Hurlburt Air Force Base launches a new mission to improve combat readiness and recovery with Lumena MindGym
Optimizing combat readiness and performance
As the world’s most formidable air-based military operation, the United States Air Force (USAF) spares no expense in exploring innovative ways to maintain its advantage — while protecting its airmen and allied service members.
Most research delves into weaponry and hard skill development. But, Patrick O’Maille, PhD, operational and performance psychologist, is leading the effort to enhance air superiority on a different front: combat readiness through comprehensive training using a variety of methods and the MindGym.
Because of nearly two decades of experience embedded in operational units as an active duty Air Force psychologist and as a contractor working closely with elite military units, Dr. O’Maille, knows that combat readiness is more than just developing skills to help avoid being shot down in pursuit of mission objectives.
It also involves overcoming constant disruptions to circadian rhythms and other mission related physiological impacts that can take a real toll on a human’s health and an airman’s ability to perform in high-stress environments and execute in moments of consequence.
“Our service members work long hours under intense and unpredictable conditions that demand a program for developing new mental skills to help them remain primed for optimal performance in training, at war, and after they come home,” he explains. “This requires a much deeper dive into how operators regulate their emotional state during high pressure and high-intensity situations and using innovative training to build mental skill sets so they can excel in every situation.”
- Improving service member performance and recovery in high-intensity situations.
- Overcoming hesitancy around conventional performance based interventions.
- Extending skills development opportunities to more service members.
- Creating highly effective closed loop skills training program.
Dr. Patrick O’Maille at Hurlburt AFB uses Lumena MindGym techniques and programs to help service members achieve higher states of “calm alertness” to improve performance during prolonged periods of intense work and to enable faster, more complete recovery.
- Reduced reliance on high-maintenance, manned sensory deprivation apparatus.
- Expanded access to cutting-edge, neuropsychologically-based skills training to broader Air Force Special Forces.
- Created a blended training program featuring closed-loop biofeedback and performance oriented psychological interventions.
Lumena MindGym stood out in my research because of how robust and flexible it is.
Advanced mental skills training for resilience and execution
Elite performers in many professions — pro sports, entertainment, and business — frequently turn to coaches and psychologists to gain and sustain an advantage. O’Maille’s work includes many of the same interventions and strategies employed by private-sector professionals, as well as emerging and empirically-validated performance training techniques like sensory deprivation tanks to augment his work.
However, these interventions face hurdles when it comes to access and adoption. “Many operators are hesitant to work with a mental health provider because of the stigma of talking to a ‘shrink,’” he says. “They’re trained to operate independently and to rely on their preparation in high-pressure situations. Talking about or publicizing their personal mental health can feel like they’re showing weakness, so they continue to mask what’s really going on.” Thus, normalizing for operators that they have strengths and vulnerabilities in how they navigate the rigorous pressures of their mission environments is an up-front task.
Eager for a more comprehensive and integrated alternative, O’Maille scoured the market for new training technologies that incorporated neurofeedback and sensory deprivation, “Lumena MindGym stood out in my research because of how robust and flexible it is,” O’Maille explains. “There are many training sessions that are backed by neuroscience and neurophysiological research with the right interventions and biosignal feedback.” It provides a complete closed loop blueprint for developing the mental skills necessary for recognizing and modulating stress signals. This form of skill development, attending to the “human operating system” as central to mission success, is not explicitly provided to operators in their training pipelines unless they have access to embedded performance specialists or technological platforms.
Unlike conventional sensory deprivation tools, MindGym doesn’t require dedicated personnel to run a training session nor extensive and expensive maintenance. The tool’s first-of-itskind integrated audio, visual, and biofeedback capabilities lets users choose from a broad range of fully immersive sensory experiences that stress and train various elements of their nervous system, improving their ability to govern their actions, reactions, and general emotional state.
Each exercise actively monitors — and measures — a participant’s responses and biosignals, creating an actionable analytics report that can be evaluated by the participants themselves or by a trained professional like O’Maille, both onsite or remotely. Used as part of a continuous training program, the reports help both practitioners and their unit members evaluate performance trends over time and identify specific areas of focus for improvement or that require more intense efforts.
Unlike conventional sensory deprivation tools, MindGym doesn’t require dedicated personnel to run a training session nor extensive and expensive maintenance.
Overcoming the heaviest situational pressures
O’Maille’s personal experience in the MindGym box rendered in a state of “calm alertness,” fully aware and focused, yet with an effortlessly calm mind. He says this state is consistent with autonomic nervous system balancing, essential for achieving performance goals under the heaviest situational pressures.
His experience extrapolated to the broader Air Force is an exciting development. Deep practice and consistent training with MindGym has the potential to help all airmen and other armed forces service members to remain in contact with their difficult experiences and still be able to tap into mental bandwidth for smarter and faster decision making.
O’Maille says that “optimal situational performance depends on more than just training for stressful situations. It also means effectively training for recovery too, as rapid recovery enables service members to feel less ragged, sleep deeper and more restfully, and bounce back faster after prolonged periods of draining tasks and activities”.
“One thing I really love about MindGym is how it expands on the things I’m already doing in our training sessions and increases the exposure, consistency, and repeatability of it,” he says. “Not only will it help to deliver better results faster, but many operators will prefer this kind of training to traditional methods, which will help make mental and emotional health of our fighting force a high priority — just as it should be.”