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Military focuses on improving the health of special forces

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:03 PM
TAMPA -

Sometime around Christmas in 2006, Lisa Nantz received an urgent call from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Her husband, Sgt. Randy Nantz, a Green Beret, had been severely wounded when his Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq. The medical team wanted Lisa Nantz to come to San Antonio, Texas, where her husband was going to be treated, and warned her to be prepared for a long stay.

"They told her she needs to pack for a year or two," Nantz, now 44, said from his home in Tampa.

The long ordeal was hard on Nantz and his wife. He spent months at the burn unit in Texas and eventually opted to have his left leg amputated below the knee.

Many others have shared a similar stress. Since Sept. 11, 2001, about 400 special operators have been killed and about 2,000 wounded.

"Even if you haven't been injured," said Nantz, "you have seen and done enough that you are forever changed."

Those changes have increasingly drawn the attention of military leaders.

In May, Adm. William McRaven, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, said Special Operations Forces have worked at such a tremendous pace that the force was "fraying." He said taking care of those forces was his top priority in an initiative he calls Preservation of the Force and Family.

Last week, the command took McRaven's vow to the next level, putting out for bid a one-year contract to increase "the physical, mental and spiritual capacity" of what the command calls its Special Operations Forces "Tactical Athletes." With four annual options to renew, the contract could be worth up to a total of $475 million.

The contract "will support building and implementing a holistic approach to address the pressure on the force and also the increased stress on the operators' families after 11 years of sustained combat operations," said SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw.

The request was put out just weeks before the 11th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. The nation's longest military conflict began Oct. 7, 2001, and has left more than 2,100 U.S. service members dead and nearly 18,000 wounded.

The plan is to put in place teams of human performance and behavioral health experts at special operations facilities around the world to treat special operators and their families.

Whoever wins the bid will have to provide a wide range of health professionals, including psychologists, psychological/mental health technicians, licensed clinical social workers, family support coordinators, family life assistants, nurse case managers, physical therapists, strength and conditioning specialists, athletic trainers, sports psychologists and sports dieticians.

The health professionals, according to the contract, will offer, among other services, performance-based strength and conditioning programs, rehabilitation for those with performance-related injuries, individual, group and family counseling and intensive case management.

It's all aimed at making operators "highly resistant to extreme combat and inter-deployment stress" as well as "enhancing the well-being" of operators and their families.

Deadline for the bids is Nov. 6.

Randy Nantz, now a sergeant first class scheduled to retire from the Army on Nov. 4, said his wife has done "an excellent job" helping nurse him back to health as he learned how to walk again and even ride a bike.

Even before the injury, the family had to cope with a life of separations.

"There is nothing more important for the operator than the family," Nantz said. "The family has to be stable and taken care of. If not, it causes problems. That's why a lot of guys end up divorced."

Taking care of the operator is also vital, he said.

"The mind and the body are the two most important things you have as an operator," Nantz said.

"Without them, it doesn't matter what equipment you have on or where you are. You have to be mentally and physically sharp as a razor," Nantz said.


haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629

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