Physical Fitness: it’s important to you AND me

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Christopher Lester
  • Air Force Financial Services Center
It seems just like yesterday it was 1995 and I was a young Airman arriving at my first permanent duty station.

I had graduated basic military training and a rigorous Security Forces technical school - back then it was called Security Police-Long.

After completing all of this training, I felt I was physically and mentally prepared to serve my country. Then, following a rewarding deployment to Southwest Asia and a return to home station, I was scheduled for my first physical training test. I was told it was a cycle-ergometry test, which measures your VO₂ max - how well your body uses oxygen, and a piece of cake to pass. Some fellow Airmen in my squadron were what I would classify as "out of shape." They were avid smokers and a little on the heavy side. They told me they had never failed the cycle-ergometry test and, basically, this test was a joke. A week later I took the test and barely passed. I was confused and frustrated. How could I almost fail my PT test when some Airmen who looked like they had basketballs in their bellies receive a higher score than me? As a young Airman, I felt the Air Force provided me no motivation to stay fit and my personal motivation slowly diminished.

Fast forward to 2003 and rumors of a new PT test came to light. Effective Jan 1, 2004, the cycle ergometry test would be replaced with aerobic, body-composition, push-ups and crunches. To this date, I had gone almost a decade, satisfying Air Force requirements by passing my PT test faithfully, without ever needing to visit the gym. Luckily for me, the Air Force used 2003 as the "gauge where you're at" year. I received a loud wakeup call after my first unofficial PT test under these new standards. I ran the 1.5 miles in 15:15 - and that was giving it my all! Even though I maxed out everything else and received a passing score of 80, it was not what I expected from myself. I was disappointed and again, I was confused and frustrated. But with these new standards, I had a choice: I could continue to follow the simple pass/fail principle and shoot for a passing score of 75, or I could set targets and milestones for myself on every subsequent PT test. I chose the latter.

Now that I felt the Air Force was taking physical fitness seriously, I began to take it more seriously as well. I gradually dwindled my run time down, reducing it by almost six minutes. I also began to notice a positive change in the dress and personal appearance of military personnel. Basketball bellies were going away; either by members electing to retire rather than change their sedentary lifestyle or through good old-fashioned exercise. But it was in late 2004 when I realized the physical fitness of my fellow Airmen was very important to me as well. After being assigned to a three-person mortar team, I quickly realized I had to rely on my team members for success and survival. Each member of the team has his/her designated tasks and equipment to carry. As a crew-served weapon, no mortars go downrange without the entire weapon system assembled consisting of the base plate and sight unit, bipod mount and cannon or ammunition Bearer. As an ammunition bearer, it did not matter how fast I got up the ridgeline; I still had to wait for my Gunner to set the base plate before the cannon could be mounted. Relying on someone else's physical fitness can be very frustrating and stressful in an arduous environment.

Fast forward to 2009 and rumors of a new PT test once again came to light. Even though this PT test is only a variation of the current one, it proves the Air Force is still serious about physical fitness. Being physically fit is a high priority for the Air Force and should be for all of us as well. When you're not in shape, you tend to do more sedentary lifestyle activities such as couch potato/TV watching. When you're in shape, you do more activities that are physical in nature. You are also more cognizant of what you eat AND drink. What lifestyle are you living every day you serve in the world's greatest Air Force? Do you get home from work and turn on the TV, or do you put on your running shoes and head out the door? Are you physically and mentally prepared to accomplish the mission, at home or abroad, and can your fellow Airmen depend on you at all times? I challenge you to get out, get fit and stay fit.

It's important to you AND me.