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Be fit to fight because it's right

LAUGHLIN AFB, TEXAS -- The demand for fit-to-fight warriors has never been greater than it is today. Our fit-to-fight program enters its third year as we operate in austere field conditions delivering air, space, and cyberspace power to the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. We also find ourselves engaged in several humanitarian missions around the globe and here at home.

The nature of our business in the 21st Century demands we be fit-to-fight...tonight! In order to meet these challenges, former Air Force Chief of Staff, General John P. Jumper, instituted landmark changes to our fitness program in January 2004 with particular attention on our preparedness to deploy and fight. Today, our commanders are integrating fitness into their units with a mindset more focused on our warrior culture, but it has not always been that way.

Decade by decade, I've witnessed our fitness program evolve from one that promoted an unhealthy lifestyle in the 70s to the robust one we have today. During my first duty assignment at Clark Air Base, Philippines in 1978, the fitness test consisted of an annual 1.5 mile run for time.

If you were 40 years or older, you were required to walk 3 miles for time. I have memories from those days of some Vietnam era Airmen walking their three-mile fitness test while carrying a coffee cup and smoking a cigarette! Times have certainly changed.

While stationed at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado in the late 80s, rumors abounded about adding a muscular fitness test to the annual 1.5 mile run that included push-ups, sit-ups...and even chin-ups. At the time, it sounded like the Air Force was pushing fitness to the forefront; however, none of these initiatives gained momentum or came to fruition.

In the 90s, we changed the 1.5-mile run to cycle ergometry as a safe way of measuring aerobic fitness. This change was because we were experiencing an alarming number of injuries and even fatalities associated with the 1.5 mile run.

In some circles, this way of measuring fitness was controversial. Nonetheless, it had a place in history and is still used to measure aerobic fitness for our profilers today.

As we entered the 21st Century, we started adding practice push-ups and sit-ups to the annual cycle ergometry test in advance of better things to come. Then in January 2004, under General Jumper's leadership, we finally instituted the most fundamental change in fitness during my three decades of service...our current PT program.

Fit-to-fight is a significant force multiplier in operational and personnel readiness. Accordingly, it makes good sense that we put responsibility for PT in the chain of command, not with the medical community or the orderly rooms as before. Commanders, flanked by their SNCOs, must lead from the front.

In this charge, our focus must be on promoting an active and healthy life-style that complements readiness. To achieve this objective, our senior leadership has made unit PT part of the normal duty day emphasizing their commitment to the program and underscoring the importance of physical fitness in today's Air Force.

Our Air Force Physical Fitness Test provides a good cross-section examination of our aerobic and muscular fitness as well as ensuring we maintain a proper military image. We will continue to fine tune the performance standards. In the meantime, we must strive for continuous improvement in push-ups, sit-ups, and the run time. A solid unit PT program is an enabler to this end. Every Airman has an individual responsibility to improve their fitness; "excellence in all we do" is our compass to guide us to fitness excellence. Although being fit-to-fight is central to readiness, there is another important aspect to organized unit PT. In my mind, it's an opportunity for the entire unit to get together three times a week for team building activities and to enhance unit cohesion. This is especially important in this computer age where the ease of cyberspace tends to dominate our communications with others. Good old-fashioned face time is a precious commodity and unit PT delivers it in unprecedented style.

Just around the corner, you can expect to see your fit-to-fight number start to appear on performance reports. In my estimation, this is long overdue. We have the best and brightest force ever.

Sometimes this makes it difficult to distinguish the best of the best when it comes to assignments, promotions, and awards. This tangible performance indicator gives our supervisors better decision-making ability, and that's important when selecting the right person for the right job, grade, and recognition.

Our Professional Military Education system also requires our military members meet satisfactory fitness standards in order to attend, and that's consistent with professional development, both mentally and physically.

In today's Air Force, we are all Battlefield Airmen. Being fit-to-fight is fundamental in our ability to fight and win America's wars. Our motivation must not be on passing the Physical Fitness test once a year. More important, our focus must be on changing the culture to make fitness part of everyday service. The warrior culture demands it...be fit-to-fight...because it's right!