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Air Force officials revise fitness program

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Lt. Col. Darold Hubbard, 14th Air Force, performs chest flies Feb. 10 at the Fitness Center here. Physical training is an essential part of being fit to fight and the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christian Thomas)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Lt. Col. Darold Hubbard, 14th Air Force, performs chest flies Feb. 10 at the Fitness Center here. Air Force officials announced June 9 significant changes to the Air Force's current fitness program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christian Thomas)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The need for a "clear, understandable and simpler" fitness program will mean significant changes to the Air Force's current fitness program, said the service's top officer during a senior leadership conference June 4 through 6 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz met with the service's other four stars at CORONA TOP where one of the key agenda items was Air Force fitness.

His intent was to fine tune fitness testing, promote a year-round fitness culture and send a clear message that health and fitness are critical to mission readiness.

"Fitness is a vital component of Air Force culture," General Schwartz said. "These challenging times underscore the importance of properly caring for our most valuable resource: our Airmen."

The 30th Space Wing commander agreed that good fitness is a fundamental requirement for Air Force warriors.

"It is not only important, but essential for Airmen to maintain a respectable level of fitness," said Col. David Buck. "Our human capital is our most valuable resource and it should be maintained in the best condition possible. We are also a service engaged internationally so we need to be combat-ready around the clock. Our fitness affects our ability to deploy, which dictates our ability to support overseas operations. What may seem like an arbitrary fitness score in reality has a global impact."

While commanders have responsibility of their unit fitness programs, each Airman is responsible for meeting and maintaining fitness standards 365 days a year, said Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel.

"With these program revisions and enhancements, we encourage a culture of fitness, empowering all Airmen to take responsibility for being physically mission ready," General Newton said.

General Newton added that the new Air Force instruction, projected for publication in July 2009, will better emphasize the service's fitness expectations of its Airmen. Who will conduct the testing, and when and how Airmen will test are among the most significant revisions to the fitness program, which takes effect January 2010.

Perhaps the most significant difference in fitness testing will be its frequency, Air Force officials said. Full-time active-duty Airmen will now test twice each year, and most reservists or guardsmen will continue to test once per year.

To maximize testing objectivity, the AFI designates trained civilian proctors to conduct fitness tests administered at new centralized locations called fitness assessment cells.

"Simply put, the recently released changes to the fitness program were required because Airmen were failing to properly integrate fitness in their daily lives," Colonel Buck said. "This deficiency will be overcome by semiannual testing, which forces Airmen to maintain a more constant level of fitness throughout the year."

Aerobic fitness is the best indicator of current and future health risk, followed by body composition, said Lt. Col. Scott Arcuri, the chief of promotions, evaluations and fitness policy at the Air Staff. Because of this, the aerobic run will now account for 60 percent of the test (previously 50 percent), body composition will account for 20 percent (previously 30 percent), while sit-ups and push-ups remain at 10 percent each.

"Trained civilians will be responsible for conducting fitness assessments, so adverse discretion will be eliminated and the grading process will be more standardized, Colonel Buck said. "We need to do a better job of holding ourselves accountable to the Air Force standard, and the reformed fitness program helps us achieve that end."

Senior leaders said in order to pass the test, Airmen will be required to have a composite score of 75 but also will need to meet minimum requirements for each component.

Air Force officials said age range requirements will be simplified to five categories: less than 30, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60-plus years of age. Additionally, because overall fitness is a readiness issue, fitness results
will be categorized using operational readiness or unit compliance inspection-type ratings. Those scoring 90 and above will be "Excellent;" those scoring between 75 and 90 will be "Satisfactory;" and those scoring
under 75 will be "Unsatisfactory."

"The time has come for all Airmen to better integrate fitness into their daily lives," said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Long, the Air Staff enlisted promotions, evaluations and physical fitness chief.

Chief Long said the new AFI will provide commanders clear guidance on recommended actions based on the number of failed tests.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley noted that making a commitment to fitness puts the responsibility on each Airman to get in shape and remain wartime ready year-round.

"Proper fitness is an important aspect of an overall healthy lifestyle," Chief McKinley said. "When our Airmen are fit, eat healthy and reduce risk factors such as tobacco use and irresponsible alcohol consumption, their
health will improve, they will visit the hospital less, and, in the end, Tricare costs will be reduced."

Failure to comply with the new fitness standards could impact more than an Airman's waistline. The new AFI links unsatisfactory fitness test performance directly to enlisted and officer performance reports. Chief
McKinley said the upcoming revised evaluation AFI will ensure no Airman can have a referral enlisted performance report for fitness and receive an overall five rating.

The rewritten AFI mandates that fitness compliance be reported from unit to wing to major command for review.

General Newton asserts that while the Air Force fitness AFI outlines Airmen's responsibilities, the Air Force Fitness Management System will be enhanced to provide detailed post-test feedback designed to help Airmen improve in targeted areas.

Airmen will be able to view component scoring charts in the new AFI. Further questions on the program can be directed to Colonel Arcuri, Lt. Col. John Giles and Chief Long at DSN's 224-8270, 222-4532 and 227-1661 respectively.