HJF Supporting Study to Improve Special Forces Training

United States

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF) was awarded $7 million to support the work of Michael J. Roy, M.D., M.P.H., at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU). Roy is conducting one of the largest-ever operational blast exposure monitoring programs in history. The study, Investigating Training Associated Blast Pathology (INVICTA), examines the impact that the rigors of special forces training can have on the brain.

Specifically, INVICTA looks at the repetitive exposure to blasts experienced by both trainees and trainers in the U.S. Navy Sea, Air and Land Specialists (SEALS), the Navy’s special forces units. By conducting assessments Roy hopes to provide evidence-based recommendations that may improve the training environment for our nation’s elite warfighters. These assessments include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies as well as, tests of cognitive function, such as memory and reaction time. There will be additional assessments of gait, balance, hearing, blood flow to the brain, and blood levels of a variety of markers of brain injury.

“Special operations candidates undergo intensely physical training and assessments. HJF is proud to administer any research that may lead to lessen inherent exposure risks to the warfighter.” said HJF President and CEO Joseph Caravalho, M.D. “We are incredibly pleased to support Dr. Roy in this important and historical work.”

service member firing weapon


From 2019 to 2024, hundreds of special operations forces instructors and recruits will be assessed at equal intervals. A control group of general-purpose forces will establish a baseline for comparison.

The INVICTA study will be partnering with a blast monitoring program being conducted by the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at USU called CONQUER. This program places blast gauges on a variety of special forces operators across all branches of the military services to measure the level of blast exposures that occur during training exercises. With the INVICTA effort, the measurements from the sensors will be compared to the results of the assessments, providing detailed insight into the correlation between blast exposure and the impact on warfighters.

Instructors typically conduct 6 training courses per year, over a 2-year tour of duty, during which they are as close to the weapons as the trainees who are firing them. This can place instructors at particularly high exposure for both acute and chronic impacts on the brain. If INVICTA is able to both document the nature of the impact, and factors that are associated with it, it could lead to modifications in the conduct of training exercises that could improve the long-term brain health of our nation’s special operators.

The information or content and conclusions of this research do not necessarily represent the official position or policy of, nor should any official endorsement be inferred on the part of, USU, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


About HJF: The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF) is a global nonprofit organization with the mission to advance military medicine. HJF’s scientific, administrative and program operations services empower investigators, clinicians, and medical researchers around the world to make discoveries in all areas of medicine. With more than 35 years of experience, HJF serves as a trusted and responsive link between the military medical community, federal and private partners, and the millions of warfighters, veterans, and civilians who benefit from military medicine. For more information, visit