Fat Follies: Air Force Sacks Superb Commander Over Arbitrary Waist Measurement

Husky

The Air Force recently fired a senior officer with an elite, 25-year performance record, cashiering him from command of a key Air Force wing several months short of a full tour.  His firing is not insignificant.  The 319th Air Base Wing is the parent organization for more than 1,100 combat-ready airmen in dozens of disciplines belonging to nine squadrons and nine geographically separated units.  These airmen and squadrons were given an interim commander and will now adapt in extremis to a new boss yet to be named, enduring significant organizational turbulence in the process, all while weathering the twin pressures of sequestration and an unprecedented operational tempo.

Colonel Tim Bush

Colonel Tim Bush

This didn’t happen because Colonel Tim Bush had been immoral, toxic, or made bad decisions.  In fact, Air Mobility Command was quick to point out that his firing was not “for alleged misconduct or wrongdoing.”  So, what offense was severe enough to warrant a firing but minor enough not to involve wrongdoing? According the Air Force statement, Bush’s relief stemmed from his “failure to comply with physical fitness standards.”  What it doesn’t make explicit is that Bush was actually quite fit, passing the pushup, situp, and running portion of his physical fitness test. But he was still deemed unfit because his abdominal circumference was two inches larger than authorized.

This superstar officer, Bronze Star recipient, respected veteran commander, and regaled combat pilot, who by all accounts behaved honorably and performed impeccably, was jettisoned from a position of special trust — a position to which he’d been approved for appointment by the senior officer of the Air Force — because at 6’1” tall, he was unable maintain a waist circumference of less than or equal to 39 inches.

And on Planet Bizzarro, the news was no-doubt greeted with thunderous applause. Here on Earth, one has to wonder if this is some sort of experiment with dark humor.    According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average waist size for a male American of Bush’s age, irrespective of height, is 41 inches.  So it seems the man was fired for being an accurate physical reflection of the society he serves.

What makes this so eyebrow-raising is that wing commanders have been known to survive wrecked airplanes, failed inspections, operational failures of various sorts, unfavorable climate assessments, rashes of disciplinary issues, and even outbreaks of criminal activity within their organizations.  In a way, this makes sense.  When someone is given command of a wing, they by definition place among the very most talented, developed, and upwardly-mobile officers of the service, and it therefore stands to reason that things that happen within their sizeable realms should be considered in context, with the service reserving relief for those situations where leadership failure is clearly manifest.  Apparently, in today’s Air Force, being a larger than average person qualifies as such a failure, even if crashing an airplane or failing an inspection doesn’t.

Adding to this unintentional rolling comic strip is that the fire-able offense of being exceedingly rotund is defined in today’s Air Force not by scientists, doctors, or even on-scene commanders, but by Air Force Instruction 36-2905 and a human counterpart with a fiberglass tape measure.  Unfortunately, the case of Colonel Bush is just the latest in a spiral of human resource malpractice that has been handmaiden to the Air Force’s experiment with abdomen-driven personnel management. He isn’t the first senior officer or enlisted member to be fired in this way (though he was the first wing commander), and while the issue gets more attention when it impacts senior personnel, it has most profoundly impacted airmen at lower grades.

Military-Justice1Career servants along the entire rank spectrum are increasingly subject to involuntary discharge for having unauthorized girth, with mid-level officers and NCOs most vulnerable. Across the service, discharge boards are convening at a quickening pace, discharging airmen at a rate 400% greater than before as pressure is exerted on commanders and medical professionals to either involuntarily discharge or medically disqualify those unable to pass the measurement. Excess abdominal circumference of even one-half of an inch forms a single criterion for a career-ending performance report.  And most astonishingly, this is true no matter the height, weight, strength, age, running speed, medical condition, career status, genetic background, or relative value of the airman in question.  The tape doesn’t care if you are an Olympic triathlete with a dozen confirmed kills; cross that 39-line, and you’re just another violator of standards.  Given the zero-defect mentality currently governing the service, failing the measurement is a bit like being convicted of a crime; you become damaged goods, and dozens of doors to the future slam closed instantly.

Your Waistline is Approved.

Your Waistline is Approved.

Because the Air Force has nested the measurement within its fitness test, which is closely associated with readiness for duty, the inability to pass it is looked upon in absolute, almost scornful terms.  Being a half-inch too robust for the tape transforms an otherwise fit airman into a failure … someone considered unfit for duty.  This structure actually works most of the time, providing the kind of systemic pressure and predictability cherished in human resource models rooted in central planning.  A good many airmen who lacked the self-discipline for enduring military service have been caught in the net created by the waist measurement and given their walking papers, and that’s a good thing.  However, this system becomes deeply problematic when it must confront unique or non-standard situations, some of which argue for special consideration.

For example, nursing an immobilizing neck or back injury or recovering from a related surgery allows an airman to avoid testing temporarily, but typically the system has trouble accounting for weight gained due to medication-induced metabolic impacts or long periods of inability to exercise.  Airmen with chronic injuries are often bounced back and forth between medical and command processes that struggle to determine their fitness for duty.

40-inch waist? Your fitness is invalid.

40-inch waist? Your fitness is invalid.

As a simple standard, the measurement fails to account for variances in human form.  For example, a tall airman with a barrel chest capable of bench-pressing 300 pounds might inspire fear in the hearts of enemies.  But if that same airman has a 40-inch waist, he only inspires within his chain of command the yearning for a referral report and a discharge board.  In other words, the service’s current rule structure actually justifies the discarding of some airmen who are particularly prepared for war … simply because they don’t fit an established mold.

Indeed, fitness is no guard against the fitness test.  Being physically strong and fast may make a warrior an unstoppable force in the annals of martial history, but in the modern Air Force, the abdominal circumference measurement is an immovable object; by regulation, an airman can complete a 1.5-mile run in 9 minutes, bang out 60 pushups and 60 situps in 2 minutes, and still fail to be defined as physically fit if s/he has an abdomen measuring more than 39 inches.  This is true whether we’re talking about a 5’2” aerospace leprechaun or a 6’10” aerospace giant.

For an Air Force claiming — accurately — that people are its most important asset, application of the waist measurement as an inviolate standard rather than a relative indicator leads to constant conflict within a value system that drives commanders to take care of people but also expects them to hold people accountable. Conflict in this system has been building for years and sapping the focus of leaders.  Yet, no one is stepping in to clarify the goal of the program or resolve its occasional inanities.  As currently fielded, the waist measurement creates too many nonsensical outcomes to be considered valid.

Perhaps more concerning in an era of tightening budgets, sunken costs are completely irrelevant to the waist measurement.  Whether someone has served for one year or twenty one, whether they re-enlisted yesterday or four years ago, whether they occupy a senior billet or a junior one, and regardless of the extent to which they’ve been developed through rare opportunities or retained via special bonuses … an extra inch around the middle currently justifies vacating all previous investment.

The transparently counterproductive behaviors attendant to the waist measurement raise questions concerning its value to the institution, and whether it is doing more harm than good.  But to understand its value would require understanding the actual objective of the waist measurement.  Many airmen don’t currently understand what it is meant to do for them or the Air Force, and their confusion is understandable given the program’s open contradictions. If fitness for duty were truly the objective, the Air Force would not discharge otherwise fit airmen on the basis of waist size. If the objective were to generate useful information for the Air Force and its airmen to apply in getting more fit, the standard itself would be intelligently designed and applied to account for human variation.  Moreover, if fitness were truly the goal, airmen would be given time during the duty day to work out, and commanders would be mandated to provide resources to help unfit airmen improve before professional consequences could be imparted.

Some believe this is really about engendering professional appearance, but that theory doesn’t hold much water either.  If that were the case, the Air Force would make allowances for different body types, and would give commanders the final say concerning whether someone looks professional enough to be retained.  If it were a matter of encouraging a fit appearance, the service would simply direct commanders to use the performance appraisal and feedback systems to more effectively pursue this end.  If it were indeed about appearance, the standard wouldn’t drive expulsion or firing of people like Colonel Bush, who looked just fine in his uniform.

There’s always the chance that the Air Force doesn’t really know what it’s trying to achieve with the abdomen measurement.  In fact there is evidence of institutional ambivalence on the matter.  If the service really believed in the standard, it wouldn’t allow four failures in a two-year period before requiring a retention review.  It probably wouldn’t retain pregnant women beyond a certain term if it truly believed the size of someone’s abdomen was a singular authoritative data point in determining fitness for duty.  Moreover, if the service really thought everyone with a waist larger than 39” deserved condemnation, it wouldn’t sell uniform trousers for people with much larger measurements.  Walk in to any clothing sales outlet, and you will find on the shelves an unspoken acknowledgement that not everyone can pass the measurement.

Wherever we find policies unmoored from organizational interest, plagued with ambivalence, and at odds with the value system within which they operate, we’re likely to find a malfunctioning bureaucracy.  That’s the case with respect to the Air Force waist measurement policy, and the reason it persists in spite of demonstrable dysfunction.

A little less than a decade ago, the service decided to push forcefully away from the entrepreneurial culture it had developed in the early 1990s – characterized by fewer rules, leaner organizations, and a push for decisions to be made at lowest levels – and move toward a more martial culture characterized by stricter standards, a tighter focus on accountability, and human resource processes driven by central planning.  It was felt by senior leaders at the time that the Air Force’s role and relevance in an increasingly expeditionary joint force mandated this shift.  A new fitness program was introduced as part of this series of initiatives.  It was originally envisioned that fitness would be considered a core duty unlike ever before in the Air Force, and accordingly, the program was first codified in a 10-series instruction, meaning it would be shepherded by the operational community.  Later, the program was re-introduced in revised form in a 36-series instruction and consigned for stewardship to the service’s personnel bureaucracy, making it a human resource program.  In the time since that change, it has been continually revised and testing procedures overhauled several times.  Over time, with human resource managers rather than commanders setting the agenda and shaping policy, the program has lost operational focus and is now more focused on its own efficiency in managing the herd.  This is a typical course of events any time a program is handed to a bureaucracy rather than a commander. Bureaucracies are not tuned to provide operational outcomes; they’re designed for consistency, efficiency, and above all, conformity.

Conformity is a necessary element of military culture, and can be wholly positive when the standards designed to produce it are properly established.  Unfortunately, the Air Force struggles with this.  Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, while it has much to say about expectations, does not include a definition of the word “standard” in its 27 pages.  This is an odd, even concerning omission. Most military leaders would agree that a standard must meet certain criteria to be regarded as legitimate, among these consistent measurability (as a precondition for consistent enforceability) and relevance to the mission.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the lack of Air Force guidance on how to build a standard, the waist measurement is troubled on both counts.

Air Force waist measurements are imprecise, a troubling reality given the service’s status as the most technologically advanced warfighting organization in world history.  These measurements are not done with lasers.  There’s no calibration equipment.  A band of fiberglass is drawn taught around the abdomen of an airman – not by a doctor, but by a civilian fitness bureaucrat or another airman – until it is “snug, but does not compress the bare skin.”  This tautness is not indicated by the click of a torque wrench or the hum of a range finder.  It is achieved when an airman judges it to be so.  At this point, the band indicates a girth, which is recorded. A verdict is rendered.  A career continues aloft or crashes and burns.  In a service that has long measured success in tenths of seconds and fractions of feet, it is astonishing that something of this magnitude is entrusted to a legion of laypersons grappling with a decidedly unscientific and inherently inconsistent method. It’s also a failure of implementation. Abdominal circumference is not being consistently measured as currently fielded, and therefore fails as a standard of any sort.

But the larger question is that of mission relevance.   The mission of the Air Force does not require thinness, and the fact is that people can be rotund and great at the same time, a maxim proven throughout history by figures as varied as Luciano Pavarotti, William Howard Taft, and Marlon Brando.

Gen. Curt LeMay

General Curtis LeMay was a portly man, and not a particularly healthy one either.  He was often found with a cigar hanging out of his mouth.  But he led the Air Force during historically pivotal times, was among the most feared airmen in our history, and created an organization that held the Soviet war machine in check for decades.  Amazingly, he did all of this without a svelte appearance or slim waistline.

foglemanGeneral Ron Fogleman was a superb Chief of Staff.  He understood how to align organizational goals with the disparate motivations of individuals.  He guided the Air Force to rely on values for a shared identity.  He demonstrated moral courage and showed us the importance of accountability, even when exercising it meant bucking political headwinds.  He was also not a thin man, and in fact pictures of Fogleman as a Colonel are not altogether dissimilar from recent pictures of Colonel Tim Bush. But no one ever doubted Fogleman’s fitness for duty.  Had they done so, the Air Force might have been denied his leadership and lasting contribution as a general officer.  Given the number of past leaders who might have trouble passing the waist measurement in today’s Air Force, it’s fair to question the validity of a standard that would eliminate them.  It’s also alarming to think that the service might be discarding the next LeMay, Fogleman, Schwarzkopf, or Patton with the current policy, starving itself of the best possible future in order to cling to a rule that manifestly has little to do with mission accomplishment.

The waist measurement pretends to be a fitness standard, but is actually a poorly disguised medical guideline at best.  It belongs in a doctor’s office, where it can be considered as one aspect of a medical evaluation for duty.  As airmen are pressed to defend their career viability by making sound arguments differentiating fitness and wellness, the structural dishonesty of this issue is increasingly apparent.  It’s not about the mission or even fitness more generally.  It’s about a drive for an unhealthy level of conformity that envisions airmen as interchangeable commodities.  But they’re not. Sometimes a slightly overweight individual is more valuable to the Air Force than a svelte one. Leadership does not arrive in neat, analogous packaging.  The timeless story of military success — populated with heroes in all shapes and sizes — should do much more to animate policy than a few articles in a medical journal.

But even if every word of this admitted screed has been unconvincing thus far, consider the following three reasons why the current waist measurement should be discarded.

1. Wing Commanders are arguably the most pivotal frontline leaders the service employs.  If their energies are excessively devoted to lesser included requirements — like making certain they and their airmen meet an arbitrary waist circumference — they can’t possibly be fully focused on the intellectually saturating business of air, space, and cyberspace power.  That the firing of a wing commander over a waist measurement should consume even an ounce of the capacity of a general officer speaks to the level of structurally mandated micromanagement at work in the modern Air Force.  Reducing focus on such peripheral matters and giving local commanders the authority to decide who is “too fat to serve” would allow commanders at all levels to be more effective.

2. Fitness does not equal wellness and vice versa.  A fast runner might not be well, and a fat man might not be unfit.  The false equivalency resting at the foundation of current Air Force fitness policy must be resolved before the policy can be expected to function reasonably.  Caring about the wellness of airmen is a virtue.  Firing them to enhance their wellness is unserious.

3. The current fitness program is too wasteful.  Tossing aside a joint-qualified wing commander with decades of selective development is no small thing. The Air Force does not have countless Tim Bush replicas lying around looking for gainful employment.  Investments in the development of key leaders comprise considerable taxpayer expenses that argue for smarter human resource management.

With this latest case, the Air Force has unintentionally demonstrated that a rule does not equal a solution.  Building a thorough instruction, complete with charts, has proven a poor substitute for genuine investment in the health and wellness of airmen. A solution would involve much more.  It would allocate workout time during the duty day, give commanders access to professional dietitians and nutritionists, and persistently involve medical and psychological professionals in daily unit affairs, to include diet and exercise regimens.  It would mean the careful recruitment of members capable of defying an increasingly unwell society.  Perhaps most importantly, it would seek to control individual stress and workload, restoring a healthy work/life balance and sufficient calendar “white space” for airmen to invest in their physical wellness without neglecting other priorities.

Countless men and women who rank among the best pilots, navigators, maintainers, traffic controllers, special tacticians, terminal attack controllers, combat financiers, and forward logistical coordinators could not possibly achieve the maximum score on their fitness tests, but they demonstrate unequaled fitness in doling out punishment to enemies and securing their country.  They are fit for duty, as was Colonel Tim Bush, and deserve to be acknowledged as such.

But more important than the treatment of individual airmen is the vitality of America’s Air Force.  An outwardly silly policy that victimizes individuals can be tolerated.  A policy that hurts the entire organization – and in this case injures national defense by tossing aside people of considerably invested worth – cannot be tolerated.  Hopefully, the Air Force will correct this particularly aberrant policy by re-thinking how it defines, measures, and pursues fitness.  Giving local commanders authority to set aside the measurement completely would be a great start.

Air Force — you’re obviously conflicted about this; listen to your gut.

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  • Anthony V

    Wonderfully articulated stance that I agree with wholeheartedly. It actually parallels an argument I recently submitted for a master’s essay concerning the personnel system in general. Well done.

    • Tony Carr

      All roads truly do lead to human resource management these days. Unfortunately, because it is so firmly rooted in management theories dating to the middle of last century that are very resistant to change, it’s tough to make inroads in this part of our business. We have one FGO managing the assignment matches for more than 2300 mobility pilots and navigators. Does that pass for a serious system? It’s just one example. I’m glad you are thinking and writing about it, because your generation will grapple with it. Thanks for engaging — glad you enjoyed the post.

  • http://gravatar.com/johnbsheldon John B. Sheldon

    Great piece TC – the self-inflicted wounds of the Air Force never cease to appall me.

    • Tony Carr

      Our willingness to quarrel with ourselves when there are perfectly good enemies out there waiting to be punished is mind-numbing. Ironically … by firing Tim Bush, the Air Force will probably give him a gift he hasn’t enjoyed in years: the ability to make healthy living part of his daily regimen.

  • Anonymous

    Did you courtesy copy the Chief and Secretary?

    • Tony Carr

      I suppose I could send it to their inboxes, but as a matter of courtesy, I ordinarily try not to do things like that unless invited. It’s my hope that this issue is being discussed at their level. I’ve seen questions posed on the topic in public forums a dozen times in the past few years … with GOs and Chiefs brushing it all aside. Airmen are on to something with this one: it’s dumb and needs to be adjusted.

      • DMH

        I saw something recently that said Chief Cody was looking at the waist measurement. I think it was in the AF Times.

      • Tony Carr

        He has been talking about reviewing it. The thing is deeply unpopular. But he also made remarks seeming to indicate that if it was going to be too thorny of a process to fix it, he might just have to let it go for the time being. I thought that remark combined with the Bush firing created a pivotal moment in the conversation.

  • Anonymous

    The “accurate reflection” of our society standard might not be the goal our military wishes to meet. The memo has been out. For a long while.

    • Tony Carr

      It’s fair that we should expect a little more from ourselves since the jobs we do can be more physically demanding. But in the end, are we going to be the right kind of Air Force if we lean too far in the direction of being superior to the society we’re representing?

      it’s also merely logical to expect that when we set the forces of life in opposition and place people under peculiar demands for extended periods of time, they might get a little banged up. At that point, we have a choice … to either come up with a cynical means of using the fact they’re not superheroes to drum them out of the service … or giving them earnest assistance to recover. Either way, and notwithstanding the memo, waist size is an indicator of health, not fitness, and should thus be part of a medical examination. If someone is too unhealthy to serve, we have a process for that.

      Memos, by the way, are grossly overrated. They seldom solve or even accomplish anything.

  • Vapor09

    TC, nothing left to say. You covered it all. Insert any current AF issue into this blog. AF Leadership is completely focused on the wrong issues, more worried about following the regs then making them better.

    • Natalie

      THIS.

    • Tony Carr

      Agree the focus is wrong. This is one of many areas. We don’t need a force full of skinny people. We need a force full of reasonably fit people who can contribute to national defense through air and space. What would really help would be for the AF to define the physical requirements attendant to each AFSC and structure the fitness program to make people mission ready for their actual mission. This would require confronting that we’re a service of united clans rather than interchangeable commodities. Appreciate your engagement with this blog, which will continue until I run out of runway.

  • travelerhen

    Ah yes – striving for model looking service people. No one ever won a war on good looks. Just ask the Spanish Armada c1588, the British during the Revolutionary War, the Germans during WWII. We will never learn.

    • Tony Carr

      In fact, I think a good argument can be made that just the opposite is true — no one is afraid of someone who looks to delicate to get dirty in a fight.

  • Anonymous but concerned about USAF focus

    Great Article and from someone who served on Col Bush’s leadership team, I can say without hesitation, we lost a GREAT leader and it is a true shame and travesty! Meanwhile, foul mouthed, uncaring, inept, and self-serving leaders continue to serve while a good man and leader is publicly shamed for being an average 47 year old man with a superior skill serving his country!

    • Tony Carr

      I don’t know Col Bush personally, but I know his record and I’ve never heard a single person say anything other than what you say here. By shoehorning the waist measurement into the standards category when it belongs in the medical wellness category, we’ve created a structure that leads us to pick lesser leaders over greater ones. Militaries fail over stuff like this. I have a lot of trouble getting past the fact that other wing commanders have survived mission failures. It’s massively inconsistent — and I believe intellectually dishonest — for something this peripheral to instigate a firing.

  • Bruce

    The application of the weight and fitness standards are cyclical. When war subsides, the services use any means available, to include the weight and fitness standards, to rid themselves of personnel. Since this Colonel had over 20 years, he was already serving on borrowed time. I put in 32 years of military service and counted my blessings each time I reached my military anniversary. Staying relevant and having experience can only carry one so far when there are others behind, pushing for your job. Everyone in the military with 18 years needs to have an exit strategy and be ready to bail out at 20.

    • Tony Carr

      If end strength is the hand guiding the policy, the Air Force should come out and make it explicit. That is, if this whole “basis in values” thing is real. If we’re a service of integrity, we have to be honest with our people about why we’re doing things. I do agree with you that everyone needs to be ready at all times to separate if required. I always tried to keep myself ready for that moment when the Air Force might decide it didn’t need me anymore. But taken too far, this encourages an “everyone for himself” mentality that can break teamwork down pretty quickly. And of course, we start giving officers and NCOs roles that require selflessness right around the time they become retirement eligible. Can we find enough of the right people for these roles if the service admits it is using HR processes to “soft-target” people for separation?

      Fascinating subject matter. I always counseled my folks to get themselves ready for civilian life perpetually … because in doing so, they would both be ready and increase their value–compelling the Air Force to work harder at enticing them to stay.

  • Anonymous

    I have had a major back surgery and currently still on active duty. Oddly enough I realized that since I was going to spend 6 weeks mostly sedentary I needed to reduce my caloric intake to prevent gaining to that all known 39 inch mark. To my amazement after return to work I was due to test and it was waist only which meant that anything over a 37.5 would fail me. But since I hadn’t been eating like I was burning 2000 calories a day I had actually lost inches off my waist and had a 34 at 6’1″

    • Tony Carr

      I applaud your approach to pushing through a medical issue — I sincerely do. Your story is important as a survival handbook for others under the current policy. However, I think you would be hard-pressed to argue that a drastic calorie reduction made you more effective at your primary duty. You’re undoubtedly healthier … but let’s say for the sake of argument that the sedentary lifestyle forced on you proved to be a tougher test of your individual metabolism and you measured in at 38″ … would it have been fair or even useful for the AF to discharge you on that basis, even if your duty performance was just as proficient and you looked just as sharp in uniform?

  • Anonymous

    I’m currently living at Grand Forks Air Force Base and am a personal trainer and I can say without a doubt that Col. Bush is a fit member of the USAF. I have seen him many times working out at the gym and choosing healthy foods at the commissary. The 319th Air Base Wing lost a great leader due to a standard that has no basis in reality. For someone his size, he would actually have to become less fit to fit the standard. Just because someone is thin does NOT mean they are healthy and fit, and just because someone is on the heavier side does NOT mean they are unfit or unhealthy.

    • Tony Carr

      You’re not the first person to mention that Col Bush’s individual fitness level was pretty darn good. We have obviously narrowed the definition of fitness in a way that excludes a number of very fit people.

    • http://gravatar.com/racinrays Concerned

      If the person is not working out properly you as a PTL should know that there is NO way that if they are eating properly and working out properly that they have a issue, ironically while taking a required class in nutrition for my degree the dietician made a comment that has stuck with my head, she said that you are only cheating yourself when you can’t be honest with yourself when it comes to food choices and exercise choices. This is so true nobody knows what this guy eats behind closed doors, if he is eating more than he is burning… Fact at hand…. There are standards and no matter what the rank of the member if they don’t make these standards they don’t deserve to be in……. I have seen many get kicked out for this same reason, many later found to have medical issues that weren’t found early enough.

  • Nancy Morales

    I’ve known NCOs who went through liposuction to whittle down their waist measurement. I was in aircraft maintenance and worked with “skinny” airmen who couldn’t handle the physical labor. I’m female and after lifting weights to tone up and pass the tape measure, I was actually over my weight limit, which I was told by my captain was impossible. She failed to realize that muscle weighs more than fat. Having a model figure does not make you a better worker. Too many good workers are being kicked out because of these ridiculous measurements. What’s next? Getting rid of all the smokers and drinkers? That’s not healthy either, but as long as you are skinny you can get away with anything.

    • Tony Carr

      “What’s next? Getting rid of all the smokers and drinkers? That’s not healthy either”

      Exactly. Waist measurements don’t tell us much about fitness. They tell us something about a person’s general health. If a doctor is giving us the information and considering it with the full range of data from a medical exam, we might make something useful out of it. But as it’s being used now, it’s often lying to us about who is more “fit” for duty overall.

  • Put the fork down

    We’re not talking about a 1-time 39.5″ measurement. The Col had a 41″ waist. That is huge. And while that may be average for our society, it is clearly not healthy, does not present a proper military image, and worse it shows a lack of personal disciple. The author of the article said the firing wasn’t because the Col “has been immoral, toxic, or made bad decisions”. However, the Col decided to let his girth get to 41” (probably even larger at some point) and the decided not to take the corrective actions required get back into standards. I offer this challenge to anyone with a 40+ inch waist. Choose to run 25-30 miles per week while choosing to maintain a 2,000 calorie per day diet. After 5 years, take your waist measurement: it’s a miracle!

    Then the author states, “because at 6’4” tall, he couldn’t maintain a waist circumference of less than or equal to 39 inches”. Being 6’4” will not prevent anyone from maintaining a 39” waist; years of consuming more calories than you burn off leads to your body storing the extra as fat along your waistline. I know the Col had a shoulder injury recently that probably limited his ability to PT, but injuries do not require more calories to heal. When you change how many calories you burn you must change how many you consume, or you will get fat.

    Here is where someone always says, “but I’m big boned”. Bones don’t jiggle and I’ve never seen a fat skeleton. If this argument were valid, then guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t be able to pass the PT test, in fact the author uses Schwarzenegger’s picture in the article with a caption that says “40-inch waist? Your fitness is invalid”. However, when he was his biggest (1975 Mr. Olympia) Schwarzenegger had a 34” waist = max points on the PT test. The current Mr. Olympia has a 29” waist.

    Should we use height to waist ratio as a standard? Current research indicates a healthy height to waist ratio should never be more than 50%. So 6’4” (76 inches) needs to be under 38” to pass. Notice this number is not even close to 41 inches … because 41 inches is huge.

    Why does it even matter? This has nothing to do with an individual’s ability to fight in combat. Android obesity, classified as excess weight located in the trunk area, places an individual at greater risk for high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease and premature death. These are all very bad things. Or maybe we should go back to drinking, smoking and overeating ourselves to an early grave.

    • In disbelief

      “Fork”, you are a self absorbed believer of your own prattle. What you are espousing is exactly what the author is trying to expose – hereditary discrimination. This so-called standard is arbitrary and has no basis in fact. Don’t believe me? Feel free to google the waist measurement debate and see how many articles line up each way and then who writes/sponsors them. You keep saying 41″ is huge. Based on what? Even the height weight discussion doesn’t account for true BMI in all cases. Bottom line: you, Norty Schwartz, and all of the rest of the genetically inclined marathon runners and skelators need to put away your ethnic cleansing and focus on the person and not the poster. And yes, I have met the standard for 22+ years now…

      • Put the fork down

        Hereditary discrimination? Now you’re just making stuff up. The AF standards are not hard to meet. If you can’t maintain a 39″ waist you’ve got bigger problems than being a fatty. All it takes is a little discipline and self control. I am a marathon runner, now. But 10 years ago I was overweight and heading down the wrong path. I decided to change it … nothing to do with genetics, just long hours and lots of sweat. I have no sympathy for someone who chooses not to meet standards. Yes, it is a choice. To get a 41″ waist you need to pack on layer after layer of blubber by making the wrong choices for multiple years. The standard is clear, all of the resources are available every member of the AF to meet the standard, and if a WING COMMANDER cannot meet MINIMUM STANDARDS, he needs to go. Also important to note, he was not kicked out of the Air Force, he was removed from command for NOT MEETING MINIMUM STANDARDS; he chose to retire.

      • Put the fork down

        Yes, a 41″ waist is huge … here is what the Mayo clinic has to say about it; but what do they know, their only doctors? http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/belly-fat/MC00054

      • In disbelief

        I read the article. It says like I said that hereditary factors can adversely affect belly fat..but also that a sedentary lifestyle is a more prevalent indicator. It also says that 40″ is where the line is. Way I’m trying to say is that being out of shape is one thing…having to have a certain shape is another. Ron Fogelman was one of the best leaders the AF has ever seen…is he a fat piece of crap who can’t lead too?

        Most ex-smokers…me included…are the worst about not liking smoke. Don’t be blinded by what works for you.

    • Tony Carr

      No where in this post do I see you making an argument that relates to the Air Force mission. You’re talking about health and wellness. Great. I applaud you for being passionate about it. We have a legion of doctors getting paid good money to tell us when someone isn’t healthy or well enough to serve, and we have commanders trained to act upon such recommendations. Fitness is another thing altogether. By including the waist measurement in the fitness test, we’re failing people who are perfectly fit to do their jobs as the mission requires.

      I understand some folks want to strive for a wellness Utopia that allows and even encourages them to foist their views concerning how to live their lives upon teammates. But that’s not a serious vision for a public institution. We’ve got a real problem when having a certain body shape is a condition of continued employment. We are where we are because folks with your philosophy — which seems to confuse being healthy with being mission effective — were given too much access to the controls. Time to restore common sense … which dictates that we will never wring diabetes, alcohol, cigarette smoke, or french fries completely out of our Air Force.

      I should also remind you that some of the most successful people in world history were not healthy in the slightest.

  • Sgt Won’t Quit

    Raspberry Ketone…Yup, if you use it, it will work. No doubt about, yaheardme! Bottom line eat right and workout for your career.

  • But I’m big boned

    How dare the Air Force just randomly select abdominal circumference numbers that don’t take height into consideration? Someone needs to research this.

    Oh, wait, read this: http://www.bmj.com/content/311/7017/1401#xref-ref-10-1

    Interesting, 2183 men and 2698 women aged 20-59 randomly selected and found “Height accounted for less than 0.3% of the variance in waist circumference” 0.3% of a 39” max limit is less than 1/8”.

    The research concludes:
    “Seidell reviewed anthropometric methods to assess abdominal fat, concluding that waist circumference alone was probably the most practical measurement for use in health promotion.14 For that purpose practical cut off measurements of waist circumference are required. Waist circumference relates closely to intra-abdominal fat mass,15 16 17 18 and changes in waist circumference reflect changes in cardiovascular risk factors.19 20 21 22”

    Maybe if you’re 6’4” you just look more proportional with additional fat packed on your midsection.

    • Tony Carr

      Are you seriously citing an 18-year-old Dutch study with a sample size under 2200 to try and argue that the waist measurement is rooted in valid science?

      Ok. I’ll play along.

      Here are two of the key messages from that study.

      “A waist circumference above [37 inches] should be a signal to avoid weight gain or lose weight, to maintain increased physical activity, and to give up smoking in order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

      How does losing a job or facing a discharge board facilitate these recommendations? Professional sanctions induce high stress, which makes smoking, lethargy, and weight gain more likely rather than less.

      “Patients with a waist circumference above [40 inches] should seek advice from health professionals for weight management.”

      Patients. Health professionals. This is clearly seen as a medical issue by the authors of the study … but that’s not how the Air Force is treating it.

      Fun facts: at the time this Dutch study was authored, the Dutch military was still operating under conscription, but even at that time, Dutch military members were permitted to form and join trade unions to protect themselves from their own managers. This is a practice that continues to the current day, though conscription has been over for some time. My point is that the authors of this study were not focused on military service at all, and certainly were not expecting their findings to form a pillar in a ham-handed US Air Force HR process.

      • But I’m big boned

        Yes, a peer reviewed study published in a medical journal which utilized a statistically significant sample size (i.e., rooted in valid science) identifies that height does not have a significant impact on variations in waist circumference is a better than the following from your blog: “because at 6’4” tall, he couldn’t maintain a waist circumference of less than or equal to 39 inches.” which is misleading at best. Your factually incorrect statements propagate the false belief that somehow growing a 41″ waist wasn’t the Colonel’s fault.

      • http://www.jqpublic-blog.com TC

        Misleading? It’s a fact. He is 6’4″ and he couldn’t maintain a 39″ waist. There’s nothing misleading about it. I’m not saying his height was causal in his waist, I’m saying he’s a tall guy held to the same anthropometric “standard” as a short one.

        I could find a medical journal article saying that having large ankles is a risk factor for diabetes. Should we start measuring ankles and discharging people for not controlling ankle girth? What if blonde hair were tied to alcoholism? Medical fads come and go. When something has been established as a broadly accepted medical theory for decades … that’s the point where it might be acceptable to make it a condition of employment. Even then, only a medical professional should be evaluating how it impacts the ability to serve for a given individual.

        What you should be asking yourself is why the Air Force is embracing something as gospel that is still a matter of sharp division in the medical community. You should further ask yourself whether the Air Force is better or worse off by firing and discarding people for this reason. But it sounds like you have heard the gospel and don’t care to reconsider.

        Here’s something funny, though. In this discussion, you’ve offered more evidence supporting this notion than the Air Force has offered. I doubt seriously whether your cherished study has seen the light of day, even in discharge boards. In a roundabout way, you’ve added to my case … this the Air Force, where we teach and expect people to think critically and question things — they have to, because it’s part of technological innovation, which is at the core of why the country has an independent Air Force. Given that Airmen will always question things, the service would do well to provide rationale, especially for something as manifestly dubious as this.

      • But I’m big boned

        But it’s not because he was 6’4″ that he couldn’t maintain a 39″ waist. I found another blog that claimed he was 6’1″ 225 lbs, that makes his BMI a whopping 29.7 and only 2 pound away from being clinically obese (not just overweight, OBESE) Even if he is 6’4″ that makes a BMI of over 27! Not a big deal if he’s heavy on muscle, but with a 41″ waist, I think we both know how much muscle is packed on his mid section. Funny thing is, if he’d have spent as much time each week running as you spend blogging about how the standard is invalid, we’d never be having this discussion. I got to go now, time to PT. I’ve got a long AF career ahead of me.

      • Tony Carr

        Here’s where I concede a point to you: he’s actually 6’1″, not 6’4″. That shifts him further up the scale of being clinically overweight.

        Here’s where I tell you how little that matters to the argument we’re having here. If he was obese, his doctor should have informed his commander, and his commander should have decided that if it mattered enough, he should be medically boarded. If a medical standard calls him obese but he can still gallop like a clydesdale and lead the wing better than the next dozen people standing behind him in line, then he is still fit to fight and should still be in command.

        At any rate, I wish you the best. You assume you’re in for a long career. Probably not a safe assumption. Your voice carries a tone I’ve heard before … one that tends to unravel careers that might have otherwise succeeded. I sincerely hope I’m wrong about that. At any rate, the Air Force could come up with new standard tomorrow that makes you one of the hunted. They get to call in their chips any time … so it’s best to be ready for civilian life always.

        Recommendation: if you want a long career founded on what’s going on between your ears, stay in the Air Force. If you’re more interested in fighting from the neck down, you’re in the wrong place.

  • Daryl

    Remember the Air Force teaches us that if someone perceives a remark as bring harassment then it is. Likewise if a portion of the pt test is perceive by many in the Air Force as being arbitrary then should it not to changed. As stated earlier if 38 is the right waste based on the 50% rule for someone 6’4″ then should it not be different for someone 5’4″…

  • http://www.facebook.com/kamwren Kamwren Nichols

    Since when has rational decision making been a part of any federal agencies’ m.o.? Please, let’s not start expecting our government to use any modicum of common sense at this point, it just doesn’t have a place in a large bureaucracy. The decision to fire a great military leader for eating too many Baconators is not surprising and is to be expected given the current political/social environment of the US.

  • The Machine

    If you want to know who is to blame for all this Blue Kool-Aid douche-baggery, simply look in the mirror. Every airman, NCO and officer who prescribes to the thinking found in the PDG, UCMJ and the “Little Brown Book” are part of the problem and not the solution. A real leader is someone who sees beyond the Fitness Mafia’s tirade of terror, when evaluating their troops for overall performance, yet fail a PT test and your career is done. Glass ceiling hit. No chance of recovery. I struggled with the PT standards for years, despite being a top-notch performer in my job otherwise. Every ORI, SAV and HSI my office went through, passed with no critical deficiencies, but if I failed a tape measurement, then any talk of promotion for rank or a medal was automatically nixed. What is ultimately contradicting is that if you are tasked for deployment, the Orderly Room checklist specifically says to waiver any weight management program actions if you can’t pass the current PT standard……so what does that ultimately tell you, the reader? All I know is that I’m glad I’m retired out of the Air Force now and can give a metaphorical middle finger to this myopic, fucked-up system of management. Good riddance.

  • Blah, blah, blah

    Blah, blah, blah, blah…the Air Force has established standards. So what he was a great Commander! This standard didnt just spring up on him, he actually had his subordinate Commanders enforce it as well. So what he was injured. Obviously the medical professionals didnt think his injuries warranted “more time” on profile…that speaks volumes if your own med group won’t help you and you are the Wing Commander. He had to know even before he walked in that he was gonna fail. I’ve seen a lot of injured Amn or Amn on profile in the gym because they actually know the standards even when they come off profile; they know what they have to do. Let me ask you this, how many Amn were given reprimands, demotions and discharges from him or his subordinate Commanders based on the same failure to meet minimum standards? and look now, because it happened to someone you like and someone you respect, now you b*tch about it; where was your b*tchfest then? How about you stick to the issue that they should get rid of the waist measurement and stop defending a Wing Commander who can’t meet MINIMUM standards; now matter how great he/she might be. The Col did the right thing in stepping down and his boss did the right thing by replacing him, period! At the end of the day, he failed to meet standards, whether you agree or not, so please stop your whining on his behalf.

    • Tony Carr

      My objective is not so much to take up for this one commander. The issue impacts more mid-level NCOs than any other group. But I guess I don’t understand what you’re saying … you seem to be saying “screw this guy, others have been victimized too” while in the same breath saying “this is a valid standard.” Can’t have it both ways. Either they were ALL losers, this guy included … or the standard is invalid. If you indeed read the piece, you know I believe the latter is true. This is not a standard, and the AF knows it. If it were, you couldn’t fail 4 times before a mandatory review, you wouldn’t be able to deploy on a failure, and you wouldn’t be hired as a wing commander with a failure in your record. It’s not a standard at all … it’s a medical guideline being misapplied by an Air Force drunk on the idea that a rule equates to a solution.

      I respect your opinion, but I don’t agree. And by the way … no need for the emotional theatrics and name-calling. Just make your f*cking point, respectfully, and then we can have an exchange.

    • Rebecca S.

      I am a spouse to an airman, a military brat, and a big fan of Col. Bush. Yes, Tim failed a standard that is in place and that is the only thing he’s guilty of.I have seen many airmen fail the PT test and get second chances retake the test.I feel that Tim would’ve passed if that had been granted to him as well. My main disappointment is that this is want he and his career is associated with. He was truly a great leader for whom my husband would not have had the career opportunities or awards on his PRF if it wasn’t for his guidance. that is what he should be remembered by his leadership and his friendship to all.

      Next I want to address the standard that put him in this predicament. My dad retired as a Lt. Col and then taught JROTC, so for 40+ years he had some sort of measurement requirement. Do you know how he always passed? He did it the old wrestling way, which I call the”apple” diet. Basically he would eat only an some apple and summer water until he was down, then pass the test, and go back to life. Now, if we’re talking about this measurement being here for bettering our airmen’s health than how healthy is that? Being an exercise instructor who works out everyday and still has a behind that won’t budge, yo yo dieting is worse for your overall health(marblizes your muscles). Also I have seen airmen result to body wraps and lipo just to pass the waist. So Air Force is this really the standard you want to set, one that puts people at overall harm by doing extreme dieting measures or cosmetic ones. I agree with others that some people are just bigger than others.

  • Not convinced

    Blah, you are correct…Col Bush did do the right thing. That’s not the point here. The point is the standard is wrong. If we can’t have discourse on that point then we are no better than a dictatorship. Stop with the magnanimous debate ending periods and listen to what’s being said.

    • Anonymous

      The easy way out is to say the standard is wrong. Please reference medical or academic research that says having a 40+ inch waist is healthy. The cold truth is the Colonel fell short.

      • In disbelief

        Once again with the “final” word. Are you in congress?

      • Tony Carr

        “Please reference medical or academic research that says having a 40+ inch waist is healthy.”

        That would be impossible since even medical researchers are divided on whether abdominal circumference is a reliable independent indicator of overall health. Doctors only started paying attention to this 15-20 years ago, and definitive studies on the matter require them to watch people over the course of an adult lifetime … we’re still a decade or two away from anything like a “final answer” on this.

        But again, even you are using the word “healthy” to make your argument here. Health is for doctors to determine. Fitness is for the chain of command to determine. The AC measurement provides one indicator of health, and not a particularly useful one when taken in isolation. It should not be used to determine fitness level … a point you’ve just reinforced.

  • Anonymous

    Who makes the standards is the real question here. It is each military member;s responsibility to follow the standards or face the consequences. Senior Officers make these standards or at the least approve them. We may not like all the stansards but, we have an obligation to either follow them or do what is necessary to have them changed. Maybe if these become the rules for politicians as well…. these would change! We are supposed to be a military of FIT to FIGHT personnel…. maybe jogging with a 80 pound ruck for 5 miles a day would be a better way than measuring waiste size. It’s not about Col Bush… but all those outstanding mechanics who were passed over for promotion because of not making the standard. Who spoke up for them? Just happens he was in a more visible position!

  • Buck

    After 22 + years on active duty, I personally witnessed what real contributions the marathon runners and gym bums made. These are h guys that spent half their carreer DNIF from shin splints and broken bones while the couch potatoes who only saw the inside of the Hawk when forced to do so pull the weight of the 100 point PT club and their own. Saw way too many guys who did millions of dollars of damage to aircraft and get hidden away at PME and thus further promoted. The Air Force is now led by fighter pilots with resumes that taunt “2000 + hours” while the real warriors get that many while varily a new captain. We probably would lose WWII if fought today if we were led by the fitness freaks of today who get more recognition by organizing 10 k runs then the average joe that was deployed half their carreer actually serving their country and not their prima donna “mentor”. Not overly bitter , just observant and frustrated.

    • Tony Carr

      Something not often enough discussed is the cost to the organization of focusing too much in any one area — in this case, fitness/wellness. This is the core reason I care about it … I watched it detract from mission capability.

  • Everyone gets a Trophy

    I think we should allow slower run times for short people since their legs are shorter, and less push-ups required for someone with long arms since it takes more work to move the greater distance. And smokers should be exempt from all PT testing, it’s not their fault their addicted. In fact, lets just give everyone a 100% on their PT test, why would we ever want to hold an individual accountable for their performance?

    • Tony Carr

      Accountable? Are you joking? OK. Let’s start by holding accountable the person who hired Col Bush to be a wing commander with a previous history of having a waist measurement beyond 39″. After that, let’s hold accountable the person who allowed him to deploy while he was struggling with wellness issues. Then we can hold accountable the person who gave him more to do than could be done in a 14-hour day and still expected him to find time to work out.

      Alright, enough of that.

      You’re being unserious while you make an argument for an Air Force run exclusively by skinny people. I sure hope they’re also the best leaders.

  • Tail wagging the dog

    For those defend the waist standard because of the medical community’s consensus that it is linked to health, then why aren’t we handing out referral EPR/OPRs for those with high cholesterol or high blood pressure? Medical experts have concluded that both are linked to diet and exercise. TC hit the nail on the head with this. There are plenty of folks ‘out there’ who don’t meet meaningful standards related to job performance, leadership, conduct, etc… why use a meaningless standard? Its like judging a car based on the size of the steering wheel.

    • Tony Carr

      There are medical studies out there arguing that people with fair skin are more susceptible to cancer. Should be start expelling them from the service?

      You’re right across the board. I’ve often asked myself if being rotund is grounds for punishment, why doesn’t every pregnant woman have an LOR on file? Seems pretty silly to think about it that way … and it is silly. But also, tragic and counterproductive.

      • http://retrophoebia.wordpress.com retrophoebia

        Because the last general who tried to regulate pregnancy in the interest of combat effectiveness was browbeaten by feminist PC until he capitulated. see also this article

  • Anonymous

    Everyone here that complains about him not meeting the standard are completely brainwashed idiots and are the reason why the military has become such a joke. All the focus are put on issues that shouldn’t be issues in the first place. Our military military has become a bloated honor less corporation. Just imagine if we had to fight a real full scale war against an enemy that is anywhere near our equal, we would be screwed due to our current “issues” that we focus on instead of really fixing the problem.

    • Tony Carr

      As a young airman, I was taught to reject foolishness and weed it out to make room for things that really mattered. I believe there are very important reasons for that ethos. We need to rediscover it. Getting past this waist measurement foolishness would solve a lot of problems.

  • SMOC

    Did he not know the standards? Did somebody fail to tell this grown man that he had a PT test? This article is absolute crap. Anyone that doesn’t care enough about the standards to meet them for a test that he knows he has to take, doesn’t deserve command.

    • Tony Carr

      Those are some sweeping judgments, especially from someone who obviously didn’t read the piece. I can surmise from your manifest arrogance that you yourself have never commanded, so forgive me if I weight your closing proposition with that in mind.

  • NO MORE FATTIES!

    Is there really any excuse that you chuckle heads come up with than can justify being a lardo? Anything? If so, check you’re waist…you’re probably making excuses because you’re a fat, lazy turd.

    • In disbelief

      And you, my friend are proof that marathon runners are the best leaders…

    • Tony Carr

      “No more fatties” … that’s quite clever indeed. Come up with that all by yourself? Look man, I’m the guy interested in actually discussing this. You appear to be that other guy. Please, serious inputs. Don’t post this kind of trash here. If you’re going to hurl insults, at least be more imaginative.

  • Bob L – Southport, NC

    I never agreed with the tape and waist measurement coupled with insurance info from a100 years ago!! I was lucky to get through it – had a great career but thought it was a bunch of bull!! The waist is only one factor in creating great leaders and ideal Airmen!!

  • Randy

    Tony – Great piece and very well articulated. Although I have not physically struggled with the waist measurement portion of the fitness assessment, I’ve had intellectual struggles with the origin and how it pertains to AF fitness. I never cared to admonish a hard working Airman for having difficulties with this component alone. To clear the air before someone blasts that comment, I do admonish them and I hold myself and my subordinates to the standard. It the grand scheme, the AF Fitness Assessment is still relatively new. They’ve changed it a few times since its inception and therefore, I find that it would not be too difficult to change again. Truly curious if this is more of an insurance mandate than an AF Fitness requirement.

    • http://www.jqpublic-blog.com TC

      We’re on the same wavelength. I never hesitated to hold my folks accountable, if for no other reason than to help them salvage their careers and livelihoods. And like Col Bush, I always carried the water for the AF by telling my people that it was the established standard whether we agreed with it or not.

      But I’ve struggled intellectually with this part of the test since it started. I remember sitting in the Pentagon debating this with a group of fellow captains. We all agreed a fitness program was a fine idea. We argued over whether it should include this aspect … especially given that the CSAF at the time had a waistline that made his ability to pass it questionable. The messaging was muddled from the outset.

      Just the fact of how much time is spent resolving the conflicts created by it … and the attention devoted to a discharge rate that has increased by 400 percent since we started this … should move the AF to reconsider whether they’ve got this right. Maybe part of that reconsideration could be some truth-telling about why we’re doing this. I’ve yet to hear it articulated with Welsh-style “straight talk” … and I think many folks share your curiosity about the true motive behind it.

  • Robert Austin

    I’ve struggled with this issue my entire career & i’ve done it longer than just the current fitness test. I joined in 97, during the bike test & weight management program(WMP). I was force to live by height & weight standards given out by the medical community from the late 60′s. At 69 inches, I wasn’t allowed to weight more than 182lb. & a week prior to my departure for basic I weighed 189lb. I was at the peak of my physical conditioning. I was 5 months out of wrestling season but continued my cardio work. In order to make weight; I did what I did every week during wrestling season, I ate once a day & ran 14 miles through out the week. Prior to the service I participated in several sports. I played basketball,softball, 4years of football were I was a starter at ever level & lettered varsity 2 of those years. I ran track, power lifted, as well as weight trained & lettered 2 years of varsity wrestling. So I didn’t just sit on the couch & eat twinkles through HS. Starting out in my career I was already dealing with unreasonable & out of date requirements, mean while I would see senior personnel at the gym working nothing but their necks. Every one of them had pot bellies but they knew the system, they knew how to work it. As long as their neck wasn’t 20 inches smaller then their waist line, they would pass the weigh in.I did fine under this system until I started deploying, 2 years later, I weighed 190lbs because I lifted every day but I failed to monitor my neck to waist ratio. Thus I was placed on the FAT BOY program as it was demonized. I looked around in the class I was sent to, I saw those who needed to be there & people who shouldn’t have been. At my first class I was asked by a person from the HAWC why I was there, he thought I didn’t need to be but I showed him my slip proving otherwise. During one of the classes, the question about the tapping procedure arose & this is where I got to see the big blue side to fitness. How poorly they think things through & how little they care about being accurate or ensuring your success. When I challenged the HAWC about the taping method he agreed it wasn’t the most accurate way to measure body fat, I mentioned the float test, caliper test & even the chamber testing used on athletes in Colorado springs. The reason given in 99; was it would cost to much money, money to calibrate, store & train personnel on their usage. During those first years in the military, we would receive the yearly guilt trip about how much they spent on you for housing,training,feeding & clothing. It usually was some where in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to almost a million, it was their way of saying don’t complain about anything & be grateful we’ve given this to you. I posed the question about how much it would cost to purchase,store,calibrate & train personnel on these tools so the AF had a more accurate way of testing. For the calipers it was $25,000; thats purchase,training everyone in their shop, storing them & calibrating them monthly for the year. I asked which was more cost effective for the military; to kick out people they spent millions to train as they reminded us yearly or to purchase calipers, use a method which was more accurate & cheaper in the long run than wasting the money invested in us. It was the last class I attended, my commander called me into his office & I was told I was asked not to return. I learned then as long as you’re a sheep, you will be lead to slaughter & when you question reason with an educated stance you will survive.The fact of the matter is the new PT test resembles the old weight management program, waist measurements still controls your fate but only because we have an excess of people inservice in the DOD’s eyes. Both programs are about the DOD’s bottom line & less about your health as they like to prescribe to everyone.
    During the 80′s retainability wasn’t difficult even with small pay, the job market was bad then & thus more people were retained. Promotions were slower & quiet a number of people retired as E-5′s. Something back then which was respectable after 20 years but now impossible after tenure roll backs, without E-7 you cant reach 20 yrs. Retirement pay being shelled out by the DOD was in a smaller numbers then; smaller rates, even including the COLA increases yearly & some people unfortunately have already passed away. Plus there were those who never made E-5 & were higher tenured out after 10yrs, which provided a large chunk of the work force.
    The early 90′s were similar & after desert storm, many were offered early retirements at reduced benefits. The large amount of people who took this caused the onset of AFPC’S yo-yoing with manning, promotions, awarding of SRB’s & SEB’s as well CJR’s. When I joined, I could have left that day & gotten my first selection of jobs. The only reason I didn’t was because I had to finish my Sr year of HS. I met SRA at my first duty station who had to wait an entire year on a job when they joined, then get a date for basic & that still wasn’t a grantee you were going to make it to your first duty station. 2 yrs after me there were guys coming in getting $7,000 or $8,000 upfront & $16,000 over all for enlistment bonuses. The high time SRA’s studied not to make E-5 because the economy was sky rocketing & they wanted to separate with the $12,000 pay out for higher tenure. Then with the mass exodus of highly trained people because of pay, we started receiving increases in ours & SRB’s to retain us. Now they needed to promote people to NCO’s because of the early retirements & higher tenures. Now you have individuals at 4yrs of service, who basically have their union card & as long as they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot had a guaranteed pension. Plus I have 16 years to make rank, you have to be a moron not to make MSgt in 20 years now & that hurts the bottom line for the DOD. Think to yourself & ask when was the last retirement ceremony you were at where the individual wasn’t an E-7 or above. If they weren’t, they likely received some sort of punishment recently & either couldn’t make the rank or didn’t get a chance to remake it.
    The fitness test now is the same as WMP then, it’s nothing more than a force shaping tool used to eliminate people prior to reaching retirement eligibility & long term pensions. If it was really about Health wouldn’t they kick people out for tobacco usage, tobacco causes cancer & thus higher medical bills. This is a proven fact & has the surgeon general seal of approval. This is not about health though, this about retainability & retirement eligibility. Look at our sister services, look at their turnover rate & retainability rate. The USAF & USN have the highest retainability rates in DOD, kind of ironic we are also the only ones who use the waist tape as part of our fitness test. The Army & USMC only tape if you fail your test, then waist measurement comes into play.
    I was an FTD instructor & sometime in 2007 or 2008 the topic of TSP came up in class, I was told it was now mandatory to start an account in basic. You didn’t have to contribute anything but it was mandatory for them to start the account. This was the first salvo fired about pensions, this is how Kodak started the 401k for its employees & got ride of its pension plans. The military wants to do away with pensions because it & retirees health care accounts for nearly 2/3rds of the defense budget. This is the reason behind the spike in out of pocket expenses for retirees concerning tricare & why will see further degradation to retirement benefits over the next 20 years.The government has no issue making you a veteran but they don’t want to pay you for it if they don’t have to, hence the VA affairs issues. The DOD is in between a rock & a hard place though. With a volunteer force you have to make it more appealing than the civilian work force & what 18 year old person would choose the military over the civilian world when there is no difference concerning post employment compensation. Also during employment with us, you will not have control over you or your families life. You can be moved all over the country or around the world on a whim, You’ll be paid less than your civilian counterparts but be told its because you receive other benefits civilians don’t receive. You will be treated like a child, given unreasonable deadlines & be deployed away from your families up to 18 months at a time in some cases. Unfortunately you will get the uneducated & lazy instead of the brightest & motivated. You will get individuals who have no other place for employment or worse, people will be required to do 2 years of service no matter what & thus moral will tank. So they have to find away to be marketable & cheap at the same time. So until the military finally finds a way to follow the American business retirement plans, they will need to find ways to eliminate people prior to reaching eligibility & slow progression with in the forces without discouraging to many people, making them leave in droves again. Just my rant on the subject & the DOD in general. For those who call people fatties& lard’s. Remember, You’re only an injury away from being laid up & gaining weight due to inactivity. Also at age 30, your metabolism slows down & muscle growth slows. So right now it might be easy for you but right about the time you hit the mid way point, it will only get harder. When you blow out a knee, slip a disk in your back or break a foot & you’re laid up for a month, i’m sure your tune will change. Especially when you only have 60 days after you’re off your profile to recover & pass your test, good luck to all.

    • http://twitter.com/bunnychi75 bunnychi75 (@bunnychi75)

      Robert, you hit the nail on the head! I joined in ’98, pretty much out of necessity in order to pay off my student loans (the AF started voluntarily doing this a couple of years later I’d heard), and to get experience in a job close to my college major of dental hygiene, dental tech, because there just wasn’t many good jobs to do so in the MS Delta.

      After 14 years, frankly, I decided to get out, because I grew tired of what the AF had become. It’s definitely changed from when I came in, and I’m not sure for the better. I dealt with the bike test, which I had no problems passing, until I had trouble making my taping before getting into ALS. I was stationed at Malmstrom at the time, so you know how hard it is to do serious fitness in cold weather. The gym’s usually packed in the winter. The ‘new’ PT test had been the bane of my AF existence since formally implemented in ’04. I was a month away from getting off the ‘fat boy’ program for good, when they INSISTED on testing the ‘fat boy’ folks first.

      When did they have us do our first run test?? In frickin’ Feb, with 35 F temps, 14 MPH winds, on a damn deactivated runway! We were running head-first into that wind, too, and then they wondered WHY only 2 out of 14 running passed! I’m sure you remember as well when you had to measure at a 32 for men and 26 for women to get the max pts for that portion of the waist measurement. But just when I thought that MAYBE they’d change it for the better, they STILL didn’t take height and age into account! I was never the fittest, in fact, I had always had a pouchy mid-section, even when I was barely 130 when I joined. Life (and food, something I struggled with) made it bigger. Ironically, I was always marginal, (poor the 1st two times), always falling a couple of pts. shy of ‘good’. I ran, ran, ran my butt off, worked on my pushups, situps were easy. And right when I was about to PCS, I did my test, and I was cheated out of my passing score! Thankfully, that didn’t keep me from leaving MT, but boy, did that stick with me for the rest of my career, making me completely distrust the PT test.

      The longer I stayed in, the more I saw it being about the PT test…I, like you, was seeing all the ‘skinny’ and ‘fit’ folks bark the whole, ‘If they can’t pass the PT tests, they need to get out of MY AF!’ *rolls eyes* I get to Langley, and I see that same type of sentiment being barked here and there, with it being ACC HQ and all. Irony was that in my shop at the time, ALL the guys in my shop–and they were younger than me–had issues with their knees from overuse. Some still managed to stay fit, though through working out that kept them from overuse. My squadron also did the ’90s and above can do their own thing’, while everyone else was subjected to the craze of P90-X/Insanity/TRX plyometrics workouts, stuff that made my shins worse. While overseas, I even had a stress fracture in my shin, that only would’ve gotten worse had I not had a pain shoot up my entire leg in warning.

      I’ve thought the same as you: would those that are barking about ‘fatties’ be singing that same tune if a really bad knee injury put them out of commission? Funny thing is, yes, they do, and I’ve seen it. They bark a little quieter now!

      Ultimately, what drove me out was my ill-adjustment to my career field ‘merger’ of 2Es/3Cs into the 3Ds, and PT. Here I was, a 2E for the better part of 10 yrs, then being told we were gonna be working on routers/switchers for base networks. You’re joking, right? And then being told after my co-worker asked if we were going to get trained: “Oh, you’ll get OJT at whatever base you wind up next!” with a dismissal wave–yes, really–from our function manager’s hand. I saw more and more during my time at Langley that the PT test was truly ramping up to be a culling tool. After I failed my PT test, with my EPR coming up, and still no word from my CC if he wasn’t going to let me reenlist, not wanting to have a referral on my record, I did the proverbial cry of ‘uncle’. Did I screw myself out of sep pay? Maybe. Was it a game of chicken between us, or did my CC really didn’t want to appear the bad guy? Who knows. But I do know that he PCSd as fast as he could before he really needed to make his decision. I’m glad, that I’m no longer in, despite my financial situation. I have plenty of time for school, and my family, and that’s all that matters. The other tool I see that the AF is using is the 15 HYT, something I’ve seen a few folks fall to very recently with this past TSgt promo announcement.

      Nope, not the same AF at all…

  • John Donaldson

    If, as they say ‘people are its most important asset,’ then they would not discard a highly qualified individual for exceeding an arbitrarily established waist (a.k.a. ‘waste’) measurement. They need go back and take a look at who may truly be one of their most important assets and correct this tragic error.

    • Anonymous

      He was not discarded from the military, he was removed from command for not meeting the same standards his subordinates are held to. He chose to retire.

      • http://www.jqpublic-blog.com TC

        This is disingenuous. He was a public figure and he was publicly disgraced. A public “no confidence” vote from your employer is about as close to a discarding as you can get.

        To repeat: this isn’t a standard. Not a valid one anyway. The Air Force believes it only needs to write a memo and publish an AFI to establish a standard … but if it really believed this was a standard, it wouldn’t allow people to deploy, promote, and re-enlist after failing. It’s a guideline being ill-applied.

  • Anonymous

    This is a tool for Commanders to impose punishment they would not be able to impose otherwise. Too many airmen have fallen prey to the dreaded PT test waist check and had their careers threatened or destroyed by this new tool in the pocket of sometimes devious commanders.

  • AGR

    The Abdominal Circumference “standard” has nothing to do with Fitness.

    This is about money! “Big Blue” bought into some studies that suggests that Americans with a belly circumference greater than 40″ experience a statistically significant higher amount of negative health issues that will continue to escalate as they grow older. If we allow are “Plus-sized” Airmen to hang around long enough to retire, the DOD/VA will not only have to pay their pensions, their astronomical medical bills will have to be paid for the next 20 years until their heart will surely explode at age 68. If we only allow “skinnies” to stay around until retirement, millions will be saved in healthcare benefits.

    I’ve been in the Air Force for 26 years. It is my opinion that 80% of our Airmen work in career fields which would allow them to successfully complete their jobs even if they have a 40″ circumference and could not complete 10 sit ups or push ups (much like many American Jobs). However, the other 20% of Airmen do need a certain level of fitness and we are, afterall, a military component, so we must have fitness standards.

    Too bad all the “skinnies” we do allow to hang around until retirement age will be in such good shape they will live to 100 and all the money saved in healthcare costs will go striaght into 50 year pensions.

  • Tony Carr

    You are SPOT ON!

    I didn’t want to make this explicit case in the piece, because I don’t have any way of proving it (aside from having worked in A1 for a time and seen how decisions get made there–perhaps proof enough), but I do believe this is about responding to DoD mandates to reduce long-term expenses on people, to include health care costs. You’re correct in exposing that even if the policy itself were morally or practically sensible, the numbers don’t add up. If we really wanted to save money, we’d make the people we retain as unhealthy as possible, so they would drop dead quickly after retirement and not sap all those precious retirement funds. When you think about it that way … when you invert it … it shows how crass these calculations really are. So easy to forget these are human beings we’re talking about.

    You’re also correct that most airmen don’t need to be fit in the slightest to be successful. Probably fair to ask the AF to raise its fitness level generally with us giving 20-30k people to the Army every year for deployment at the height of OIF. But outside of a COIN context, most airmen don’t need any sort of fitness level to be successful, which means this whole thing is a massive waste of energy.

    But even if we agree a shift in culture was warranted … why not target it by clan? Why not embrace the clan reality rather than trying to eliminate it? Aren’t we more effective as a collection of clans? I think so.

    What people forget — and this applies directly to Bush — is that in any context where requirements exceed the time available to contend with them, something will not get done. People prioritize according to what makes sense at the time. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes, they get fat because they’re not divorced, not failing out of their career, and not getting passed over.

    Skinny folks seem to have an intertwined gene that suppresses empathy. Sure hope for their sake the AF doesn’t shift the standard again and make minimum thickness the new standard. It would be just as arbitrary.

  • AGR

    I’m a UFPM in a unit of 235 personnel. I’ve been fortunate (good genes???) to be one of the “skinny” guys who does not struggle with the fitness assessment. Maybe one of the reasons the CC picked me as the UFPM?

    I have been intimately involved in this ongoing “Train Wreck” since it started in jul of 2010. I literally spend 15% of my duty hours managing/facilitating this additinal duty. There are good, capable, patriotic Airmen that are being separated for this arbitrary measurement which has zero to do with their ability to perform their duty, lead, or deploy for our country! We also have good, capable, patriotic Airmen who are big dudes who work their ass off and or take drastic measures to get down to 39″ each go around because their motivated to stay “Blue”.

    The AF built this program in the belief that Airmen will be forced to be fit/healthy year round, and those that buy in will be healthier retirees with less health care costs. The fact is, people who enjoy fitness activities (cardio, strenght training, etc…) will partake in these activities year round of their own free will. Because it’s part of their life, not because the AF says so. Those who don’t enjoy/embrace fitness activities, will do what it takes (2 times a year for AD & annually for Reserve component members) to pass the test. Or they won’t, and face the consequences. Are we healthier as a force since 2010? Not likely. Do we have fewer “Big” Airmen? Absolutley, we’re more than 2 years in and we’re separating them! Are we a more capable force because of fitness program? Hard to measure(pun intended)? But my view from the front lines is that the “year round fitness” objective is not being met. At least in my unit.

    I have tons of empathy for those who are putting in the effort and have to work twice as hard as I do just because of their genes. However, I have more anger towards this institution which has been so good to me for 25+ years for making me “The Commanders Fitness Henchman” for the final 4 years of service. I should be spending this time mentoring/training my replacements, and working on programs to improve my units warfighting capabilites instead of taping bellies!

  • Anonymous

    Kudos…..But the question has to be asked. “Why is this suddenly an issue when an 0-6 is fired….. What about the THOUSANDS of 0-5′s thru E-1′s who lost their careers due to this terrible policy.” The mere fact that this has been happening to the lower ranks for several years unchecked, makes this issue now because of an O-6, not only an insult, but an EPIC FAIL on the Air Force! This is not the Air Force I joined anymore…. That Air Force cared about ALL of it’s Airmen, not just the O-6′s and above.

    • Tony Carr

      It’s a fair question to ask, and you’re right. As I say in the piece, this is really knocking the hell out of the mid-level NCO corps more than anyone else. I chose to write this article now because the firing of a wing commander and the reporting after the fact cast a lot of light on the issue and created an opportunity for the kind of conversation unfolding here. But I don’t want to give the impression that this is all about sticking up for an O-6. I actually turned against this a couple of years ago when I saw enough examples of what I thought were clearly medical cases being treated like disciplinary cases. Most of those examples were E-6s/E-7s.

      “This is not the Air Force I joined anymore.” Agree. To be fair, I don’t think the service is showing partial treatment to O-6s/generals/chiefs. A good many have been pushed into retirement for not staying in shape. It’s hitting mid-level folks harder because they’re the biggest population group and they’ve been doing the heavy lifting for the Air Force for a dozen years now. No surprise they might be ground down a little. They need help, not discharge paperwork.

      But it’s not the Air Force we joined anymore in that we’ve taken our eye off the ball: exercising airpower by fighting from the neck up. We’re fixated on fighting from the neck down, and that’s not our role for the nation.

      As a common standard, I’ll hang with “this airman can make an enemy suffer, looks professional in uniform, and can run 1.5 miles without keeling over.” Some career fields need more than that, and we should acknowledge it and tailor the standards by AFSC or MAJCOM or unit. This idea that everyone needs the same waistline is useless and is hurting units and turning airmen against one another.

    • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

      “Why is this suddenly an issue when an 0-6 is fired”
      Because it’s sensational. Because there is some sense of celebrity when you get to the O-6 level. Because it hits closer to those that make the decisions.
      Its not suddenly an issue, it’s just now even more visible and has given voice to the thousands that know this standard is wrong and now the ears at the top are starting to listen.

  • http://gravatar.com/coryacook CC

    So, if the waist test was performed by a flight doc with a laser-calibrated tape measure/torque-wrench contraption, then would the results be valid? Wouldn’t we then be castigating the AF for relying on an overly-technological solution when a simple tape measure would do (not to mention a nice side bar about what a waste of time this would be for flight docs)?

    The AF has an established obligation to provide ready Airmen to the Joint Combatant Commanders of the world. The fact that we don’t know when the next conflict will pop up, what flavor of conflict it will be, or what the JFC requirements for the AF will be, means that our Airmen must be physically prepared for the spectrum of combat operations. As Airmen, it is easy for us to sit back and say, the way we fight doesn’t depend on physical fitness…we use our brains and technology instead. That’s fine and good until you find yourself having a heart attack while running around in the woods because you just happened to get deployed with the Army.

    Since keeling over in the field is obviously bad form, the AF has decided to implement a fitness standard. From a layman’s POV, our current fitness test appears to assess aerobic health (run), anaerobic health (push-ups/sit-ups), and general health (waist circumference). The fact that the AF has chosen to rely on “a couple medical journals” like the NEJM and Harvard School of Public Health in determining a general health standard seems pretty legit to me. In several of the comment strings you argue that the value of the waist circumference is still debated in medical circles. Perhaps I’m missing something, but a cursory web search seems to indicate a general consensus about the relationship between waist circumference and some of the most common preventable diseases.

    This isn’t to say that the AF fitness test is perfect. I don’t know anyone who would argue it is. The fact that a proven leader like Col Bush was unable to conform to the standard is unfortunate. However, just because one good egg was removed from service does not mean we should jettison the entire program. As you said yourself, “This structure actually works most of the time…A good many airmen who lacked the self-discipline for enduring military service have been caught in the net created by the waist measurement and given their walking papers, and that’s a good thing.”

    In this instance, I think we would be wise to remember that perfect can indeed be the enemy of good enough.

    • Tony Carr

      If it were done the way your describe, it would be more relevant than it is now because it would be medical information obtained and analyzed by a doctor. If our medical community were responsible for giving commanders meaningful analysis of the general health of airmen, I believe it would actually improve the health of the force. When doctors and commanders are forced into the weeds on the health and well-being of airmen, we’re more likely to see an active and persistent interest taken in shepherding a healthy service. The current mode isn’t achieving that. It allows commanders to wash their hands of wellness until an airman fails, at which point it becomes a disciplinary issue.

      That’s really the point, isn’t it. The fitness program chooses to be coercive rather than uplifting. We had it right with mandated calendar time for workouts. When that was eliminated, it became clear this wasn’t about “caring” … which was clearly implied by the extension of resources … but about “accountability” … and anytime we enter the realm of accountability, there is a nested implication that someone of authority is going to punish someone who made a mistake. Just like that, we’ve gone from trying to create a healthy force to rattling the saber of discipline to scare people into working out and eating right. Let me ask you … does that kind of negative approach succeed with intelligent, committed adults?

      Here’s why I have a problem with such an approach. These are *our people*!!! We selectively recruited them … we trained them … we accultured them to our way of life … we taught them everything they know about being an airman. In many cases, we *promoted* them or hired them into selective billets (like wing command) not long before jettisoning them. How does our opinion of our own people change so quickly? Is a fat belly as defined by an AFI really sufficient grounds to reject our teammates, colleagues, … members of our Air Force family? It has become so, and it’s quite disturbing for what it says about our nascent “zero defect” culture. We *trust* these people … we’re *confident* in them … so if they’re falling short, why do we assume they did so on purpose? Where’s the mentality that should ask critical questions about the demands we’re placing on them? My experience the last decade was that my life got so choked with Air Force requirements and commitments that time was endemically exceeded by responsibility. I could never hope to catch up. I know many, many others who agree that’s the state of things. In such a paradigm, what an individual chooses to do next is a matter of prioritization. They’ll usually default to what is due soonest or will get them in the biggest trouble if they fail to get it done. Some handle it better than others. Some are genetically inclined to need fewer workouts than others to maintain a trim waistline. In my opinion, we’re punishing people not for indiscipline … but for misprioritization. What I’d like to know is who is accountable for giving them too many priorities in the first place?

      Before you imagine me to have gone soft, I’ll concede that fitness *is* part of what we are about. I disagree with you, however, that every airman needs to meet the same common standard. The notion of a surprise outside-the-wire deployment characterized by ruck marches was used to justify emplacing and sustaining the current fitness philosophy, but it’s far-fetched. We have some folks/units more likely to be in those roles, and we know who they are. A little critical thinking would go a long way in creating a tailored fitness program with a very modest common standard for all. I do think every airman should meet a basic standard of physical strength and cardio-vascular fitness, and the program seems to have helped improve us in those areas. I take a much dimmer view on people who fail in those areas, and here’s why: the data provided by these parts of the test is much more reliable in judging someone. If someone can’t run, they haven’t been running. If they can’t do pushups and situps, they haven’t been doing pushups and situps. But if someone has a larger than average waistline … it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been laying on the couch eating bon-bons. In fact, if they can run, that means they’ve been running. Fat gets stored in the body at higher rates in some people for reasons aside from sedentary living or binge eating … stress, alcohol/substance abuse, smoking, lack of sleep, long periods of mandated sitting, chronic injury impacting mobility, side effects of medication, disturbed routines … and oh yes, genetic predisposition … all of these things can work against someone who is trying to do the right things. What we should be doing is letting a doctor tell us that we need to take an interest in someone’s health because their waistline is a little bigger than ought to be. Then we should genuinely take that interest instead of pushing them into a discharge proceeding. If we can’t fix them or they won’t fix themselves, we’re in a different conversation … but it’s a medical conversation. You kinda said it yourself by using the word “health” above to describe what you believe it’s meant to be telling the Air Force.

      The medical community is not divided on “bigger is worse” when it comes to abdominal fat. They’re divided on how much it matters. The AMA says that “men with a waist size of more than 40 inches may have higher chances of developing diseases related to obesity.” May have. May have a higher chance of developing. Developing diseases linked. Not caused. There is no judgment in science (at least yet) that being obese actually causes people to get sick. There are diseases linked to it that develop over years. And we’re talking obesity (30+ BMI) here when describing links … not being overweight.

      Even ardent supporters of the theory that waist size is directly linked to general health caveat their studies heavily and conclude with “probably.” So, it’s probable that being overweight makes someone unhealthy. And on that basis, the Air Force *definitely* dismisses those people, and does it at a precise point on a scale using a measurement taken with imprecise methods. This is rife with logical and moral inconsistency. That’s because a bunch of people who get paid to operate airplanes and manage people for a living started imagining themselves as health and fitness experts. But if they were, they’d know that obesity is only one risk factor for heart disease. Outlawing smoking, checking cholesterol every year, and reducing the amount of time people spend sitting at desks doing administrative work … all would go a lot farther toward preventing heart disease in airmen. Of course, the #1 risk factor is stress. What would help most of all would be to stop serially asking more of people than is fair to ask. They might then, given the excellence they already demonstrated to earn career status, get healthier.

      I don’t think it’s morally sustainable for us to accept that we’re jettisoning good people in order to weed out the bad ones. We’re the service of precision. We needn’t be perfect, but we need to always try to be … especially when we’re holding careers and families in the balance.

  • jolsen

    I think a big issue here is that when the military needs to make cuts, they like to cut people making the most money i.e those that have put in the most time.It seems that Col. Bush was a victim of this. Personnel cuts within the last year took out a lot of guys pushing 18 years. It appears the government is not so subtly saving money by keeping guys from getting retirement benefits. Now that is scary. So much money is spent on the training, and what is the incentive for those people to stay in if it appears people are getting the rug pulled out from beneath them right before retirement?

  • Loss of Confidence in the other direction…………

    Great article, thanks for taking the time to write it. As many of us have witnessed, the loudest cheerleaders for this new PT test are generally those who stand to gain the most (whether by thinner genetics, an obession with the gym, or a combination of factors). I’m actually a little concerned about the thoughtless quips that “its the standard and if you can’t make it you need to go”. It makes me wonder if there would be any arbitrary new rule that those folks wouldn’t unthinkingly cheerlead, regardless of its sanity (there is a difference between following the regs and cheerfully carrying proverbial water–I guess each person has to decide how far they’d go with regard to the latter). We need critical thinkers now more than ever. When one reflects on the situation (as you clearly have) and contrasts it within the context of our real mission, I can’t help but believe that we’ve missed the plot somewhere. The fact that this “standard” did not exist for most of our History (the greatest AF in the world), should be enough for one to question just how arbitrary this waist measurement is and how it ever found itself into the test in the first place.

    I’m suspicious that we’ve not been given the full story of why this came about in the first place or more importantly why it persists to this day. I agree, if its a Force Shaping measure, than it needs to fully expressed as such (Integrity First?). Not only on this issue, but I’m still waiting for that fabled “straight” talk from the top you’d mentioned. 8 months into the new boss’ tenure, I honestly have to say that I haven’t heard a single original idea of substance that didn’t come accross as a regurgitated sales pitch. Perhaps I just wasn’t cynical enough in my first years and it’s just now catching up to me? A much more likely scenario is that It’s simply not the Air Force I joined years ago.

  • Civilian

    I am not in the military, but have a sister who is and as well as a brother-in-law. They both have had recent struggles with this rule. My sister can beat all the guys in every aspect of the PT except the waist. Then again, she just had her first child… She has risen through the ranks with grace while earning award after award and I feel quite a bit more safe at night thinking that if every person is somewhat like her, we as a country are sitting pretty well off. Since the birth however she has extra skin and larger hips. For those that are unaware, a womans hips actually expand from giving birth. This has made things hard for her. My brother-in-law has an equally difficult situation. He was recently demoted due to failing this rule. He has a back injury that was obtained in the AF and has done everything under the sun to treat it besides surgery. His fitness has declined due to the fact that his legs go numb after running for more than 10 minutes and is in intense pain. He does not overeat, in fact I eat more than him and I get called “boney” on a daily basis (5’11″ female 148#). What is he to do?!Thankfully he was medically discharged and won his petition to get paid at his prior rank. Two cases I am sure many people can relate to!! Im sure the AF has good reason for their rule, but their must be a better way of determining fitness other than the current procedure! Its the AF for crying out loud… Throw a few bucks into upgrading the system! If they can justify paying for breast implants to “increase self-esteem” they can surely spend a little money in this department…just saying.

  • In disbelief of how out of touch with reality the Air Force has become!

    I can speak from my own experience on this, I am currently assigned to a patient squadron. My job is basically to go to the dr and my problems are many. Since 2011 I have has multiple surgeries, stuff taken out and hardware put back in, and I am in pain constantly. I try to workout as much as I can, all I can really do is walk, but most days I just don’t feel up to it due to pain. I also take medicine that is known to cause weight gain. I am exempted from all physical components of the test and I am facing a medical board, yet I still have to do the waist measurement. A couple of weeks ago I failed my first pt test, but if you look in my records you could see that my last pt test that I was able to do was an excellent. It makes no sense at all that I should be judged on a test that is ridiculous for my situation, but the big blue machine has no functioning common sense and so I have to fight a pt battle, when I can barely fight the battle of functioning every day. Thus is just my personal account and I think it applies here. Thanks for what I thought was a spot on article.

    • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

      And yet the Army still has Soldiers serving on active duty with missing limbs while the USAF discards perfectly healthy Airmen. I never thought I’d see the day when I thought the Army took better care of its people than the USAF. I now recommend the Army over the USAF. The Army may not be perfect, but the Army knows the value of its people.

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

    Tony, I am blown away by your article. You masterfully put together every thought, feeling and argument I have ever had about the current PT test.
    This test has ruined my career. I went from award winner, top 10% and first pick to lead new projects to being treated like a criminal. All it took was 2 failed tests and a referral rating. I used to put myself “out there” all the time. Now, with no chance of advancing, I’m just biding my time so I can retire with what dignity I have left.

    Thank you so much for writing this heroic article.

  • David Hoopes

    Standing just under 6′ 8″ and weighing somewhere in the 250s, as an active duty O-5, I’m probably among the tallest/biggest guys in the Air Force. I have had my moments where I felt the waist standard was completely unwarranted and unfair. Knock-on-wood, I have not failed a PT test…nor have I had a profile…but each is a struggle and I do crash diet to ensure my waist line meets standards.

    Here’s what I’ve discovered since this standard was published a few years ago. There is merit to the independent research which states that increasing waistlines (for men over 40 inches)…is linked to other health risks (diabetes, heart disease, etc). I’ve also heard, as a general rule for good health, that a man’s waistline should never exceed half his height–So, in my case, I’m just under 80″ tall…so I should have a waistline no larger than 39 (rounding down to the nearest whole number).

    Using this rule, no one in the AF without a height waiver should have a waist greater than 40. When I entered the Service, a waiver was needed for those over 80″ tall. I don’t have references to these studies but because I’ve a vested interest, trust me, they exist.

    My distaste for the standard is that it is blindly applied to men regardless of height. This leads me to believe that the Air Force is geared more toward esthetics than truely embracing good health. In my opinion, the so-called standard is misapplied and maligned against those of us well over 6 feet. If it was truly a fair standard, for Col Bush standing at around 6’1″, his maximum waist measurement should have been closer to 36”. If this were the case, he probably wouldn’t have been promoted to colonel.

    The Air Force has a right to make and enforce physical standards. We need to be vigilant they are equally applied to all members.

    Clearly the AF has chosen this to be well published standard to uphold in order to purge personnel during times of fiscal distress. Take heed.

    I don’t even want to begin to discuss uniform availability for those of us who meet standards…

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

    And speaking of uniforms.The Air Force picked one based completely on looks. Its a crap battle uniform. The USAF is more concerned with image and less on substance. Its like a giant, beautiful Oak tree with a solid, thick trunk and huge spreading branches. It looks like it could withstand the fiercest storms. The only problem is that its core is hollow and weak. Will it withstand the next storm?

  • notright

    abominal measurement is more of a health issue. it has nothign to do with how well someone physically performs. If it is not below standard then in my opinion that person should be pointed towards their medical provider for eval for all the associated disease factors this is suppose to cause. address getting it lowered but not failing a test and ruining careers. some people have love handles that affect the measurement doesnt mean they are not fit.

  • notright

    this standard is causing alot of people to crash diet, take pills and body wraps to try and pass test. thus we are seeing people dying because of this unjust standard. someone taking pills to lose weight then trying to complete a run and dying is not something leaders are thinking about.

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

    People are also getting lipo, vomiting, sitting in saunas, and getting enemas. This test has turned people into criminals and just look at the vitriol aimed at those that don’t meet this standard.

    Threaten someone’s livelihood, back them into a corner and scary things happen. For example, a coworker allegedly forged his PT paperwork to reflect a passing score. Later, he allegedly stabbed himself in the stomach to avoid having to test. The result of these crazy actions will, at best, be an other than honorable discharge. He would have been much better off failing 4 times and getting the honorable. The stress of high ops tempo, long hours, PME, Advanced degrees, deployment…. family! Add to that the fact that you gotta PT. Its unintentional… you know you gotta do it, but somehow it becomes the lowest priority. Its all a balancing act and they all can’t be #1. So, the “Gator closest to the boat” is what is #1. PT is still a little way off… but then before you know it it’s too late to get in shape. Now things get really stressful and desperate. Everything suffers. How well do you think this guy is working now? PT is the only priority. Work suffers and home life suffers and all of this makes things worse.

    Is this what we want for our people? Do we honest want to save them or just say, “Fuck the fat tub of goo, kick all the fatties out”.

    These people are not criminals and, up until they get caught up in the PT trap, they are often my best people. They are my 20%.

    We have to maintain fitness and we have to have a way to ascertain how fit we are, but the test has gone to the extreme.
    What I’d like to see is a return to yearly testing for all, no waist measurement (make it a medical issue), and a real commitment by command at all levels to make/schedule PT into the workday so that nothing, short of war, takes precedence over it.

  • Bob

    Everyone assumes that health and fitness are the reasons for the waist measurement limit. But take a close look at AFI 1-1, paragraph 3.5.
    “…, by maintaining a lean and fit appearance, Air Force members project the proper military image.”
    For years the AF has preached that airmen should maintain a proper military image but this is the first reference I am aware of that correlates a proper military image with a “lean” appearance. Apparently the AF does not consider waists over 39 inches to be part of a lean appearance and hence not the proper military image.

  • Doug

    Great article! This travesty of justice has been overlooked for entirely too long. I’m all for standards, but the waist measurement aspect is anything but standard. Age and genetics are valid arguments, but difficult to establish as standards. To say that Germans are bigger than Asians may have some validity, but is certainly not true in all cases. To say that tall people are bigger than short people is an undeniable truth. To say that someone 6’8” with a 40” waist is fat, while someone 5’3” with a 39” waist is not is beyond ridiculous.

    Using a height to weight (H to W) ratio would be extremely simple to apply. In about 15 minutes I was able to create a spreadsheet that applies these ratios to varying heights. With a small amount of google research, the average adult American male is just under 5’10”. This makes sense if a 35” waist is considered ideal (.5 height to waist) and 39” is the maximum allowable (.557 height to waist).

    In David Hoopes case, he should receive maximum points for a 40” waist since that is exactly half of 80” tall. Instead he’s penalized 7.4 points for maintaining a level in excess of ideal standards (39” waist = .4875 H to W). To receive maximum points he would have to have a H to W ratio of .4375, which sounds downright unhealthy.

    Col Bush would have still fallen just short, but at 6’1” (73”) his ideal waist should be 36.5” and his maximum allowable (.557 H to W) would be 40.7”). A reasonable number and much more within reach.

    Conversely short people receive a huge break. Someone 5’3” with a 39” waist would have an eye popping .619 H to W ratio. This would be the equivalent to the average 5’10” person with a 43.33” waist. Someone 6’8” like David Hoopes would be allowed to have a 49.52” waist. A 5’3” person with a 35” waist would receive maximum points, but in reality would barely exceed the minimum .557 H to W ratio.

    How the Air Force can end careers based on such blatant discrimination baffles me. It’s clearly not about fitness. If it’s about image, fine. Apply the numbers proportionately. Don’t allow short people to look like bowling balls while demanding tall people to maintain almost unrealistic expectations.

    To the sanctimonious marathoners that say “I do it, so everyone should do it”. I know plenty of people that run marathons that can’t keep the weight off. I also know plenty of skinny people that don’t work out at all, shovel down junk food like there’s no tomorrow and can’t walk from one side of the building to the other without being out of breath. Just because it’s easy for some to be skinny, doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone. As has already been pointed out, being skinny CERTAINLY doesn’t mean being fit.

  • Tony Carr

    I find it telling that AFI 1-1, which was supposed to bring an end to so many endless arguments over subjective standards/interpretations, stops short of listing waist measurement maximums … choosing instead to go with “lean and fit” … which is inescapably subjective. This is another clue that the service is ambivalent about drawing a thick red line which might leave it vulnerable to broadsides that would require it to actually defend the standard to its own people. That’s if I’m being charitable. If I’m being more a realist, the Air Force is using the fitness test and waist measurement “standard” as a flexible force shaping tool in a drawdown. It knows it doesn’t have a solid enough evaluation program to draw the proper conclusions from looking at records … so it’s keeping every tool possible in its hands to make “culling the herd” as easy as possible. I sure hope “lean and fit” as defined by a waist measurement provides the best possible future for the world’s most important warfighting force.

    I’ve heard the AF Times will have a piece on this tomorrow. Maybe we’ll both learning something.

  • SolY_Sombra

    Bravo!!!

    Now can someone write the same about CBT’s?

    I don’t know what it’s like in the other branches, in the Air Force , we can no longer turn a wrench as good as before. That said, we can click a mouse and tap a screen better than no one else on this planet.

    • Tony Carr

      I think there are some subject matter areas where a CBT works just fine … but when we find ourselves clicking through CBTs on human trafficking, suicide, and sexual assault, we’re living in a fantasy land to think they’re actually accomplishing anything.

    • http://twitter.com/bunnychi75 bunnychi75 (@bunnychi75)

      LOL! Very true! When my career field merged, in order for my to ‘have a clue’ on the computer part of things, I was subjected to hours upon hours, upon HOURS of CBTs in order to sign off on my training. Oh, and still do my work in the office, BTW! Talk about torture!

  • Anonymous

    Seriously people? You say that a waist measurement is wrong due to all this superfluous rhetoric!?

    It doesn’t change the fact that from the National Heart Foundation to the NHLBI they all agree that waist size has a direct correlation to heart disease and other weight related illnesses. The fact is that over a 37 inch waist men are expected to have health complications. The average male has a 34 inch waist so honestly they’re spotting the entire force 5 inches. Unless you’re Andre the Giant or some seriously yoked out dude I can’t understand how a person who is supposedly “fit to fight” can have a 39 inch waist. I know many a fat guy and a lot of extremely fit dudes and last time I checked none of them had been kicked out for exceeding the waistline.

  • Anonymous

    The key thing is that the waist measurement is a medical issue. It does not matter in war, unless you could agree you are more likely to hit by a bullet. Now, we do know that there may increased medical bills down the road, but you might die earlier as well. A little known fact, smokers cost the military less in the long run, they die earlier, fewer years of medical care and fewer years of retirement pay. I am over 6 foot 4 inches and my waist is supposed to be the same as someone 5 feet tall? What a joke. If we want to do this, then go back to the weight standard that is adjusted by weight….and that had a tape test for those who were muscular.

  • Doug

    Interesting, when I look up the average waist of an adult male, I get 39.7 on the CDC website. I’m not sure which rhetoric you’re referring to. I agree there is plenty of data that supports waist size being an indicator of future health problems. If the number is 37 as you say, remember that is an average. Simple common sense tells you that a 6’8” person with a 39” waist is far more fit and healthy than a 5’2” person with a 39” waist. I don’t understand how you can even debate this. There is just as much data indicating that a waist to height ratio being a more accurate method than simple waist circumference or BMI. The waist to height chart was very simple to create. If the goal is health and fitness, don’t allow short people to skate while tall people are unfairly penalized. Still don’t get how this is rhetoric…

  • Hypocricy Sucks

    A few months ago I had the opportunity to meet the AF/A1, the CSAF, and the AF/IG. In answer to a question, the A1 briefly discussed the tape test and loyally defended it as one would expect (incidentally, he is also thin). The CSAF and the IG were not asked about it for reasons I think are obvious to anyone who has seen them. The CSAF and the IG are GREAT leaders/Americans, I admire both of them, and would not replace them, but quite frankly they both look like they’d easily fail the tape test. Ironically, two of today’s top AF leaders and “enforcers of the standards” are the visual equivalents of the Lemays and Foglemans of yesterday as mentioned in the article. Bottom Line: All three of these officers mentioned are great leaders regardless of their respective sizes, but together they stand as a visual testament of our own hypocrisy, plain and simple. Is the AF selectively enforcing the policy? If so, that would be impossible to respect.

  • Anonymous

    Random to the questions here, but does anyone else notice the amount of different pills and crazy workout juice people take because of the stress and pt tests constantly. I know a few people used to do it but i cant find many out there that does not take something. After the research done there are many very unhealthy ingredients in a lot of the strength weight loss etc. Just about everyone knows that guy who took 2 scoops of black powder before the test to pass for example. heart beating like a humming bird.

    • http://twitter.com/bunnychi75 bunnychi75 (@bunnychi75)

      At Anon, too true on that one…when I was a young airman, the thing was to take Hydroxycut (before they took out the Ephedrene sp?) in order to burn fat/give you energy during workouts and to burn fat(gearing up for the bike test). Then, it turned to taking it FOR energy when they switched to the 1.5 mi. run. When folks started falling out and/or dying, they prohibited us from taking for a while, and the formula changed, not being as effective anymore. Now, like you said, folks are taking other fat burners (I fell into that trap), drinking 5-hour/Monsters/Rock Star/Red Bull before tests for energy. You’re right about that, you felt like you were gonna fall out, but your chest is going like a hummingbird’s…

  • http://twitter.com/bunnychi75 bunnychi75 (@bunnychi75)

    And don’t get me started on all the stories I’d heard of people passing out/dying since this PT test has been implemented! When I was in Japan, during my maternity leave, a SMSgt had actually collapsed and died after his PT test! He was really trying to pass, and after he crossed the finish line, he was done–literally. After that, the entire base made it a point to have AEDs in every single bldg. on base, with the box hooked up with an alarm to the nearest fire dept. on base. At Langley, I saw I don’t know how many blotters about folks who died during PT. Unless you were a part of the squadron it happened in, or didn’t have SIPR (like my shop), you had NO clue! It’s scary that the AF tries to keep incidents like this under wraps!

  • http://gravatar.com/coryacook cc

    With all due respect…this comment is absurd. The AF does not try to keep incidents like this under wraps. In fact, the AF publishes monthly safety statistics (on NIPR) documenting every fatality within the service…be it service related or not. Furthermore, if someone dies while trying to take the PT test, chances are very good they were in a poor health prior to taking the test. The PT test is a minimum standard, if you maintain a basic level of fitness the test is not exceptionally difficult to pass. It is tragic that individuals literally kill themselves trying to pass the PT test. However, these same individuals chose to join the AF knowing full well that meeting fitness standards was a job requirement. The fact that they made poor choices in not maintaining their health is not a poor reflection on the institution, it is a poor reflection of the individual.

  • Mike

    We lost a superior technicican and unreal NCO to the ab-circ. He was 6’7″ and built like a brick shithouse. He was relatively good at the run and would max his push-ups and sit-ups.

    http://www.minot.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123019325

    I could get anecdotal all day with the people we’ve lost. I think Jim is running a hydro parts company somewhere now, but this guy would have made one hell of a Chief.

  • Done Running

    As someone who joined in the early 90′s I witness the WMP, Bike Testing and the new PT testing. I will start off with my own personal experience. When I joined, my stats were 6′ 1″, 150lb, 24″ shoulder span, with a 38 DD chest, and my hips were proportional to my shoulder width, waist was 26 in. yes I am female. I was very active, ran track, cross country in HS. Under WMP since I was under my max allowable weight, I was not measure for the “Fat Boy” program. However I had a wonderful supervisor/mentor who was on the program. he treated everyone fairly and did not allow crap to happen. For instance I was in a male dominated career field, to be exact 75 men and me. He did not allow the guys to pick on me or make sexually discriminating remarks or suggestions. But then again he is not let them pick on each other as well. Unfortunately he never made it to retirement and he would out work any “skinny” person on a daily basis. Then the Bike Testing became the rule, I tested really well on the bike test, so I got selected to be one of the testors for the bike test. I would watch weight lifters who had almost no body fat fail the test as it would go off their weight to set the bike. Here they are pedaling god awful amounts of weight, compared to a 115 lb male who smokes and never seen the inside of the gym ever, and who would pass. In my opinion worst program ever. then along came the new PT program, well for me I could run the 1.5 mile in about 10 mins, exceed the sit-ups and the push-ups, but by then I was over 30, had a child and gain about 30lbs, and I was still under the “max allowable weight” but as my hips expanded so did my waist measurement. I had to struggle to maintain my waist and I was still extremely active, spent about 14-15 hours a week working out. I continued to struggle with that portion of the PT testing for about 5 years. Then on one of my PT test my knee decided it was done with all the running that I have done over the years and dislocated itself while I was running. My knee cap slide off to the side and I went down on the pavement right on that knee joint, I managed to break the bones in the joint area that the knee cap rest on. As well as shatter my wrist. I was at my 18 year mark at this time. I spent about 3 1/2 months in casts and not doing anything but managing pain and trying to go to the bathroom by myself little hard to walk on crutches with your arm (from finger tips to just above the elbow) in a cast. And 60 days after I was removed from my cast I was required to test. 60 days was not enough time. I ended up tearing my knee up again. So now not only did I have a problem with my waist measurement, but now I had a problem with running and push-ups. Finally one of the docs got tired of me coming in for pain or re-damaging my knee and wrist (by this point I had 3 surgeries on my wrist to fix the breaking points and lost mobility in it as well as half my hand was numb as well as 4 knee surgeries to repair broken bones, bone chips floating around, torn tendons) I was MEB’d MEB board returned me to duty but exempt from push-ups and running. So went from fit to unfit over one incident of injury, but had to battle the PT program. Now with only having to meet sit-ups and waist measurement now that was extremely difficult as I did great on sit-ups but now my waist had to be even smaller. So this was a challenge. I had gotten into a conversation with one of our PTL’s she had made a comment about the waist measurement, both of us are the same age range, so the scoring is the same, she had stated that it was not fair, as she is 5’5″ petite build and here I am 6’1″ build bigger than the average male. That the requirements should be different that my build should be taken into account. Keep in mind I have never exceeded the “max allowable weight for my height” in the 20 years I was active duty. But I still battled on to make it to 20 years. When I retired the VA looked at all the crap and found more. Overall I ended up with a 70% disabled rating. I have 4 crushed vertabe in my lower back, and from the fracture marks they predicted I have had this for about 5-6 years, and the reasoning of the fractures in their opinion was from doing massive amount of sit-ups with running impacts on the spine. Because I have never had a injury to my lower back. My knee they immediately got me in to get a replacement as they stated that should have been done when I injured it. And with talking with the VA Doc’s they have made numerous comments about those who they are seeing come through the VA system having lots of issues that are attributed to the PT testing, lots of knee, shoulder and lower back issues. Which contributes to their VA rating so peeps retiring or separating are getting rated higher as it is considered service-connected and in essence costing more money in the long run.

  • Anonymous

    Using a waist measureme t to determine fitness is the equivalent to measuring your head to see how smart you are.

    Fitness should be performance based.

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