If you aren’t closely associated with the Air Force, you may not know about our focus on physical fitness. The service has gone to great lengths in the last ten years to push our Airmen to be physically ready for the rigors of deployments and demanding operations tempo.
We used to be known as the Chair Force. (Maybe we still are.) It was accepted wisdom that if you wanted a physical challenge, you joined the Army or Marines. If you had brains and wanted an easy job with high quality of life, you joined the Air Force or the Navy.
Then, after September 11th, we started deploying with members from other branches, and the Air Force couldn’t cut it. Our Chief of Staff took drastic measures to turn that trend around. I totally understand the reasons for that change, and the results have been a clear benefit.
We’ve been pushing hard for physical fitness ever since. We’re not the Marines or anything, of course. But God help you if you don’t meet standards.
Now here’s the reason for the Thursday Tirade:
Though PT is a core component of being your best as an Airman, it’s not the most important. Yet we often treat it as if it is.
This isn’t just a fattie whining because I like to eat bacon. (Seriously, though. More bacon!)
My frustration is how we apply fitness as a determining factor for things completely unrelated to it.
If you’re failing your PT test, you cannot get promoted, because you don’t meet standards. Makes sense. You can’t reenlist. I get that – we want to make sure we retain people who can and will keep up. You can’t attend professional military education, because that’s part of progressing in your career, which is going to end fast if you can’t pass the test. Sure, that’s understandable.
Turns out there’s a lot of other things you can’t do.You can’t volunteer at the Distinguished Visitor tent for the big base Air Show. To that, I say, “meh.” I get it. We’re not going to put someone busting the seams of their uniform in front of our generals. No surprise there.
But what about helping disabled children experience the Air Show through the Make-a-Wish foundation? Nope, you can’t volunteer for that either. Well, you can, but you have to send in PT test scores. And the only reason you should have to do that is if it affects whether you can volunteer. So the unspoken message is clear: fatties need not apply.
Because disabled kids are probably going to get a bad impression of the Air Force if the person who helps them can’t do enough push-ups, or has a 40 inch waist. Right.
The straw that broke the blogger’s back and moved this into Tirade Thursday territory came a week ago. A sergeant in our squadron was driving off-base and witnessed an auto accident. He stopped, rushed to the first vehicle, and confirmed that the passengers were okay. Then he went to the second vehicle, an SUV that rolled over (if memory serves). He ensured the kids in the back were fine, and then started using the Self-Aid Buddy Care medical training the Air Force taught him in order to treat the severely injured mother of said children. Then he directed paramedics to the scene and explained all he had done to treat the mother prior to their arrival.
We give medals for that sort of thing. It’s a way of saying, “What you did that day in that situation was awesome. Good job.”
There was a comment on his achievement medal submission. This individual had a two PT failures in the last two years or so. Someone asked whether we would need to put in a letter to justify a medal for such an individual. We thought that was ridiculous, because we’re talking about “on this particular day, you did something phenomenal,” not “Over the last three years, you’ve done good.”
But we asked the question.
And the answer was, “Yes, please submit a letter to justify this.”
“I’m sorry, I know you responded with honor and selflessness in an emergency, and you possibly saved the life of an injured mother while her kids were looking on… but you didn’t meet standards a couple years ago, so… how about a nice pat on the back? (Oh, and put down the fork.)”
I would think this is exactly what we want Airmen with PT failures to do. Get involved in the community. Help some disabled kids have a special day. Save a life here or there as the need arises. Refocus priorities and go serve others. Think about something bigger than themselves, pun intended. (I’m fat. I get to make fat jokes.)
But apparently that’s not what the Air Force wants.
I’m not saying fitness should not be a priority. But let’s keep it in perspective a little bit, please.