U.S. Air Force Airmen participate in the run portion of the physical fitness test with physical training leaders, Dec. 1, 2016, at the Risner Fitness Center on Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nick Emerick/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airmen participate in the run portion of the physical fitness test with physical training leaders, Dec. 1, 2016, at the Risner Fitness Center on Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nick Emerick/Released)

During a recent review of walking and running tracks, the Air Force has discovered 17 base tracks are too long. Conversely, the tracks at Nellis AFB, NV, and Scott AFB, IL are 63 feet too short and 9 feet too short respectively for the 1.5-mile PT test.

In a Dec. 21 interview at the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, director of military force management policy, called the number of wrongfully measured tracks “very surprising.”

When the Air Force places so much emphasis on PT tests in regard to performance reporting and WAPS testing, you’d think measuring a track would be a substantial priority … especially when we are tying career consequences to the test.

“Our airmen work hard for fitness and readiness,” Kelly said. “So we owe them a 100-percent credible and capable system when we’re dealing with fitness. Even if it’s only one airman (affected), it’s still wrong. We want it right for everybody.”

Therein lies the problem. The system is neither credible nor capable, which came to light after an October review where Goodfellow AFB’s track was found to be 85 feet too long and Hanscom AFB’s track, the most egregious, was discovered to be more than 360 feet too long.

According to an October report, 59 airmen wrongly failed their PT test due to measurement errors at these bases, and even though the Air Force says it vows to fix the tracks, there are airmen who paid the price for the service’s errors.

The service admits an airman was wrongly discharged after failing the PT test at Goodfellow and others who were subsequently passed over for promotion, Kelly said.  He continued, the enlisted airmen could be reconsidered as part of the supplemental promotion process, and officers could have a special board review their non-selection.

We’re not sure what’s worse. A service who makes career-ending measurement errors or airmen who fall short of passing a test by a mere 85 feet. We wholeheartedly agree testing must have a solid baseline from which to measure the standard, but it can also be argued that for airman Snuffy, whose job it is to spend countless hours sitting in a chair in support of the warfighter, a one-size fits all PT standard may not be the way ahead.

Soldiers on the front line need the endurance to go toe-to-toe with our nation’s enemies, while a good portion of our Air Force may never see a world outside their cubicle-filled office space.

Lt. Gen. Gina M. Grosso is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services recently said in an Air Force Times interview, “How much brawn does the military need, and how much intellect? I think about a cyber warrior. Do I care what a cyber warrior weighs? Do I care if he can run a mile and a half in 12 minutes?”

We tend to agree with Grosso. We’re short on money and we’re undermanned, yet we can spend countless time, energy and tax-payer dollars sending commanders to boondoggles so they can discuss PT standards then send them back to their home stations to cut airman lose based on waistlines and poor track and field performance.

And while upward of 100 airmen, according to Kelly, could have been adversely affected by tracks that are too long, those who “falsely” passed tests on tracks that are too short will not come under review or have their fitness scores adjusted.

Is it time to re-evaluate the Air Force’s fitness standards? Is it time to forego the tradition of, “If you’re late, you better bring the donuts?” Do we relinquish the cake-laden birthday and going away parties, and acquiesce to a culture where missing the fitness standard by 85 feet can possibly end your career?

Grosso’s remarks can possibly be a change in attitude from senior leadership. But like other changes aimed at increasing mission readiness and morale, it may take time … time some airmen might not have because they’ve indulged one too many times in the “office promoted” cake binge and time they may not have due to a system that places more value on waistline measurements then it does measuring the foundation used to grade airman readiness, promotion eligibility and retainability.

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