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Controversial New Air Force Fitness Standards Delayed

WASHINGTON, DC — New Air Force fitness standards were a topic of controversy among the military community even before it was announced last month that the standards will be implemented on July 1, 2010, rather than Jan. 1, 2010.

Although the new standards won't be applied until July 1, the proposed biannual fitness testing process will still start on Jan. 1 using the Air Force's current fitness standards. Then beginning on July 1, airmen will be tested under the new requirements with the new scoring.

During the Jan. 1 to June 30 testing phase, airmen will receive two scores on their fitness tests — one for the current system and one for the new standard — so they can gauge their performance.

Officials said the six-month delay will allow commanders and airmen time to be sure they're in compliance with the new Air Force Instruction (AFI) when it is officially released within the coming weeks.

“Based on feedback from the field, we are implementing the July start date so airmen have the opportunity to excel,” Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel, said in a statement. “This implementation strategy will allow for a smoother transition of the new Air Force Instruction and afford commanders adequate time to establish installation fitness assessment cells to include adequate manning for the FACs (fitness assessment cells).”

The new standards call for physical fitness tests to be conducted by civilian employees at FACs. Units with FACs in place by January can use them to conduct the assessments, Newton said.

“Fitness assessment cells were created to reduce the administrative burden on squadrons and maximize objectivity in testing,” says Maj. Richelle Dowdell, secretary of the Air Force, public affairs, current operations, people team.

Dowdell says that while the fitness requirements are still in the final stages of approval, it stands to reason that the FAC staff will have some kind of fitness background and be trained to administer the test so they can offer advice to airmen who don't pass the test.

“FAC may have a job description with [personal] training, depending on the needs of the community. It's not necessarily the fitness trainer for the base, but that's not out of the question,” she says.

Part of the debate over the new fitness standards was prompted by the elimination of mandatory individual physical training (PT) time during duty hours. Although the new program will require airmen to complete a PT test twice a year instead of annually as in the past, commanders will no longer be required to provide weekly time during duty hours for soldiers to exercise.

In addition to a squadron PT program, commanders currently are required to give soldiers 90 minutes of duty time for individual exercise three times per week.

If approved, the new plan will be the first of its kind in the military to eliminate mandatory PT training. The revisions were designed to emphasize individual accountability for maintaining fitness standards, military officials say.

With the new program, airmen would only be allowed to fail the test twice before they could be discharged from the Air Force. The current program allows for four PT test failures per year before discharge is considered.

The new program is the first Department of Defense fitness program that was developed based on science-backed fitness data provided by the Cooper Institute and the American College of Sports Medicine. The revisions were designed to increase soldier fitness, reduce health care costs and increase duty time.

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