Among the powers that comic book hero Thor is known for is his high resistance to injury and the ability to regenerate wounded portions of his body, making him almost invulnerable.
THOR3 – the Tactical Human Optimization, Rapid Rehabilitation and Reconditioning program – is helping the Army’s most elite soldiers improve their resilience and overall performance.
And when the U.S. Army Special Operations Command decided to add the nutrition element of THOR3 to the menu at a Fort Bragg, North Carolina dining facility, they asked Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support to help.
THOR3 has been around since 2009 and is a holistic approach with customized strength and conditioning, rehabilitation and nutrition programs to improve the performance of Special Operations soldiers, according to a USASOC release.
A team of employees from the Subsistence supply chain advised USASOC on how to add food items that are scientifically proven to improve soldier performance to the DFAC menu at the Special Warfare Center and School.
The facility was a test site for a study comparing THOR3 nutrition to current Army menu standards. Another Fort Bragg DFAC was a control site with normal food service operations.
The Subsistence team began to provide the technical and industrial expertise to help determine what food items to include in September 2014, before the study began.
“We were all brought in so early in the process,” said Kelly Parker, Subsistence contract specialist. “That’s what we offer to the services, is this partnership.”
USASOC started with a broad list, wanting the best fruits, antibiotic-free chicken and grass-fed meat. The Subsistence team worked to translate that broad list into specific items that fit within USASOC’s food budget, said Army Lt. Col. Debra Hernandez, a registered dietitian and Subsistence nutritionist.
The list included retail items, like performance food bars, that the prime vendor, which supplies food to the Fort Bragg DFAC, didn’t already provide. Quinoa is another desired item but comes from the Andes Mountains. So it’s not Berry Amendment friendly, which requires DLA to procure items made in the U.S.
“We never said ‘no,’” Parker said. “If the [customer] wants something, I’m going to get it. We just have to do it the right way.”
The Subsistence team researched the foods and their sources, negotiated pricing and, to increase their buying power, invited other services to add some healthy food items to their menus, Parker said. Then they presented USASOC a menu of options to get the food items they wanted and the associated costs.
The THOR3 menu was launched in April and the study ended in January. The results are now being analyzed, determining how much food was thrown out, nutritional intake, cost comparison and more. The study is scheduled to be published in approximately a year.
The healthy foods tend to cost more. But that may be outweighed by the long-term cost savings on soldier health care and by eliminating some of the unhealthy foods from the menu, Parker said.
One benefit that’s already apparent from available feedback, Parker said, is that DFAC employees are happier making more food from scratch instead of serving processed foods.
The demand for healthier eating options is consistent throughout the food service industry, Hernandez said. This study may help lead the way to adding more healthy food to DFACs throughout the services.
Implementing the THOR3 menu was a joint effort that also included the Army Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, Hernandez said.