AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
When deployed to cold weather locations, the environment itself becomes an enemy to defend against and prepare for.
Pararescuemen from the 57th Rescue Squadron teamed up with local gym Muscle Power Roma to undergo cold exposure training that would help improve operational performance and effective stress management when exposed to harsh, cold weather conditions.
Alessio Alfei, Wim Hof instructor with Muscle Power Roma, taught 57th RQS Pararescuemen cold weather exposure techniques known as the Wim Hof Method. The Wim Hof Method is an endurance technique developed by Dutch athlete Wim “the Iceman” Hof that combines breathing, cold therapy, and involves powerful inhalation, relaxed exhalation, and prolonged breath holds.
“The Pararescuemen within the 57th RQS consistently practice a variety of mental and physical readiness training tactics and strategies, we were excited to bring this specific training to the unit to continue to augment our capabilities” said Amanda Alexander, who has a doctorate in psychology, and is the 57th RQS civilian operational psychologist. “While training in cold weather conditions and other stressful environments is a regular part of the job we are always looking to sharpen our toolbox.”
The team members learned the science of focus training that included awareness of mindset as well as specific breathing techniques to enhance oxygen saturation and carbon dioxide tolerance.
“Cold exposure and breathing techniques helps prepare individuals for operational readiness by increasing stress tolerance, self-regulation and hardiness in extremely uncomfortable conditions,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Degenhardt, 57th RQS superintendent. “Learning the mindset and breathing strategies taught by Alessio and the science of the Wim Hof Method also help to improve physiological resistance to stressful conditions such as high altitude, cold and pain.”
Most of the time operational personnel just muscle through the pain, discomfort and stress to accomplish the mission, according to Degenhardt. This training allows them to utilize techniques and strategies to effectively self-regulate and de-stress in chaotic situations.
“We also practiced breath holds, performing physical tasks enhanced by mindset and breathing techniques, and finally cold water exposure at 40 degrees Fahrenheit with guided instructions to enhance regulation capabilities and reduce distress,” said Dr. Alexander.
Feedback from team members who participated in the training was overwhelmingly positive. The team plans to continue utilizing strategies learned in this training and future mental fitness trainings to enhance operational readiness.