02JUN10, an Air Force Veterans view of the Air Force PT mindset...

I've seen some friends of mine get Medically removed from the Air Force over the years over Physical FItness, and now I'm watching a couple more face "Force Shaping" for the same reasons. For the most part, the medical has been due to injury in a dangerous line of work (and I don't mean the flight line either...), as being a USAF TACP is spent mostly with the Army doing Army things (blowing stuff up, carrying around 200 lbs of gear up mountain and hill sides, and jumping out airplanes if so qualified...). Coming from a TACP background, we always considered physical fitness a duty requirement, and a key to battlefield survival ("The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war!") and therefore included PT in the duty day. This even ran into friction from our "Big Blue" Air Force members who were assigned to Air Support Operations Squadrons for a short part of their careers... We even had a commander at Ft. Riley cancel PT in OCT01 because he thought PT was a 'privilege', whats worse was he was an A-10 driver and ASOS commander expected to lead Airmen during a time of war alongside the Army... Needless to say, morale improved when he left or for the members TDY away from Ft. Riley to tropical paradises like Kuwait where PT was reincorporated back into the beginning of the duty day.

Sadly, our old commander there maintained the Air Force senior leaderships view on PT, and it continues to this day. I've heard all sorts of excuses as to why the Air Force believes PT shouldn't be a part of the duty day, in spite of 22,000 some odd airmen failing PT tests, ranging from the 'privilege' excuse to 'we have a 24 hour flight line to maintain'. Interesting, because I've seen the Army do the same and more, and still do unit PT every day of the week. But then, I was one them "Battlefield Airmen"... Honestly, if the Air Force senior leadership took responsibility for THEIR failure and changed Air Force policy, things would change. Over the decades they have failed their Airmen, and now we see the results.

Here is a letter I wrote my Senators and Representative:

Dear Senator

I'm witnessing another friend of mine on active duty in the Air Force go through a possible separation as a result of failing a Physical Fitness Exam. While this is mostly understood as a failure to maintain standards by the member, and is their responsibility, blame also goes to the Air Force and the senior leadership. What frustrates me most about his situation is the fact that he was able to lose weight and improve his score quite visibly and dramatically, but ended up getting hurt in the process. In fact, his injury is that of over use (knee injury) due to increased milage running. While he is accepting responsibility for his failure, as its not the first time, the Air Force should also accept the failure on their part.

I served in the United States Air Force as a 1C4X1 Tactical Air Command and Control Specialist for 6 years and 11 months (01AUG00-01JUL07), and spent most of that time stationed on US Army bases supporting US Army combat units. For our careerfield, we dispensed with US Air Force PT 'standards' in favor of US Army PT standards as that is who we needed to support. To a large degree, this was done because we needed to ensure our Airmen could keep up with the Army, if not out do the Army (it is a point of pride for us to take trophies at US Army run races like the 10-miler, I personally have a nice 3rd Place trophy from the 2004 8th Army Marathon held at Cp. Casey Korea...). In order to do this however, we had to fight with the US Air Force more than once.

At Ft. Riley Kansas in 2001, our new commander actually cancelled unit PT at the beginning of the duty day because he believed that PT was a 'privilege' like it was in the rest of the Air Force. This mindset decimated unit morale and combat readiness, not even a month after GWOT began. Our Airmen who went to the Health and Wellness Center on McConnell Air Force base would take the old USAF Ergo bike test, and routinely fail until they drank coffee to get their pulse up, yet were running Marathons and scoring a perfect “300” on the US Army PT Test. In early 2002 the USAF began 'experimenting' with push-ups and crunches along with the bike and found that 80% of Airmen failed these events (while the men of the USAF TACP, CCT, Para Rescue, and SERE Instructors blew them away...).

What is different about the way TACPs and other Air Force “Battlefield Airmen” have conducted PT? I strongly suspect its because we ignored actual “Blue” Air Force guidance about how PT should be separate from the duty day. I strongly suspect its the influence of our being around the US Army, US Marines, and US SOCOM and that established the mentality that Physical Fitness is as much a part of battlefield survival as marksmanship and technical knowledge of our weapons system. This should be the mentality the US Air Force as a WHOLE should embrace, not the current mentality where the idea is PT is 'on your own'. PT is a unit readiness issue, and should therefore be a part of the units duty day. It always amazed me to go to an Air Force base and see how out of shape my fellow Airmen were, and all under the excuse of “We have a flight line to run”, while we see our Army Aviation units that we provided JTAC and TACP support to run the same style of flight line doing PT just about every single day before going to work.

I wrote a letter to the AF.mil website, and I strongly suspect it won't be published, but it needs to be said somewhere and pointed out the Air Force senior leadership:

“As an Air Force TACP Veteran, I'd like to point out a reason behind the Air Forces systemic failure to maintain good physical fitness standards. Mainly, the senior leaderships failure to maintain a consistant PT mindset the last few decades. I only served a short time, but have witness various changes, and luckily been immune to most of the effects having been stationed with the US Army most of my career (which has greatly effected my perspective on PT).

USAF Senior leadership has failed the Air Force completely by not incorporating PT into the duty day, and indeed viewing PT as a 'privilege' to quote an old commander who took over command of my first ASOS unit when I was an Airman. PT is a battlefield survival factor as much as technical qualifications and marksmanship. Until the Air Force senior leadership admits their error, and incorporates PT into a DAILY habit as part of the duty day, the Air Force will suffer disappointment after disappointment of tens of thousands of Airmen failing PT standards. If anyone needs forced out under Force Shaping for failing PT, its the Generals and Senior Enlisted leadership who refuse to do what the US Army and US Marine Corps have done for decades (while maintaining fully functioning flight lines and operating in combat environments I might add...), and make PT the first priority of the duty day every duty day.”

It is not the enlisted men of the mid-tier (E-5 through E-7) who should suffer alone in facing Force Shaping separations without retirement benefits for failure to maintain Physical Fitness standards, it is also the Generals and Chief Master Sergeants with decades of service who established a mentality of 'PT is a privilege' who should face the same fate as their Airmen. 22,000 Airmen have failed a PT test, this isn't and individual failure by any means, this is a systemic problem and the consequences need to start with the leadership that failed these Airmen by being a poor personal example and not establishing good sound policies that the US Army and US Marine Corp have been able to accomplish. If the “Battlefield Airmen” can do it, the rest of the Air Force can, and it needs to start at the top.


Michael “Sudsy” Sutherland

Veteran, Operation Iraqi Freedom, deployed with the 3rd ASOS Ft. Wainwright AK in support of:
172nd SBCT AUG05-FEB06
4-25 ABCT NOV06-MAY07

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