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Physical fitness: Changing Air Force culture

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- The Air Force physical fitness program has undergone significant changes over the last year, and will continue to evolve this year, in an attempt to change Air Force fitness culture.

What does the Air Force mean by "change its fitness culture?" In my opinion, it means physical exercise becomes part of the daily duties of all Air Force personnel. Physical exercise must become just as much a part of our daily routines as training sorties and stand ups.

During an internal audit conducted a few years ago, Air Force leadership realized this wasn't the case for a large part of the Air Force population. They conducted a study at several bases and discovered approximately 35 percent of personnel were getting in shape "just in time" for their annual fitness tests. Once they passed the test, they would gain weight and add inches to their waists. Ten months later, they would get in shape "just in time" to test again.

Why is it important to change Air Force fitness culture? First and foremost, the Air Force is stressing the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Air Force personnel who have a healthy lifestyle should generally live longer, experience a better quality of life and be able to more effectively sustain combat operations. Since Oct. 7, 2001, the U.S. military has been involved in sustained, combat operations longer than both world wars combined. In addition, the nature of combat operations has changed. As a result, the Air Force is no longer the military branch that launches aircraft behind enemy lines and then waits to recover them out of harm's way. The Air Force is more of a combat force than at any time in our nation's history and we must be physically ready to fight on the front lines at a moment's notice.

Then, there's the fact that meeting fitness standards is now part of the annual performance appraisal process. If personnel can't maintain fitness standards over time, it could lead to an administrative discharge.

How do we get there from here? First, we test more than once a year and we standardize testing. On Jan. 1 of this year, the Air Force began bi-annual and centralized testing conducted by civilians. The components of the test remain the same: a timed 1.5 mile run, one minute of sit-ups, one minute of push-ups and an abdominal circumference measurement. Then, the Air Force adjusted the standards and scoring process to ensure Airmen achieve a higher level of overall fitness. On July 1, the Air Force will fully implement the new fitness instruction, Air Force Instruction 36-2905, which includes the new testing standards. The new standards make it more difficult to achieve a maximum score of 100 and include a minimum score for each component. It's possible to achieve an overall passing score of 75 and still fail for not achieving the minimum score on one or more of the components.

Finally, with the new fitness instruction, commanders are no longer required to give their personnel duty time to exercise. The current AFI requires commanders to do so, however, on July 1, this requirement will go away. Commanders are "encouraged" to provide duty time for physical exercise, but they will no longer be required to do so.

As a commander, I believe it's vital to give my Airmen duty time to exercise at least three times a week. It's my responsibility to organize, train and equip my personnel so they're successful and this includes fitness standards. Some commanders may do away with mandatory duty time for physical training, I strongly urge those commanders to reconsider.

We don't ask aircrew to take a check ride without giving them duty time to prepare. We don't ask young Airmen to take a duty position certification test without ensuring they are trained. And, we can't require our Airmen to take a fitness test twice a year without providing them duty time to train. We must prepare them for success, that's part of our job as commanders.

Air Force fitness culture is changing and to keep up with that change physical exercise must consistently be an integral part of our daily duties. Lead from the front commanders and let's push our Airmen to victory.