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The Air Force fitness program: It's not just about a test

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- When Gen. John Jumper implemented our current fitness program on Jan.1, he made it clear what drove his decision. He tied the demands of being an expeditionary force to the need for a better fitness program. 

In one of his "CSAF Sight Pictures," he said, "the amount of energy we devote to our fitness programs is not consistent with the growing demands of our warrior culture. It's time to change that." The primary reason for changing the program was because the level of fitness in the Air Force was inadequate to support our wartime mission. 

It is important to note, we didn't simply change the way we test our fitness levels, we implemented a "program." Webster defines program as "a plan or system under which action may be taken toward a goal." That definition implies a program happens over time rather than at a single point in time. We should work toward the goal of being physically fit enough to perform our role as expeditionary Airmen. 

Prior to our current fitness program, the Air Force simply required active duty members to take a cycle ergometry test once a year to assess their fitness level. For those who were around prior to the cycle test, we remember the 1.5 mile run we took once a year. It was not uncommon for Airmen to "gut out" the test once a year without any kind of regular fitness regimen. The big difference between now and then isn't the testing mechanism, but the concept of a fitness "program" rather just a fitness "test." 

General Jumper specifically addressed the issue of just passing a test. In another of his "Sight Pictures" he said, "I want to make it very clear that my focus is not on passing a fitness test once a year. This is about our preparedness to deploy and fight. It's about warriors. It is about instilling an expectation that makes fitness a daily standard - an essential part of your service." It should be part of every Airman's lifestyle. 

Why all the fuss about being fit? Shouldn't it really be every Airman's "own business" whether or not they choose to be fit? Why should anyone else care? We've probably all heard people say, "what I do is my business" but we know that's not true in most cases. Think about our responsibility as wingmen. 

A fellow commander points out that it's everyone's responsibility as wingmen to be physically able to care for our comrades in arms. If we're working together at a deployed location and you get injured, it becomes my responsibility as your wingman to get you to a safe environment. If I'm too tired or weak to adequately care for you, I just let you down and it could cost you your life. 

I encourage every Airman to read the AFI on Fitness (10-248). Start with the front cover where it talks about the goal of the program -- to motivate all members to participate in a year-round physical conditioning program that emphasizes total fitness. Make sure you read chapter one where it outlines everyone's responsibilities; from the Air Force Chief of Staff all the way down to each individual. Pay particular attention to commander, immediate supervisor, and individual responsibilities. 

To give you a brief overview, commanders are supposed to "implement and maintain a unit PT program." Supervisors are responsible to "participate in and promote the fitness program." Individuals (that's every Airman) are to "maintain a healthy lifestyle by participating in unit fitness programs . . . and meet Air Force fitness standards." 

I challenge each of you to do more than just "participate in" your unit's program. Look for ways to make it fun, exciting, and challenging for yourself and your fellow Airmen. To use a comparison most of us understand, consider that the benefits of your fitness program are very much like the interest you earn from your savings account - the amount you get out of it is directly proportional to what you put in. If your fitness is not improving, take a look at what you're putting into your workouts. 

If you're a supervisor, your responsibilities are multiplied by the number of Airmen you supervise. You're not only expected to lead by example and be fit yourself, you're also expected to be involved with your Airmen, know who struggles with fitness, and be part of the solution to ensure they meet the Air Force standards. But remember, it's much more than helping them pass a test. It's about improving their health, stamina, state of mind and maybe even saving their life. 

I once had a boss who liked to say, "if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready." That's particularly applicable when it comes to being expeditionary Airman. If you've ever had a short notice deployment, you know "go to the fitness center and get in shape" is not on the out-processing checklist. When the tasking comes, you've got dozens of things to do and you won't have time to "get in shape." That's why the Air Force implemented a program to help you stay physically fit. But only you can make it happen. So get busy and I'll see you at the track!