Expeditionary potato

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Eric Utrecht
  • 28th Missions Support Squadron
His hands tremble. His mouth has become completely dry. Sweat beads form and quickly pass over his brow and into his eyes; the sting quickly reminds him of his daunting, painful task.

Alarm red doesn't sound. The distinct warbling noise of incoming mortars is absent from his environment. In fact, the only noise present is the sound of the tape measure pulling from its housing. That's right. It's time for our Airmen's physical training test.

The mention of an annual fitness evaluation sends fear racing through the psyche of some Airmen. "Will I pass?", they ask themselves. As they race to the gym to prepare their bodies for the task at hand, they leave a trail of soda and potato chips for all to follow.

It's been a while since the Air Force implemented the new Fit-to-Fight program, but since its conception, a drastic improvement in the physical readiness of Airmen has occurred throughout the ranks, said Minda Smither, 28th Bomb Wing Fitness Program Manager. But even today, more than five years since the days of the Ergo Bike Test, some Airmen still believe that leading by example means being the first in line at Burger King.

Forty-nine percent of Air Force personnel were considered overweight in 2004, Ms. Smither said. That number has dropped significantly since then. A great deal of the improvement has been attributed to the addition of the fitness score to the officer and enlisted performance report, which can lead to eventual discharge of the offending member. I believe another factor toward improvement is the strengthening of unit fitness programs such as the Air Force Financial Service Center, which regularly unites in large PT formations to maintain their readiness.

Though it is important to recognize unit programs and regulations that improve readiness, it should also be noted that Air Force professionals have seen the challenges of deployments and have taken it upon themselves to ensure that they are physically ready to accomplish any task on any terrain.

The average Airman deploying to combat operations around the world has a myriad of obstacles to overcome. Long hours, time changes, extreme heat and extreme cold are compounded by the addition of 20 pounds of body armor, five to 10 pounds of web-gear, a three-pound helmet, an eight-pound rifle, four pounds of ammunition, a four-pound sidearm, four pounds of water and 10 pounds of additional gear.

As the adage goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Despite possessing the knowledge of the physical demands that come with a deployment, some Airmen fail to maintain their physical readiness.

Air Force Instruction 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, "The Little Brown Book," describes the physical responsibilities of our rank. Those in the Airman tier are responsible for maintaining their physical health, and participating in unit PT programs. Non-commissioned officers are not only responsible for themselves, but they must set a positive example for their subordinates by and supporting, promoting and participating in both the Air Force and unit fitness programs. Finally, senior NCOs are responsible for exceeding all standards and expectations levied upon their NCOs and Airmen t and serve as role models.

But what is the consequence of failure?

According to Ms. Smither, an Airman who fails to meet to fitness requirements will be required to participate in special HAWC programs designed to attack the root cause of the problem. These include the Body Composition Improvement Program, Fitness Improvement Program, and the Healthy Living Workshop. Airmen who continue to fail after training with the HAWC program and who do not progress after 90 days are subject to administrative action that could lead to a discharge from military service.

Under the new guidance, Air Force members who go 365 days on profile are required to be evaluated by a Medical Evaluation Board to determine if retention best meets mission requirements. This is to avoid Airmen who take advantage of medical profiling in order to avoid physical activity.

If discharge seems daunting, imagine the possible outcome if an Airman can't perform his duties when another life hangs in the balance.

When you get word that your next PT test is due, just remember the potential consequences to you and, potentially, others. Throw on your headphones, lace up your shoes and get out there and PT!