Heavy Weapons Training, Blast Exposure and the Brain

The Neurotactical Research Team is studying the neurological effects of low-level blast exposure from shoulder-mounted rockets during heavy weapons training. The team intervenes during training to test participants at strategic time points to identify both short-term and long-term effects and to create operationally-directed guidelines to help mitigate these effects.

Their ultimate goal is to improve war fighters' mission readiness, as well as to improve their overall quality of life. "When we compared blast exposure from deployment to actually being a range safety officer or going through the land warfare cell, most of the exposures actually for me have came from the training," says Navy SEAL instructor and range safety office, SO1 Levi Goodin. "Usually per year, we put six classes through, which would equate to 36 blasts a year, approximately six every other month. Usually after those blasts I feel a slight pinch in the backside of my head, sort of like a headache. My sleep seems very sporadic and my eyesight actually starts to blur in my right eye."

Since the research team has arrived, they've cut down on the amount of exposures that the range safety officers have experienced. It used to be that they would go until there was no more students. Now it's switched to each instructor can only take six exposures a day, and no more than that.

"I was a SEAL, I retired after 22 years. I was a medic, special operations independent duty corpsman. In my platoons, I was RSO, we would shoot 15 Carl Gustafs or AT4s in one day," says Wally Graves III, the team lead for the Neurotactical Research Team. "That's a common theme in almost all the guys that have been around for a while. I don't know how many of our guys have had moderate exposures to blast because the problem is unless you completely get knocked out, nobody goes to a hospital, so there's no personal casualty report. And you kind of suck it up, you say, wow, that was something, and you move on. A mechanical amputee is one thing, or a gunshot wound, is one thing, or a burn, but the invisible blast guy that's whole, nobody looks at you to stop and say, 'Are you okay?' or anything because it's not obvious. And, hopefully, we can help put together a really good surveillance program for NSW that will track that, like a dive table, because that's what we know as combat divers, just like a hearing conservation program or your vision. Well maybe it's time to also track exposure to blasts, and nobody really knows what blast does, and I'm privileged to be working with such smart people that care and that are really invested in what we're doing."

Posted on BrainLine October 14, 2018.

(Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt, U.S. Navy/Released)