Focus on fitness—are you fit to fight? – Signature Article
John P. Jumper
Our superb Total Force performance in Afghanistan and Iraq has reinforced our reputation as the greatest air and space force in the world. We combine 21st century strategies and concepts of operation, the tremendous advanced technologies of modern air and space power, and the professional training of airmen to put cursors on targets and steel on the enemy.
We recognize however, that without motivated and combat – ready expeditionary airmen throughout our Total Force, our strategy, technology and capabilities would be nothing more than hollow concepts and ineffectual hardware. We must be fit to fight–to enter the rigors of combat–and that demands we reorient our culture to make physical and mental fitness part of our daily life as airmen.
Expeditionary Operations–The Natural State of Our Air Force
Our airmen have deployed to austere environments that test their stamina, their fitness and their ability to survive in milieu of risks to one’s health–including the presence of our enemies who will even kill themselves in their mission to kill Americans. Today, our business takes us to the “hot spots” of the world–often doing the heavy lifting for our nation and protecting our vital interests around the globe. This has been the case throughout the decade of the 1990s, and especially since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Since that fateful day we’ve opened 36 new expeditionary bases. More than 54,000 airmen deployed during the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We flew more than 41,000 sorties in just 30 days. During that month we pumped 196 million gallons of jet fuel and expended 29,000 munitions. In short, meeting the frag is backbreaking work.
And, for anyone who’s lived in a tent in 120-degree desert heat, you know just how stifling and overwhelming the physical burden can be. I’ve visited virtually every one of these locations. I’ve observed the conditions myself, and, most important, I’ve talked with and listened to our airmen tell me about their experiences.
Changing Our Fitness Mindset
These realities demand a mindset change in the Air Force, and an evolution of our culture to one that places the highest priority on maintaining our most important weapon system, our airmen!
The amount of energy we devote to our fitness programs is not consistent with the growing demands of our warrior culture. It’s time to change that.
Our new fitness program gets back to the basics of running, sit-ups and pushups. At the heart of this program is commander accountability and unit PT–with the responsibility for physical fitness squarely in the hands of squadron commanders and their airmen.
In addition to ensuring airmen are available, trained and appropriately equipped, commanders must also ensure the physical readiness of their airmen. In this context, readiness translates to fitness.
We’ve published clear criteria you can use to assess your fitness. They have a dual purpose–they help individuals assess their personal fitness levels and give commanders a benchmark to determine who needs help. If someone falls below the standard, a commander will immediately know it because they’ll see it, and they’ll be able to help.
We also intend to give commanders and supervisors the tools they need to help their airmen. For example, our medical community has already developed a variety of programs to assist. The Fitness Improvement Program and Body Composition Improvement Program are two efforts we’ve begun to help improve the health status of our airmen. I expect you to use these resources, and to direct those who don’t meet standards to participate in these programs.
While our new focus is on fitness, military image and professional appearance are an important part of a disciplined and ready force. Our new fitness program has combined our fitness guidelines and weight/ body fat standards into one program that encompasses the total health of an individual.
When an individual falls below the minimum acceptable guidelines, commanders and supervisors must take an active role in ensuring their airmen get the help they need. Today, we involuntarily discharge far too many airmen for failing to meet physical fitness standards when all they need is a little help.
There may be some who simply do not present a professional military image nor want to meet the standards. When this happens, I expect commanders to step in and make a decision about that airman’s suitability for continued service.
Leading from the Front–An Imperative
Over the past several months, I have received some extremely positive feedback regarding our fitness program changes. I’ve also personally observed some outstanding leadership out in our Air Force–commanders and supervisors leading from the front and making fitness a priority in their daily schedules. Where commanders have engaged, we have seen some remarkable improvement in performance and readiness.
Some commands can do better, and I expect them to do so. Those that don’t, fail themselves and the men and women they are charged with leading.
I think we all can agree that we were disappointed with the fitness standards we found when we came into the operational Air Force. The message is simple: If you are out of shape, fix it. If you have people in your units who need help, help them. And let’s make sure that when our people go into harm’s way, they are ready–with the training, equipment and fitness worthy of the world’s most powerful air and space force.
Gen. John P. Jumper
Air Force Chief of Staff
COPYRIGHT 2004 Air Force Inspector General
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group