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Base gyms to be open 24/7

Aug. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Twenty-four hour gyms are on their way to your base, if your commander wants it.

The Air Force just wrapped up the test phase of leaving base gyms open 24 hours a day, accessible with a Common Access Card, as a way for airmen who work swing shifts or other odd hours to get in their workouts.

“The airmen loved it,” said Lt. Col. Richard Roberts, the action officer for the 24/7 PT Initiative. “The gym is not as busy in the night time. They can get in their workouts quicker, they can tailor it to their needs.”

The idea of having the gym open for all hours came from airmen in “non-traditional” jobs — security forces and maintainers, for example — who would come off their swing shift and the gym would be closed, Roberts said.

Airmen use their CAC card to get into the gym off hours, and surveillance systems will watch over the facilities. The gyms will have posted standards, and installation commanders will conduct risk assessments of the facilities. Each will have First Aid Kits, emergency defibrillators and phones with emergency numbers lists. In addition to airmen, dependents at certain bases might be able to use the facilities, depending on the base’s policy. Dependents who are 16 to 17 years old have to register and and be with a sponsor to enter.

Air Force officials developed the concept last year, and obtained a temporary policy waiver to be able to get around a Defense Department policy that requires two employees on duty when a base fitness center is open. A study began in March at Joint Base Andrews, Md.; Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.; Scott Air Force Base, Ill.; F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.; Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.; and Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.

The initial results are that the program is a success.

“We’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from the airmen most importantly, and the test bases,” Roberts said. “It’s working really well, and everybody seems to be enjoying the extra access.”

During the test phase, the Air Force collected information on gym use, additional cost and incidents reported. Now, program officials are taking that data to the Air Force and Defense secretaries to obtain a permanent waiver from the two-employee policy. The program is a model for the Defense Department’s Healthy Bases Initiative, and could be implemented at bases outside of the Air Force.

Roberts said 50,000 customers have visited the base gyms since since the program started in June, a 21 percent increase over visits in March. None of the gyms reported safety or theft incidents, he said.

The cost of keeping the gyms open all hours is about $300 per base so far — for the increased use of utilities.

The new program will be an option for bases across the Air Force, including outside the continental U.S. Direction will go out to major commands in 30 to 45 days, and it will be up to each commander to decide to implement the policy at each base, Richards said.

Initial reaction to the announcement showed that the move was something that airmen have wanted for a while, if not years.

“As a Security Forces member, I think 24 hour base gyms are long overdue,” wrote Chuck Nash, who identifies himself with the 75th Security Forces squadron, on the Air Force Times website. “I’m stationed at Hill (Air Force Base, Utah) and by the time I get off work the gym is closed. I just bought a membership to 24 Hour Fitness and I love it. In a way I feel like I am deployed again when it comes to working out.”

“Great idea, a little extra money, but will affect a big part of our force, in turn affecting us all,” Facebook user Johnny Perches wrote.

The expansion of hours comes as some other services have been forced to cut back on fitness due to mandatory budget cuts. Earlier this year, the Marine Corps announced that some installations have been forced to cut back on hours, eliminate classes and increase user fees.

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