Sailors will have more opportunities to prove they are fit for duty with a slew of fitness policy changes that take effect at the start of next year. The changes, which include new graduated body fat percentage maximums that account for age and a three-step process to a complete body composition assessment, or BCA, were introduced in August by Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel. In a video announcing the policy changes, Moran described them as an effort to pivot from a fitness measurement system that is punitive in nature to one that emphasizes better health for sailors. "We've been talking about this for two years, and I think we've finally got a policy that's going to make some changes to the [physical fitness assessment] program that sailors are anxious to hear about," he said. As of Jan. 1, according to a Navy administrative message announcing the changes, sailors taking the BCA will first be assessed using the Navy's current height and weight standards for men and women. If they fall outside maximum weight standards for their height, they can take a single-site abdominal circumference measurement. If sailors fall within the circumference limits -- 39 inches for men and 35.5 inches for women -- they will pass the BCA. If the circumference method still indicates that a sailor isn't meeting regulations, he or she can test under the Defense Department standard, which involves a multi-site tape measure assessment. Male sailors will be measured around the waist and neck and female sailors around the waist, neck and hips to determine a body-fat percentage estimate. To pass the BCA using this method, a sailor must be found to have 26 percent body fat or less for males and 36 percent or less for females. This tape test, which is also used by the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, is widely reviled by troops who complain that the waist-to-neck algorithm tends to yield inaccurate body fat calculations. Even if a sailor fails the BCA all three ways, he or she will still be given the opportunity to take the physical readiness test, or PRT, to assess overall fitness. Under the current system, a BCA failure would preclude a sailor from taking the PRT. These policy updates were devised after feedback from sailors in the fleet, Lt. Jessica Anderson, a spokeswoman for Moran, told Military.com. "A lot of what sailors are saying is, 'I can pass the PFA but I can't, because I can't pass these standards,'" she said, referring to the physical fitness assessment. While the changes have prompted a variety of questions from around the fleet about implementation, Anderson said overall feedback so far has been positive. Anyone who does fail the BCA will be enrolled in the Navy's Fitness Enhancement Program, or FEP, and nutritional counseling as well under the new rules. FEP enrollees will take a "mock PFA" every 30 days to monitor ongoing fitness. When a sailor can pass the PRT and meet new BCA standards, he or she can disenroll from FEP. While these changes offer more chances to pass the BCA, they also decrease the number of failures a sailor is allowed before being involuntarily separated from the Navy. Currently, sailors are separated if they fail the BCA three times in four years; after Jan. 1, they will be shown the exit after a second failure within three years. The new policy also mandates that commands conduct spot checks to assess the fitness of their sailors between PFAs. A sailor who fails a spot check PFA will not be recorded as failing, but may be entered into the FEP to improve physical fitness levels. The changes do some with a short grace period: on Jan. 1, all PFA failures in the most recent three-year period will be reset to one failure, according to the Navy administrative message. Sailors who were pending administrative separation as of July 1, 2015, had until Dec. 1 to pass a mock or official PRT. If they did not pass, the separation process would continue. Anderson said Moran and the Navy would monitor the new policy changes in coming months and years to assess progress toward the goal of better overall Navy health and fitness. "It's going to be something that's tracked to see how it goes for a few of the cycles to see if the culture of fitness [changes]," Anderson said. "It's going to be a process."
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