Attrition: Get Fit or Split


November 6, 2007: The war on terror changed a lot of things in the U.S. military, especially attitudes towards physical fitness. The army and marines have always been more strict about staying in shape. But this time around, the air force and navy got religion as well. Both of these services have imposed weight and physical fitness standards that must be met, otherwise you get discharged (fired). In 2003, 331 air force personnel were discharged for not being fit, or thin, enough. The rules were then changed to give more slack on the weight (which often penalized body builders) and instead imposed a simple fitness test (1.5 mile run and timed push-ups and sit-ups, the number varying with age and gender). Thus in 2004, only one airman got thrown out for failing the physical fitness test (many more got medical discharges for infirmities suffered because of work related incidents.) In 2005, seven got discharged for failing the fitness tests, and in 2006, that rose to 73. In 2007 (which ends on September 30th in the military), 119 were discharged.

In the navy, 65 got discharged for physical fitness reasons in 2005, and 1,913 in 2006. Numbers for 2007 have not been compiled yet, but meeting the fitness and weight standards is a big issue for many sailors. For years, commanders would cut chubby, or out-of-shape sailors, who did their job well, some slack. That's not possible any more, and a lot more sailors are on diets and in the gym as a result.

The air force and navy can do this sort of thing partly because both services are shrinking their personnel strength. Automation and downsizing have been hitting the two services, just as these trends have been showing up in so many civilian organizations. It still hurts when you lose a scarce technical specialists, but these fellows are constantly tempted with higher paying civilian jobs anyway.


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