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The airmen calling for demise of the abdominal waist circumference measure are numerous and loud, but not all think the tape test is unfair.
Senior Airman Jeffrey Poovey has seen airmen at their best and their worst while taking the Air Force physical training test, and he says it's time for some airmen to own up to their shortcomings.
The former active-duty enlisted airman, now a reservist and fitness specialist at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., said he's conducted fitness tests and he's worked in the fitness assessment cell. He believes Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody would be shocked at the things he's seen from people who clearly hadn't worked out at all before their test, including those who figure they only need to hit the minimums, and then fail the test by one or two pushups.
“When they fail the test, they're going to tell you the worst-case scenario to make themselves feel better,” he said. “They really know what happened.”
While he's seen fit airmen fail to get maximum points on their waist circumference, one thing he's never seen is an obese airman who could pass the other components of the test. He said airmen tipping waist measurements at more than 39 inches are likely obese unless they are really tall.
“The waist measurement test is a completely fair test,” he said. “How it is scored is the issue.”
Poovey is an advocate of giving airmen a blanket score, or full points, for meeting the minimum standard.
Staff Sgt. John Fondren said in an email there will never be a perfect PT test and people will always believe it is unfair no matter how it is changed.
“I get it,” he said. “But the main issue is not the test, but rather the mentality of our airmen. We can't continue to change the standards just because someone does not like them.”
Fondren said if Cody does look at something regarding the test, he might consider allowing raters to justify “more than meets,” “does not meet,” or “exempt” on their enlisted performance report. He'd also be a fan of having the fitness score added to one's promotion points.
“Maybe that would give people a little extra incentive to fix themselves,” he said. “In the end, the people who are failing the waist measurement have to want to change for themselves, not just for the PT test.”
Maj. Brian Slader, a reservist, said he's not buying the whole “big guys can't make the tape” argument, though he admits his 38-inch waist keeps him from getting a higher score on his PT test. He's 6-foot-5.
“Overall, I feel the PT test, including the tape, is a fair assessment of my overall fitness,” Slader said.
Staff Sgt. Kamaile Long is an airman leadership school instructor at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and a physical training leader. In his experience, airmen with bigger waistlines are more likely to be overweight and not physically fit.
“There is a small group of individuals who will argue the waist measurement is not a ‘fair' gauge of whether or not an individual is physically fit because some people are just built differently,” he said in an email. “In those cases, I do believe their body fat percentage should be taken into account.”
Long said it comes down to looking professional in uniform at all times, and having a large midsection is not an indication that an airman is maintaining the highest standards of excellence.
“There is no room for excuses in our Air Force today,” he said.