Possible Physical Fitness Test Changes Aim For Holistic Health

SMSgt. Kenneth Blakeney (second from left), 9th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Hood, Texas, launches a medicine ball at the fitness center at JB Andrews, Md., on Jan. 9, 2018. Air Force photo by SSgt. Joe Yanik.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright is touting a vision of a more holistically healthy Air Force, one where the current physical fitness test is no more and vegetables pair with birthday cake.

The PT test is still alive. But the service is considering ways to improve the test so airmen can focus more on “overall fitness, health, and wellness,” rather than be punished for falling short, Wright said. The Air Force’s top enlisted official told airmen about the possible changes during all-calls last week at Vance AFB and Tinker AFB, Okla.

The Air Force wants to implement a “bad day” policy for the PT test: If an airman has a sub-par test, there’s “no harm, no foul, no discipline,” Wright said. Instead, airmen would have 45 days to “get yourself together” and retake the test. The service also seeks to stop judging short and tall airmen by the same abdominal circumference standard.

Currently, the Air Force PT test model functions as a carrot and a stick: An airman can pass their PT test with flying colors, earning a “baby carrot” of an award, like a positive mark on a performance review, Wright said. But an airman can fail, and get whacked with a stick that can grow from a negative mark in a file to removal from service altogether.

The test is “too heavily weighted on the negative side,” Wright said. Airmen who are good at their jobs could be passed over for promotions because of a bad PT test, while airmen who do not belong in leadership can be promoted after they perform well on the assessment.

Wright also emphasized the importance of “personal responsibility” through healthy lifestyle decisions. This includes maintaining diet, sleep, and exercise habits to keep airmen fit year-round, instead of cramming for the test. Wright said he is also working with other leaders to improve food options on bases.

Good habits can affect office culture as well. The Air Force loves cake—cake for promotions, cake for retirements, cake “just because.” While cakes don’t have to vanish completely, Wright suggested offices can add broccoli or asparagus to the spread.

Certain career fields are changing up their PT test requirements, which are expected to spread elsewhere in the Air Force. Battlefield airmen—like combat controllers, pararescuemen, and special reconnaissance personnel—now have a “functional” fitness test. Instead of the typical running, situps, and pushups, these airmen are evaluated on their grip strength, medical ball tosses, pullups, rows, and more. Security forces, firefighters, and explosive ordnance disposal airmen are slated to take part in the new, CrossFit-like approach in the future.