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Athletic trainer invaluable to special operations mission

  • Published
  • By Michelle Gigante
  • 919th Special Operations Wing

It was the perfect day to shoot hoops with the kids. Master Sgt. Jedidiah Payne, 2nd Special Operations Squadron operations superintendent, had his eye on the target, ready to show his kids his windmill slam dunk move when, in mid-jump, a snapping ping triggered a painful sensation through his muscles.

Payne thought the popping sound indicated a muscle strain or tear which would likely require medical attention. However, he repressed the feeling and pushed through since he had a funeral to attend. After the funeral, Payne stopped by his office to follow-up on a few important items for work and planned to later seek medical treatment for the injury.

As he made his way into the office, Ellie Goldense, an athletic trainer with the Preservation of the Force and Family, paused to say hello to him.

“I bumped into Ellie, who was working in her area in the hanger,” said Payne. “She could see the look on my face and knew there was a problem.”

Payne, who has been a member of the 2nd Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, for the last two years, explained the situation to her.

“She asked me what I did...I told her, and then she asked, ‘did you make it’?” said Payne. “I didn’t really understand the question, and I later learned she wasn’t planning to help me if I didn’t make the dunk in the basketball game.”

Goldense and he shared a laugh over the story.

“In 15 minutes she triaged me, showed me I had pulled a muscle, and not punctured a lung—like I thought I did,” chuckled Payne. “Maybe that’s a little sarcastic, but the injury was really quite painful."

Goldense’s role is unique to the flying unit, because she is the only athletic trainer embedded in the squadron and yet she supports her organization and two others. In addition to the 2nd SOS, she takes care of the 65th Special Operations Squadron and the 311th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron.

“I am the first person to fill this position,” said Goldense. “I was originally brought in for night-time work, they didn’t have someone for after hours and this type of support is needed around the clock.”

Payne and his team’s line of work requires long periods of sitting, causing strain, tension, and fatigue on the body. Recently, the team received new cubicle walls to provide greater privacy in the sleep pods. In addition, there are massage chairs, and an athletic training table to help combat the bad posture they endure on the job.

“All of these things have made us better at our job," said Payne. "We didn’t even realize what we were missing until we got the [resiliency equipment] we have now. We just knew we were tearing our bodies down.”

Goldense described while in combat, the brain can cause physical stress from experiencing what is referred to as ‘moral injury’ by those who study the psychological impact of combat operations among certain segments of the military. To help counteract these stressors for the team, she developed individual fitness plans to make sure the flying unit performs optimally.

Some of the tactics she incorporates with the fitness plans focus on mobility stretches.

“Imagine just sitting in an upright position, for hours and hours on end,” said Goldense. “While we have people that can swap in and out [for crew relief], it is not that easy.”

While this technique is useful for combating fatigue, there are times when a team member cannot swap out at the end of their shift.

“That’s where I come in,” said Goldense, one of the many POTFF resources provided to the Wing. POTFF ensures special operations members have services to address the four main pillars of life -- physical, spiritual, psychological and social needs.

The athletic trainer position supports the physical pillar to optimize and sustain mission readiness.

She explained her process is to learn what ailments members might have from participating in activities with their families, so they are not compounding the situation by being stationary for prolonged periods of time.

“I need to make sure they are able to maintain that cognitive focus by mitigating physical pain so they continue the mission,” said Goldense.

Payne was able to go home that night to his family and avert a trip to the emergency room because of Goldense intervening.

“Her ability to assess the situation, and help me in that moment is indicative of the care she provides our Airmen every day,” said Payne.

Both Payne and Goldense established a trusting working relationship, and he has since referred several team members to her.

“Having someone like Ellie here has given us the opportunity as a community and me personally to be better prepared to do the job,” said Payne.