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Innovation

NCAA coaches boost troop morale

A new Army-NCAA partnership provides inspirational videos to help keep troops focused in war zones.
Written by Melanie D.G. Kaplan, Inactive on

Colonel R. Todd Dombroski is an Army surgeon for the Joint IED Defeat Organization(JIEDDO) and also serves as a consult surgeon to Army Operations, G3, and the Rapid Equipping Force. Dombroski has earned two Combat Medical Badges as a Battalion Surgeon, the only doctor on active duty to have this honor.

Recently, Dombroski kicked off an informal, volunteer partnership with NCAA coaches to provide inspirational videos for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first of the series went out to soldiers around the holidays, from Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer. I talked to Col. Dombroski recently about the series and how today’s soldier is sometimes thought of as an athlete.

Is this demographic of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan especially prone to listening to college coaches?

Young men and women listen to national figures on TV, whether they’re coaches or famous entertainment people. Britney Spears is busy now, so let’s go with some nationally recognized coaches.

You’ve made your first inspirational video from a college football coach. What are the similarities between the situations on the football field and on the battlefield?

We have started treating our soldiers a lot more like athletes. There are a lot of similarities, but not just to football. You can compare it to a year-round sport because we fight year-round. There are components of wrestling because there’s focus on the individual. You can compare it to baseball because we “play” every day, in double-headers. My background is in sports medicine. All my civilian equivalents are team docs for NCAA teams. The big difference between sports medicine at colleges and what I do is that when their teams are playing they are on the sidelines in a coat and tie. But unlike NCAA, we’re not allowed to come in second place. A little humor there—for something that’s not very humorous.

So there are a lot of similarities between the soldier and the athlete, but how does this NCAA partnership benefit the troops?

Our senior officers coach the “team” of soldiers and communicate similar messages as a football coach. We do a lot of team spirit, team morale and try to stay focused. We have a one-year season every single day, so it’s nice to get these pep talks from a recognized coach who is an inspiring voice for an 18-year-old. We’ll be talking to other NCAA coaches (including a female volleyball coach) about their flavor, philosophy and approach. The overall message is keeping yourself focused through a long deployment.

How is all the recent attention given to concussions in football connected to your work?

We’re doing some information-sharing with Virginia Tech. Their helmet sensors are very similar to the helmets we’ve worn that detect blasts and violent head movement. It’s one thing to get blasted, but something else happens when you get thrown on the ground or your vehicle gets thrown with you inside it. We’ll continue to improve on those sensors.

Coach Beamer talks about positive attitude and team spirit in his video. What do you think his most important message is?

The main thing is just keeping it real. The feedback I’m getting from the troops is that they’ve had some down days and some up days, and the coach says the same thing. They say it’s nice to know these teams are struggling like our teams are. They just have to stay focused and never get too high, never get too low.

Click here to read a post about the video from Coach Beamer.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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