The Navy says it will forgive past fitness test failures for its sailors as part of a broader effort to step up recruitment and retention efforts. The move is one of several tweaks to the service's physical fitness rules that leaders hope will help it keep enough sailors in uniform.
In an administrative memo released Thursday, the sea service announced that it has reset the counter on physical fitness assessment (PFA) failures and any previous failures won't count "when considering authority to reenlist, advance, promote, or execute other career continuation transitions such as extensions and duty station transfers."
However, the rule change stresses that "this policy does not supersede the need for an effective command-level culture of fitness" and that "it remains incumbent upon individual Sailors to invest in their personal health and wellness in order to maintain warfighting readiness."
Rear Adm. James Waters, director of the Navy's Personnel Plans and Policy division, told reporters in a call held ahead of the publishing of the memo that the reprieve is largely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Waters explained that there was "a recognition that we don't want to punish sailors because gyms were closed during the pandemic. We don't want to disadvantage sailors."
He went on to add that the reset "could allow up to 1,500 sailors to remain in the service who might otherwise be separated."
According to the Navy's standing rules, the first PFA failure for a sailor results in them being placed in their command's mandatory fitness program, as well as some restrictions on advancement. A second consecutive failure means a sailor's time in the Navy is effectively over. They cannot advance, and they are ineligible for reenlistment.
This policy change doesn't alter those rules. It simply resets the counter for sailors who have had one or more failures.
"They get a special evaluation that adds back in the recommendation for retention and the recommendation for advancement," Waters explained. He also noted that sailors who missed out on advancement due to a PFA failure can now get that promotion.
Both the admiral and his top enlisted adviser, Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell, stressed that this move is not a weakening or relaxation of the Navy's fitness standards.
"Without a doubt, I don't perceive this as a negative," Terrell said, before adding that he thinks the policy is more about "making sure that we are fair across the board."
"Continuing failures would continue to accrue and then, ultimately, could result in separation if there isn't progress," Waters said. "I think it's important to recognize that this is a one-time reset."
The move is one of several that the Navy's leaders have made to help stem the challenges the service is facing in an exceptionally challenging recruiting environment.
Waters said that they've added an alternative cardio option at boot camp instead of running. Out in the fleet, sailors are able to complete that fitness requirement by swimming, biking or rowing, among other options. However, in boot camp sailors are only able to run for their first PFA in the Navy.
"We found that, of those that failed the run at [boot camp], over 88% have subsequently passed using a bike," the admiral explained.
The Navy is also about to implement a pre-boot camp prep course similar to the Army's "Future Soldier Preparatory Course," which helps recruits meet academic or physical fitness requirements before moving on to basic training.
According to internal data reviewed by Military.com in October, 581 of 706 students in the Army's Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) course progressed into basic training, while 292 of 366 soldiers have qualified in the fitness track.
Waters also noted that the sea service recently received congressional authority to increase the maximum enlisted bonus from $50,000 to $75,000. That is in addition to changes to allow older recruits to join and a loosening of academic requirements for some jobs.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.