WHAT DO YOU feed military personnel—fatigued, sleep-deprived and stressed on the battlefield—that’ll prevent the loss of their skeletal muscle and function? In August 2018, Dr. Arny Ferrando received a $2.1 million grant from the Department of Defense to lead a research program that seeks to answer that very question. The five-year program is where all of Dr. Arny’s life experiences coalesce—the 25 years he served in the U.S. Army, the time he spent working in a burn unit, which fostered his understanding of stress physiology, and of course, his decades of physiology research focusing on nutrition, exercise and metabolism.

On the challenges he anticipates:

“I think the challenge will be arriving at some deliverable that’s economic to the army. The Meal, Ready to Eat, or the M.R.E., are made to feed, literally, 500,000 troops, and they’re done fairly economically. There’s a lot of variables—shelf stability and things like that. But the bottom line is, the DOD has to come up with something that’s fairly economical. So, if we come up with a great product, but it costs an arm and a leg, then it’s really not going to do and they just might use it for very special operations and etc. That’s where the challenge is going to be—deriving the optimal product-slash-delivery that can be used across the wide range of war fighters.”

On drawing from his background in the U.S. military:

“I kind of have the experience. I’ve done a lot of training in special-type operations stuff. I kind of know what it’s like to go hungry for a while. I’ve been retired now for almost 20 years, but the bottom line is, being a soldier hasn’t changed a lot, and so, I understand the stressors involved in those things. I understand the lack of sleep, being cold outside, being hungry and so on. It helps put all of that together now as a physiologist because I’m one of the few people who can straddle the fence, someone who’s done both sides.”

On the importance of support and mentorship:

“There’s nothing real special about me. Like, Arny didn’t become Arny because of anything great that I am or did. It’s the environment and the team that I came from. Once again, being in a lab with [Dr. Robert R. Wolfe] and the Aging Center and having all the facilities—you know, all of that matters. When you think about it, it’s not like I’m Einstein. I wasn’t able to do things in a vacuum. I’m the product of great leadership, great support, great mentorship, great facilities and things of that nature. Without that, I couldn’t really do any of this stuff, because this isn’t exactly cheap to do. You really need an infrastructure, and UAMS provides that.”

On perseverance and failure:

“Science is really an exercise in perseverance. Maybe that’s why a military guy came over to it. There are a lot of similarities. There’s got to be willingness to work incessantly and hard, and persevere because, you know, there’s a lot of noes and negatives. In science, by nature, you try something and it doesn’t work. It’s like, Alright, are you going to fold and go home? Or are you going to try something else?