Resiliency training, RAPTOR program prepares deploying Marines

17 Mar 2011 | Cpl. Jenn Calaway

A research program is underway that will strengthen the resiliency of tomorrow’s warfighter.

The Research, Assessment, Performance, Training Optimization and Resilience, or RAPTOR program observes present-day combat training methods, studies efficiencies and implements lessons learned into future training operations.

“We’re taking what we’ve learned from successful warfighters, and we’re trying to instill that in everybody else,” said Chris Johnson, Ph.D., a senior scientist in the Warfighter Performance Department at the Naval Health and Research Center. “If you take one hundred warfighters and expose them to a combat stressor, some are going to respond really well. The genesis of what we’re doing is studying what it is about the ones who do really well neurologically, biologically and functionally.”

RAPTOR uses platforms like the Infantry Immersion Trainer and other immersion-type training mediums to gather crucial data on Marines’ cognitive and physical reactions to stressors and turns that information into data commanders can then use to influence future combat training options.

Scenarios like those at the IIT, where an authentic Afghan environment, M16 and AK-47 paint rounds and explosions make for a tangible training environment serve as the ideal place for RAPTOR to study behaviors under stress.

“The IIT is a premier platform for doing this type of research,” Johnson said. “In an operational environment you need to be very present. That’s the behavior we are ultimately trying to foster.”

However, Lance Cpl. Dominic Epkey, rifleman with Kilo Co., 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment, was anything but calm after his first evolution through the life-like town, modeled after the Afghan city of Now Zad.

“It was chaotic,” Epkey said. “With all the explosions and role players speaking their language, it made it really realistic, and my adrenaline is pumping way faster than normal.  Actually, this is the fastest my adrenaline has ever been going.”

This is exactly what Johnson wants Marines to experience after facing scenarios of this caliber.

“We provide valuable information to commanders who then mold the training their Marines will receive in the future,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of people invested in these Marines doing well. We want to help them do their job better so we’re giving them digestible challenges.”

In conjunction with the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, RAPTOR responds to the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ October 2010 planning guidance by using tools like the IIT facility to institute research throughout unit forming, training, deployment and post-deployment phases.

 “We ask the Marine Corps, ‘What is it you want to gain from this training?’” Johnson said. “Based on what their needs are, we go about collecting data.”

The ultimate goal is to prepare the young Marine for combat stressors before they step foot in a combat zone.

 “Resiliency to me means mental toughness, being able to get through any circumstance and do whatever it takes to complete the mission,” Epkey said. “This setup is probably the most realistic training we’ll get untill Afghanistan.”

Though Epkey may personally never see the direct effect of the research he is helping to provide, he is paving the way for Marines of the future.

“There’s no other DOD program that’s using neuroscience like this and cutting-edge scientific approaches to looking at performance enhancement,” Johnson said.