When it comes to designing a training program for military personnel, instructors are faced with several challenges. First, unlike athletes there is no off-season, most units are either preparing for deployment, deployed, or refitting from deployment. Secondly, training facilities vary from location to location and often focus on a single task. These tasks may include muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, field craft or marksmanship. Each of the above contribute to the success of an operation, however there is one area of training that is deficient. This deficiency is visual training; visual ability plays a larger role in achieving optimum performance than most military personnel realize. The goal of integrating visual training into an already packed curriculum is not to dilute it but to improve tactical performance.

The American Optometric Association defines visual training as a structured program of visual activities prescribed to improve visual performance.  Visual training has been thriving in the arena of sports medicine for years. Athletic trainers have employed visual training to improve an athlete’s ability to better anticipate the actions or reactions of their opponent (Hugemann, Strauss and Canal-Bruland 2006).  Instructors cannot lose sight of this skill set in training of members of the armed forces. Like athletes military personnel operate in a dynamic environment and need the ability to clearly see objects while them and or the object is moving. Visual training allows the brain and body to learn, link, coordinate and respond in a symbiotic relationship. Members of the armed forces may be hesitant to embrace visual training unless these skills can be directly shown to increase their ability to operate at an elite level.  Therefor the three following visual skills would be the ones to focus on.

  • Visual Concentration the ability to screen out distractions and stay focused on target.
  • Visual Memory the ability to process and remember a fast moving or complex picture of people and things.
  • Visual Reaction Time-the speed at which your brain interprets and reacts to your opponent’s actions.

The Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology in a 2006 study conducted by Hugemann, Strauss and Canal-Bruland found empirical evidence that visual information processing can be trained. Those athletes who had participated in visual training oriented their attention to certain regions of the body or objects. This made it possible to detect a stimulus more quickly and precisely.  The benefit to those in uniform should be readily apparent.

There are quite a few positives to incorporating visual training. First, visual training incorporates a variety of exercises; however training doesn’t have to happen in a specific sequence. This allows the instructor to incorporate visual training at any time in the regular training regime.

Military personnel when completing the exercise must slow down and evaluate both pictures. This requires them to not only apply visual skills but analytical ability as well. If a time constraint is added and a person must report orally the differences that they see an added stress level is introduced. This exercise allows the individual to self-evaluate and improve their performance.  Another potential positive benefit is that visual training involves little physical exertion and can be completed in a short burst of time. This assists in the development of the overall warrior because nothing has to be removed from the training cycle. Visual training could be used during a recovery phase when service members are physically exhausted. The low physical impact is an added psychological benefit to those that have been injured on duty. Visual training allows them the ability to still work on combat skills. Visual training is an inexpensive activity that can be completed almost anywhere. Instructors need to be cognizant when approaching visual training that it is not dreaded or monotonous. Plenty of activities are available on-line to keep training engaging. The best way to include visual training into the curriculum would be to focus on one of the three different skills each day and mix up the order they are attended to. This reinforces the concepts and keeps novelty in the learning process keeping the students engaged.

Conclusion and Summary:

While a number of factors contribute to the success of a military operation visual skills play a big role. The ethos of the Combat Hunter program meshes well with visual training. The goal of the Combat Hunter program is to increase military personnel’s ability to hunt in all environments, able to take the initiative and actively hunt down enemies. Visual training increases ones perception, tracking and response time. Visual training in many ways taps into the skills used by our Paleolithic predecessors to hunt and gather food. The goal of visual training is simple to increase our possibilities by viewing, analyzing and responding quickly to our environment.

If you are still not convinced of the merits of visual training complete this quick exercise.

  1. Identify the five items from memory from right to left.
  2. Identify the time on the clock.
  3. Identify the number of visible wheels on the bicycle.
  4. Identify the direction the tricycle was facing.



Hugemann, N., Strauss, B., & Canal-Bruland, R. (2006). Training perceptual skills by orienting visual attention. Journal of sport and Exercise Psychology, 28, 143-158. Retrieved from http://www.move.vu.nl/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/Hagemann-et-al.pdf