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A Little Sweat is Good for the Swole

Man in a black shirt, black shorts and a wide-brim bucket hat watches others run around him on a track.

Strength coach Josh Woodward, 27th Special Operations Squadron, runs a training activity for a squadron of Airmen at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., on April 26, 2021. The Human Performance Program provides services to several squadrons in the 27 SOG, with the goal of building the resiliency in our Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Drew Cyburt)

Man in a purple shirt, black pants, black hat and black mask stands in a large, dimly lit room surrounded by gym equipment.

Strength Coach Josh Daniel, 27th Special Operations Group, poses for an environmental portrait in one of the new fitness areas at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., on April 30, 2021. The Human Performance Program was created in 2019 as a way to assist Airman both physically and mentally. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Drew Cyburt)

Man in a purple shirt, black hat and black mask lifts two weights off of his chest.

Strength coach Josh Daniel, 27th Special Operations Group, performs a proper chest press at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., on April 30, 2021. The Human Performance Program not only trains Airmen, but also assists with rehabilitation and dietary needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Drew Cyburt)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

The Human Performance Program for the 27th Special Operations Group is the prime example of resiliency. It was first greenlit in March of 2019 with the intent of giving a focused training regimen for today’s Airmen.

Currently servicing 10 squadrons in the 27 SOG, the HPP’s main goal is to help Airmen remain resilient and focus on their well-being. Such lofty goals are not always easy to achieve, and that was very apparent in the program’s rather inauspicious start.

“We literally had nothing, no equipment, no building space, we were trying to find office space and computers,” said Kellie Johnson, the human performance advisor for the 27 SOG. Johnson began her tenure at Cannon Air Force Base a few months after the HPP initiative began, and has been building the program from the ground up, which included finding suitable locations to train the Airmen, as well as finding the right type of people for the job.

“There’s eight people on our staff,” Johnson said. “We’ve got three strength coaches, two physical therapists, an athletic trainer, a dietician and myself, so there is a lot to keep track of.”

Things seemed to be headed in the right direction for the HPP: they hired the correct staff, they had a list of the select squadrons they were going to work with, and even had buildings ready to go when COVID-19 reared its head, according to Johnson.

With the base going into lockdown, the HPP had to think outside the box. With so much of their job being face-to-face interactions, Johnson and her team came up with new ways to meet and exceed the expectations they set for themselves.

Prior to COVID, the program was infrequently utilized by their intended squadrons. In order to maintain their efficiency, they used technology, including an app, to grow their exposure to the Airmen, which was challenging in its own way.

“How do we continue to be there for our Airmen to ensure they get what they need,” asked Jonathan Erskine, a strength coach for the HPP who formerly trained Army Soldiers. “How do we create a safe training environment at home, what can they do? Can you make an impact and not be in the room?” Along with Johnson, Erskine was there in the beginning stages of the program, and has witnessed its growth first hand.

“Since COVID, there’s been an explosion in utilization,” said Johnson. “We’ve gone from 5-8% to 30% utilization, that’s a huge jump.” And their goals are set even higher than that.

“I hope and foresee our reach expanding to other squadrons,” said Erskine. “Having someone easily accessible to give you the proper guidance on how to train and take care of yourself, I think a lot of people miss out on that.” But that reach won’t be realized if Airmen are unaware of what the HPP does.

“The importance of our program is obviously performance-based training,” Johnson said. “So if you have ailments, if you need rehab or training, we’re here specifically for you.” With the Air Force reinstating the physical fitness tests on July 1, the help the program can provide is apparent.

“What’s the one thing all Airmen worry about for these tests? The run,” chuckled Johnson. “Because so many people run incorrectly.” She then proceeded to give a few examples of incorrect form, specifically how people swing their arms when they run.

Correct running form is just one aspect of the program, and the scope of their work only broadens from there.

“Our strength coaches can program for what you do in your job,” said Johnson. “So whether you sit at a desk, are on your feet all day, or lift heavy things, each training can be tailored to meet your needs.”

As with all physical training, however, it is never supposed to be easy.

“My job is to find that fine line between enough and too much,” said Josh Woodward, another strength coach for the HPP. His recent training activity with a squadron showcased this fine line, as nearly all the Airmen were out of breath and challenged, but none over-exerted or injured themselves.

For the Airmen who are nursing injuries or just need assistance in losing weight, the HPP also employs two physical therapists and a dietician to aide those individuals, proving just how well-rounded this program can be.

“We have all these different pieces working together to create an evolved or ‘performed’ Airman,” Johnson said. That vision of ‘evolved’ Airmen is not relegated to just their physical well-being, but their mental state as well; their own vision of the “whole Airman concept”.

“I love the unification that our training brings,” said Erskine. “Working with different squadrons, people you don’t know.” Bringing people out of their own shells and bubbles has had a tremendous impact, but there is always room for growth.

“We all can improve. Nobody is perfect, not even myself,” said Erskine. “A lot of the Airmen I see understand what is needed of them. We all want to get in shape, but we all don’t know how.”

When the term ‘strength coach’ gets thrown around, for many it immediately conjures a vision of large, hulking mountains of muscle lifting cars and pulling aircrafts, but Johnson wants to squash that image right away.

“We’re not here to make you look like you belong in a strongman contest,” said Johnson. “We’re here to help you so in 10-15 years you can play with your kids and not be in pain.”

For most of us, taking the first step is always the hardest. You can mentally visualize the change you want, and dream about how life can be different. Physically going out and making it happen can be daunting, but Coach Erskine sums it up perfectly.

“You don’t need a barbell to be successful,” Erskine said. “You just need an opportunity. Get in there and get it done.”