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New PT rules will not take away from unit fitness

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- Everyone in the Air Force is required to maintain fitness. In fact, in January 2010 the new physical fitness testing criteria will take effect, requiring Airmen to meet minimum requirements in each category or fail the test.

Now, Air Force officials are restructuring the requirement for commanders to conduct regular, group physical training. This is leaving many Airmen worried that stricter PT standards and less PT time may hurt their ability to meet the standards while balancing home, deployment, career and educational goals.

But, that need not be the concern.

"The intent of this policy revision is to give commanders more ability to design and develop their unit PT programs to meet the mission of their units and AFSCs," said Jason Ham, the Human Performance and Rehabilitation Center director here. He recently was presented the Arthur S. Flemming Award for founding the HPARC, making Hickam AFB's program a benchmark for the Air Force and DOD. The Flemming Award honors outstanding federal employees.

He predicts commanders now will have to report the metrics on pass and fail rates to both major command and air staff officials, which was not previously required. With PT being on the "commander's dashboard" of high-interest items, commanders will take it more seriously than ever, he said.

"There's no possibility of commanders saying, 'I can't stand unit PT, so we're not gonna do it,'" Mr. Ham said. "They can't afford to report 50 percent fail rate metrics to the MAJCOM because they're now being graded on that."

Col. Giovanni Tuck, 15th Airlift Wing commander, said he doesn't anticipate making any changes to the wing, but will allow each unit commander to determine what is necessary to accomplish the mission.

"What leadership doesn't want to happen is for people to make excuses for failing the PT test and say, 'My boss didn't let me have mandatory PT time,'" Colonel Tuck said.

The mandate, while allowing commanders more freedom and keeping them accountable for PT statistics, also places the responsibility for physical fitness back where it belongs: on the individual, said Tech. Sgt. Chris Gibson, a 15th Medical Group physical training leader.

"It's the way it should be, because it's a personal issue just like studying for promotion testing," Sergeant Gibson said.

However, the 15th Medical Group commander, Col. Debra Doty, doesn't plan to make him change his 6 a.m. group PT sessions, he said.

"It's easier to do when you have 50 people doing PT with you," Sergeant Gibson said. "In our unit, Airmen partner with other Airmen around the same fitness level and push each other to do better."

That kind of group accountability builds morale in his unit because his Airmen cheer each other on, he said.

"You don't want to disappoint the guy next to you, so you're gonna keep going even if you would normally stop on your own," he said.

Units that work 24-hour operations, first responders, and flightline workers who may not have the ability to work out in a group will be told by their commanders who can PT at which times, Mr. Ham said.

"The intent is to ensure we're shifting the culture to a healthier, fit lifestyle," said the expert exercise physiologist. "It gives commanders flexibility to come up with creative planning to allow people to get fit without detriment to the mission."

He anticipates unit PT programs will be "five times better" than they ever were.

Of course, if people are concerned they can't meet the upcoming minimum requirement as of now, they should get help before the new standards are set in place in January 2010, Sergeant Gibson said.

"That's where the individual part needs to come in," he said. "Talk to a PTL or someone who can help you out, tell them where you stand and where you need to be, and get ready for that new test, because if you fail any component the test is over." 

Ultimately, Mr. Ham said, Airmen need to realize being physically fit is part of their military service.