Members of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers got a first-hand look at some of the training that Army Special Operations Forces go thru and got to experience some of it on a Tuesday visit to Ft. Bragg.

The Panthers players got to try a virtual reality parachute jump trainer, fire M-4 weapons during at a battlefield simulator and of course meet with many of the soldiers and their families. For Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, the trip arranged by the USO was a homecoming of sorts.

Richardson grew up and played high school football in Fayetteville before going to college and playing in the NFL. He’s currently the only owner who has played in the league.

 “I am humbled by their dedication to our country and deeply appreciate them allowing us to spend time with them,” he said.

But after visiting with troops and their families as part of their visit to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, the players found themselves in familiar territory, with good reason.

The THOR3 facility at the Special Warfare Center and School — like many others across the Army special operations community – is based on lessons learned from professional sports teams like the Panthers.

The facility – part of the special operations Tactical Human Optimization Rapid Rehabilitation and Reconditioning program – is part of Army special operations’ efforts to treat soldiers more like professional athletes in the hopes of reducing injuries and the physical wear and tear of years of Army service.

Much like any professional sports team, the soldiers of the Special Warfare Center and School – where the Army trains its Special Forces, civil affairs and psychological operations troops – now have dieticians, physical therapists, sports psychologists and strength and conditioning coaches as part of their supporting team, according to Master Sgt. Mike Taylor, the director of human dynamics and performance.

The trip was a learning experience for both sides, the players got to experience a little of what it was like to be a Special Operations soldier and raved about the training and equipment. One player, linebacker David Mayo has two brothers in the Army and his grandfather was an Army pilot in World War II, so the visit was particularly meaningful.

But the soldiers are learning from the players as well. The Special Warfare Center’s Thor3 is taking the lessons learned from the nation’s sports teams to train bigger, better-conditioned soldiers who are less likely to suffer injuries.

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