A recent Military Times study of body fat and waist measurements among all the services drew sharp criticism from experts, who said it should not be the deciding factor in a service member’s career.
But that’s what it has become for some airmen, most notably Col. Tim Bush, the former wing commander at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., who was relieved of command in March after failing to make the tape by 2 inches. Like other airmen, he passed the 1.5-mile run, situp and pushup portions of the test.
Airmen whose waist measurements exceed the maximum 39 inches for men and 35.5 inches for women fail the entire test, regardless of their scores on the other three portions. And regardless of their height. That’s just unfair for those who are otherwise physically fit.
Air Force leaders are in the midst of a six-month review into whether the the waist measurement should be dumped. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh is expected to issue a final decision soon.
The Air Force’s experts defend the waist measurement, stressing it is based on scientific evidence that thicker midsections are a good indicator of health risks such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Fat that collects around the liver and kidneys is dangerous, even for those with low overall body fat.
That’s a good argument for continuing to tape airmen — but not as part of the PT test.
Leaders should retain the cardio and strength measurements of the test and make the tape part of a nonthreatening health assessment. Airmen might stop going to unhealthy extremes to pass a test and begin to focus on what Air Force leaders say matters most: their health.