Possible changes to fitness tests aim for holistic health

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SMSgt. Kenneth Blakeney (second from left), 9th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Hood, Texas, throws a medicine ball at the JB Andrews Fitness Center, Md., Jan. 9, 2018. Air Force photo by SSgt. Joe Yanik.

Air Force Chief Staff Sergeant Kaleth Wright touts vision for a holistically healthier Air Force, where the current fitness test is gone and the veggies get married with a birthday cake.

The PT test is still alive. But the service is considering ways to improve the test so Airmen can focus more on “overall fitness, health and well-being,” rather than being punished for failing, Wright said. The Air Force’s senior enlisted official briefed Airmen of the possible changes during all calls last week to Vance AFB and Tinker AFB, Okla.

The Air Force wants to implement a “bad day” policy for the PT test: if an airman has a lower than normal test, there is “no harm, no fault, no discipline”, Wright said. Instead, the Airmen would have 45 days to “pull themselves together” and retake the test. The service is also seeking to stop judging small and large Airmen by the same standard of abdominal circumference.

Currently, the Air Force PT test model works like a carrot and a stick: an aviator can pass his PT test with flying colors, earning a “baby carrot” of an award, like a positive mark on a performance review, said Wright. But an aviator can fail and get hit with a stick that can go from a negative mark on a record to complete withdrawal from service.

The test is “too heavily weighted on the negative side,” Wright said. Airmen who are good at their jobs could be screened out of promotions due to a poor PT test, while Airmen who are not in leadership may be promoted after performing well on the assessment.

Wright also stressed the importance of “personal responsibility” through healthy lifestyle decisions. This includes maintaining diet, sleep, and exercise habits to keep Airmen fit year round, instead of crowding in for the test. Wright said he’s also working with other leaders to improve food options on the bases.

Good habits can also affect the culture of the office. The Air Force loves cakes: cakes for promotions, cakes for retirement, cakes “just because”. While the cakes don’t have to disappear completely, the bureaus Wright suggested can add broccoli or asparagus to the spread.

Some career areas are changing their PT testing requirements, which are expected to expand elsewhere in the Air Force. Battlefield aviators, such as combat controllers, paratroopers, and special reconnaissance personnel, now have a “working” fitness test. Instead of the typical running, sit-ups and push-ups, these aviators are rated on their grip strength, medical ball throws, pull-ups, rows, and more. Security forces, firefighters and explosive ordnance disposal Airmen are expected to participate in the new CrossFit-style approach in the future.


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