Morale: Air Force Fit


December 30,2008: Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. military got more serious about physical fitness. But now the air force brass are alarmed at a weakening resolve to stay in shape. There has been a crackdown.

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 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. But this year, someone at the top noted a general slackening when it came to enforcement.

The air force was able to tighten up physical standards partly they have been shrinking their personnel strength over the past few years. Automation and downsizing have been having an impact, 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.

But in the last year, the air force went through a leadership shakeup, partly due to sloppiness in handling nuclear weapons, partly due to the personnel cuts, and partly due to arguments over how many F-22s to buy, and how to pay for it. But apparently it wasn't only the nukes that were being mishandled. Commanders were not ensuring that subordinates took their physical fitness tests, and some were not allowing time for physical conditioning.





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