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Inside INL: How to train a Pro Force team member 

By Michelle Goff, INL Communications

Published online: Sep 11, 2023 Articles
Viewed 1227 time(s)

Providing security 24 hours a day at Idaho National Laboratory requires elite security systems and a well-trained, physically fit guard force. Being an INL Protective Force (Pro Force) officer is a challenging and invigorating career, and the demands of the job begin before aspiring officers even have the chance to apply.  

All Pro Force team members must be able to run a mile in under eight-and-a-half minutes, and they must successfully complete a 40-yard dash in under eight seconds. If they are not able to accomplish both drills in the given time limit, they cannot apply to join the Pro Force.  

Then, for 12 of their 14 weeks of training, Pro Force hopefuls spend 75 minutes each morning before their classes working on physical activity with trainers Jennifer Hewit and Ron Sommers. 

Some Pro Force hopefuls who make it through their pre-hire requirements are unable to complete these 12 weeks of intense physical training, which requires them to consistently push themselves to run farther and faster, to lift heavier, sometimes outdoors in the sweltering desert heat or cold, snowy mornings, to prove they are capable of tackling all physical challenges that may arise during their time on the force. 

After graduating onto the force, officers visit with Hewit and Sommers every 6 months for fitness assessments to test cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory health, musculoskeletal strength and range of motion. Throughout their Pro Force career, the officers must be able to pass their pre-hire running requirements and be alert and ready to jump at challenges that demand far more from them physically than these baseline fitness tests.  

Hewit and Sommers have been in the physical training business for many years; it has become a true passion for both of them.

Sommers has been at INL for over 25 years and knows firsthand what it takes to be in the Pro Force. Hewit joined INL in 2022 and brings a high level of expertise to the lab. She holds a doctorate in sports biomechanics and strength & conditioning and was a tenured associate professor at the United States Military Academy where she was the director of the Human Performance Laboratory for over a decade.

One of the most challenging aspects of their job is countering the fitness misinformation on the internet.

Educating the officers and ensuring that their training is scientifically supported and safe, yet challenging is the key” Hewit said. “It’s easy to skip over certain aspects of a training program that aren’t as fun and interesting. However, each component of fitness is essential and equally important to a well-rounded and physically fit individual. That is how you minimize your potential for injury while maximizing your performance.”

People see all kinds of dramatic stunts on internet fitness videos and they want to try those out,” Hewitt said. “We work hard to demonstrate that there are safer, more traditional poses and activities that will accomplish the same fitness goals.” 

However, the job also comes with significant rewards. For Sommers, a great reward is learning that he has helped someone avoid surgery through stretches and prehab work that gradually corrected a physical issue. Hewit enjoys helping people achieve their personal fitness goals, whether these are weight loss, body fat loss, strength increase, or preparation for an intense physical experience like a Spartan race. Hewit also loves helping Pro Force members who want to join the Special Response Team, which requires them to meet additional challenging physical standards.

Both emphasized that sprint intervals are one of the best ways for people to increase their aerobic and anaerobic capabilities. They stressed the importance of weightlifting designed to strengthen the whole body and maintaining mobility, flexibility, and balance while performing all exercises. “The body is three-dimensional and flows from one segment to another. Movements that challenge the body across multiple joints and planes of motion will create strength, coordination, and stamina throughout our daily movements and physical demands,” Hewit said. 

To see when job openings are established in the Pro Force, visit www.inl.gov.

About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, and also performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. For more information, visit www.inl.gov. Follow us on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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