.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One:

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two:

    Organization

  • Chapter Three:

    Personnel

  • Chapter Four:

    Leader Development and Education

  • Chapter Five:

    Facilities, Materiel, and Training Assessment

  • Chapter Six:

    Implications for Doctrine and Policy

  • Chapter Seven:

    Findings and Recommendations

  • Appendix A:

    USSOCOM Planning Template for Small and Large THOR3 Facilities

  • Appendix B:

    USSOCOM Materiel Requirements

  • Appendix C:

    Site Visits

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the RAND Arroyo Center.

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