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Airmen from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar participate in an evening “fun run” to keep fit and escape the daytime heat. (Photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)
The Air Force chief of staff fired a shot across the bow last July that got the attention of Airmen everywhere.
Gen. John Jumper forewarned that a new Fit to Fight program would replace the cycle ergometry test and encouraged everyone to get ready.
Staff Sgt. Kurt Hartmann didn’t, and paid the price. After narrowly squeaking by on the bike test in years past at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., he finally peddled into the penalty zone. Then he left for a remote tour in South Korea. He arrived just in time for a head-on collision with the demanding new fitness test, which includes running, abdominal circumference measurement, push-ups and sit-ups.
He wiped out with a failing score of 56 that included a whopping 14 sit-ups, 25 push-ups and a 15-minute, 20-second time on his 1.5-mile run. And he wasn’t awarded any bonus points for sporting a 37-inch waist.
The total number of points earned on the fitness test places Airmen into one of four categories based on age and gender: 90 or greater is excellent, 75 to 89.9 is good, 70 to 74.9 is marginal and less than 70 is poor. However, Sergeant Hartmann’s poor marks served as a wake-up call for the 25-year-old who hadn’t worked out in earnest since high school.
“I thought it was time to change something — literally — big time,” said the maintenance training instructor assigned to the 8th Maintenance Operations Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. He did, and joined thousands of Airmen across the Air Force competing for space at fitness centers and running tracks.
He bought a bike, received mandatory fitness counseling and quit hibernating in his dorm room feeling depressed about being separated from his wife, Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hartmann, back at Luke. He became an enthusiastic participant at the 6 a.m. office workout three days a week, lost 20 pounds and saw his waistline decrease by almost 3 inches.
A group of Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and civilian personnel from Royal Air Force Menwith Hill, England, participate in a circuit training session which includes step aerobics, weights, stretching, sit-ups, push-ups, boxing and skipping. Many units across the Air Force have adopted circuit training workouts as one way to help prepare Airmen for the physical fitness test. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lock)
In July, he retested and is now among 85 percent of Airmen who have marginal or better on the test. His 75.35 score included 28 sit-ups, 37 push-ups and a running time of 11:55. Air Force scores, as of July, were 14 percent excellent, 63 percent good, 8 percent marginal, 5 percent poor and 9 percent other (exempt or due to retest). Points are awarded in different categories based on age. To gauge your score, check out Air Force fitness charts.
Sergeant Hartmann not only passed the test, but made fitness a part of his life.
“I love the way I feel after I work out,” Sergeant Hartmann said.
More Than Just a Test
He took to heart the intent of General Jumper, who said his focus is “not on passing a fitness test once a year. More important, we are changing the culture of the Air Force. This is about our preparedness to deploy and fight. It’s about warriors. It is about instilling an expectation that makes fitness a daily standard — an essential part of your service.”
At Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, 1st Lt. Bryan McKay is serious about being fit to fight.
“If you’re in the profession of arms you should be in good shape,” said the chief of the 455th Communications Flight. “You should show up in good shape because it speaks positively of you and establishes confidence in the team.”
Being fit also plays a practical role in his job when it comes to running heavy cable wire in blistering summer heat.
“The better shape that you’re in, the better you can do your job,” said the 24-year-old native of Santa Clara, Calif.
And if members of his team aren’t in shape when they arrive, they’ll soon be. Despite 12-hour shifts, six days a week, the lieutenant and five members of his flight work out as many as six days a week, including two 6-mile runs along the base perimeter road in the early morning before the heat gets ugly.
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Some on base, as well as his commander at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., question their sanity, he joked.
“I think we’re a little crazy, too,” he said, admitting they’re a bit “gung-ho.”
Also fighting and staying fit at Bagram is Senior Airman Charles Chandler. He made a pact with five fellow members of the 109th Aerial Port Flight before going to Afghanistan: To “motivate and discipline each other to go to the gym every day.”
Arriving physically fit, he said, is important because Airmen don’t know what to expect when they show up at a remote locations. Staying fit also helped the Air National Guardsmen from New York remain “team oriented” and “stick together like a family.”
The extent of such resolve was a pleasant surprise to officials at the Air Force Surgeon General’s office. They expected only about a 75-percent pass rate during initial startup of the new test, said Maj. Maureen Harback, deputy chief for health promotions operations at the office of the surgeon general.
She attributes the early success rates, which represents half of the Air Force, to Airmen taking the six-month heads-up by General Jumper seriously.
“It reflects what Airmen are focused on,” the major said.
Also, she said, it seems that many are willing to make the effort to train for the new test because they believe their hard work in the gym will have direct payoff with a good score.
That wasn’t always the case with cycle ergometry, said Col. Philip La Kier, deputy command surgeon for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, who oversees the command’s testing. The old test suffered from stories commonly heard at most bases — the couch potato who easily passed the test while the marathon runner failed. While that scenario could possibly prove true in less than 1 percent of all cases in a base population of 10,000, it still becomes the stuff of urban legends, he said.