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UNCW involved in new Department of Defense program to benefit military service members


Military service members face unusual stressors in their lives and work. To cope with these demanding challenges, a North Carolina organization has launched a new effort to help active-duty personnel improve their health and performance ... both on and off the battlefield.

The program, designed by the non-profit organization RTI International, seeks to bring grassroots solutions to military health and wellness concerns. Known as NC-COMP, it addresses issues identified by the Department of Defense that service members have struggled with over the past 20 years. Dr. Karl Ricanek is the director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Identity Sciences at UNCW. He says the project will use science and technology to enhance service members’ performance both during and after combat.

“So when we say the whole warfighter, we're thinking about not just their physical readiness, right, but what about their emotional and mental readiness," Ricanek said.

One of these initiatives is centered around suicide prevention.

“We know that there are far too many suicides by our service members and so we have initiatives on campus that are looking at how we can leverage some of this artificial intelligence. To understand signals for potential suicide," Ricanek said.

Ricanek also emphasizes the collaboration of science and physical readiness to prevent injuries before they happen.

“We have this term called prehabilitation, which basically means that we're going to get you ready to keep you active, and deployable. That way, you don't have to worry about, you know, an injury and rehabilitating that injury," Ricanek said.

Injuries and health problems cost the VA billions in disability claims annually, and can drastically reduce the quality of life for active duty and retired personnel. With increased awareness of this problem by the Veterans Administration, Dr. Ricanek hopes NC-COMP can bring fresh solutions for those who serve.

Bethanie is a freelance writer for WHQR. She was the 2021-2022 UNCW News Fellow during the pursuit of her M.A. in English. She holds a B.A. in Political Studies with a focus on Constitutional Law. Originally from California and Colorado, she is a Marine Corps Military Police Reserve officer and an Afghanistan War Veteran. Her civilian professional background includes corporate finance and legal litigation.