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The Air Force physical training program

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- A monumental transition began a few years ago to improve the Air Force fitness program. Why, because the mission and operational tempo dictated improved fitness levels. Supervisors at all levels need to understand that in order to accomplish the mission, physical fitness plays a critical role. As the fitness program undergoes changes beginning January 2010, we all need to understand how the past fitness programs were not good enough for meeting current and future challenges as well as the benefits of a healthy life style.

Past physical training programs were not true measurements of our fitness level and wouldn't have prepared us for our current mission challenges. For the last 24 years, I witnessed several changes to the fitness program. My first PT test was running a mile and a half around the mile-long building at Langley Air Force Base, Va., and passing a weigh-in. For many, preparation wasn't even a consideration which caused the body to endure pain the remainder of the week following the so-called "PT test." This was dangerous to say the least. Our military image was horrendous. I recall standing in formation as a young Airman, observing many of the noncommissioned officers and senior NCOs in the flight looking unprofessional with their stomachs hanging over their belts. Not so much the norm anymore!

The PT test evolved from what I described above to the bicycle test because of the risk associated from running a mile and a half. Most people I knew believed they could pass the test without any preparation, many joked openly about how they smoked a cigarette prior to and immediately following the test. Prior to the last few years, emphasis on individual or group PT was minimal. Now, the Air Force is committed to higher fitness levels due to mission requirements.

It's very physically demanding to be in 120 degree weather wearing a flak vest and Kevlar helmet while working. Even though different career fields require different fitness levels, it's critical to understand that during a deployment you never know what you may be required to do. You may normally be in an office environment, but during a deployment be required to perform guard mount in full battle rattle gear for hours, month after month. Maybe you have to pack up and move over a mountain ridge to set up a new operational outpost. Worst case scenario, carrying or dragging individual(s) from a hostile situation. AFI 10-248 should be considered the absolute minimum fitness level. Another reason for this new program is medical cost.

With the increase in medical costs, the Air Force can't afford for its members not to have a healthy life style. According to Department of Defense data provided by a March 5, 2007, Boston Globe Article titled, "Pentagon fears health care will erode readiness," the annual cost of military healthcare has more than doubled from $19 billion to $39 billion since 2001 and is expected to climb to $64 billion by 2015. Somehow, we must decrease the amount of money poured into health care.

Recently, I read an article by the American Medical Association on the Air Force Portal, "The Benefits of Fitness." The article stated, "High blood pressure, heart disease and related problems are not the inevitable products of aging but problems that can be held at bay by being fit early in life." The study used 5,115 men and woman, 18 to 30 years of age, in four regions of the United States. The fitness apparatus used was a treadmill and the individuals were followed for 15 years. The study concluded, "Participants with low fitness were three- to six-times more likely to develop diabetes, hypertension, and the metabolic syndrome (excess abdominal fat, elevated blood pressure and triglycerides and low levels of so-called 'good' cholesterol) than participants with high fitness."

The health benefits of fitness will pay dividends for yourself and the defense budget. If you're not motivated by the cost and health risk due to not exercising, then the consequences may be referral performance reports, permanent change of duty station cancellations, removal from deployments or separation; these are all realities when standards aren't maintained by the individual.

Don't be left behind, develop attainable fitness goals and ensure your eating habits support your fitness goals. If you're not working out regularly, you're now the minority. I've been involved in sports my entire life and believe this allowed me to stay within the standard during my career. Although active in sports, my weight has fluctuated and this has caused me much stress during testing time. My eating habits were terrible. The past year I've been committed to a life-style change. I work out at least three to four times per week, and as my eating habits have changed drastically, my weight has dropped significantly. My physical health is better than it's been in ten years.

My point is this: in order to maintain the standards consistently, a life style change is required. I preach this weekly to the members in my flight. Fitness is changing the Air Force. In order to keep PT changes seamless, supervisors at all levels must be knowledgeable of the program, within standards themselves, brief subordinates of changes in the program and hold their personnel accountable. If each and every one of us upholds our responsibilities, the heart burn with the system will subside.

During the last 24 years, I've seen the changes, and in my opinion, we're on the right track. The physical fitness program is evolving to meet our fiscal challenges as well as mission requirements. As we continue to strive for a fairer and consistent program while becoming a fitter force, the benefits for the Air Force and its members are mission critical. We all have a military obligation to support and participate in the physical fitness program. If you're not on board, your time is diminishing. It won't be long before you are run over by the momentum created by this program.