Integrity matters ... even in PT

  • Published
  • By Col. Charles Tedder
  • 8th Medical Group commander
Since its inception in 2003, the impact of the Air Force Fitness Program on your success as an Airman in today's expeditionary Air Force has increased greatly. 

Although physical fitness has always been an important factor in an Airman's readiness, the fact is, very few of us deployed during the 1990s after Desert Storm as we protected the skies over Iraq in Operation Southern Watch, Northern Watch and the skies over Bosnia in similar missions. As we continue the combat operations, more and more Airmen in all Air Force Specialty Codes are being sent not only to austere locations on Air Force bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and other parts of the world, but also in support of traditional Army missions. 

In addition to readiness, the overarching theme and goal of the Air Force Fitness Program was to develop healthy active lifestyle habits for our personnel. Although most of us focus on the testing components of the program, testing was never the ultimate purpose of the program; it was to promote healthy habits for life. 

Most of our Airmen "got it" and have complied with the intent and adopted healthy lifestyles. Unfortunately there are still many individuals in our Air Force who have not embraced the healthy lifestyle promoted by the program and, consequently, measures to address these individuals and enforce the program have increased in focus. These measures include the mandatory requirement to perform an aerobic component of the test (run, cycle, or walk) and a body composition assessment (abdominal circumference measurement) annually, the elimination of the "marginal" score and inclusion of the assessment on our annual performance reports.

Recently the Air Force performed an audit of the Fitness Program and identified many problems with the current Air Force Fitness Program, raising concerns about the "integrity" of the testing process and the program. In response to these findings, Gen. Howie Chandler, Pacific Air Forces commaner, directed all PACAF wings to establish a centralized fitness testing program supervised by base Health and Wellness Centers. 

This month, in response to General Chandler's directive, Kunsan stood up its centralized testing program. Key components of this new program are that all Wolf Pack Airman will now get their annual fitness test performed at the fitness center by civilian Fitness Training Specialists, currently wing augmentees, who will measure, count and time the various components of the test. For those who fail, the HAWC will schedule and administer all follow-up classes and testing. Responsibility for administrative actions for failure to show for tests, classes, and training, as well as for chronic fitness failures will continue to rest with the squadron commander. 

I want to focus your attention again on one of the main reasons for the new PACAF policy--concerns about the INTEGRITY of the testing process and program. If you don't find this disturbing as an Airman, you should. 

We in the Air Force tout integrity as our most cherished and important core value. How can it be that an Air Force audit identified integrity with our program as a primary cause for concern? The Air Force Fitness test is not difficult to administer and the Airmen we have trained to serve as Unit Fitness Program Managers and Physical Training Leaders surely can count, measure an abdominal circumference, identify a proper push up and crunch and work a stopwatch. Can't they? These are the same people who run our programs, follow technical orders, fix our jets, take care of our injured and ill, and fix the broken pipes, heaters and air conditioners across the base. 

So, if the difficulty of administration of the test was not the problem, maybe our fitness program folks didn't think the program was important enough to do correctly. How could that be, though? We have mandated fitness three times a week, we have an Air Force Instruction with a complex disciplinary matrix, it shows up on our annual performance reports, and people have even been administratively separated for repeated failures in the test. 

So what happened? My theory is that the folks who administered the test were too "nice." The PTLs, UFPMs and even some of the commanders did not want to feel responsible for "ruining" someone's career because of a fitness test. So they let them slide. Those last five push-ups or crunches were "close enough" or they pulled the tape measure a little tighter than usual. Consequently, the technical sergeant who should have gotten a 72 and been enrolled in the various classes to receive help and additional training, passed for another year; or the major who would have scored a 74 actually got a score of 80. Not because of ambivalence or laziness or misdeed, but because the person doing the testing chose not to hold that particular person to the standard. 

So what are we going to see now at Kunsan Air Base as we implement centralized fitness testing? Those 75s and 80s are going to end up being 72s and 74s, and our test failure rate will likely climb about 10 percent. The individuals will finally take the classes and supervised fitness that they should have had one, two or three years ago. They may pass the test before their Enlisted or Office Performance Report is due, or they might not, and they'll get a referral.

I believe there are a couple of lessons to learn here. First, most obviously, is the Air Force is serious about the fitness program and developing a fit fighting force. I think most of us have gotten that message. For those Airmen who have deliberately avoided the test through whatever means, your days of continuing to avoid the test are numbered. 

Second, our standards are there for a reason. If you are a guardian of one of our standards, as were those Unit Fitness Program Managers, Physical Training Leaders and commanders of old, it's important that you take that job seriously, because if we don't hold to our standards for everyone, those standards slip and it hurts the entire Air Force. Finally, integrity is our most cherished core value and we must maintain our integrity no matter what the program is, no matter how large or small we perceive it to be. Integrity is the key to trust and clearly, we can gain this trust and integrity back into the system by embracing healthy lifestyles and by meeting the standards. This will ultimately benefit you, your loved ones and the Air Force. 

I'll see you at the fitness center!