Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson participate in a physical readiness test in August 2022 at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego.

Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson participate in a physical readiness test in August 2022 at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego. (Leon Vonguyen/U.S. Navy )

The Navy will no longer automatically end the careers of sailors who fail two consecutive fitness tests, according to a service policy released this week.

Previously, sailors who failed one physical fitness assessment would be placed in their command’s mandatory fitness program. They also would be restricted from advancing until they passed the next fitness test. A second consecutive failure would prohibit sailors from advancing or reenlisting, according to a prior policy.

The new policy, which became effective Tuesday, relaxes the career-ending mandate, instead leaving the decision to a sailor’s commanding officer.

“Commanding officers are able to evaluate a sailor’s physical readiness progress or lack of progress in performance evaluations, giving them the ability to manage risk, recognize earnest effort, and best take care of their people,” Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, chief of naval personnel, said in the administrative message.

While sailors will still be ineligible for advancement if they fail a fitness assessment, the failure will no longer be noted on annual evaluations. Additionally, sailors who fail a second consecutive fitness assessment will not automatically receive the lowest possible score in the “Military Bearing/Professionalism” category of their annual evaluations.

Instead, the policy encourages commanding officers to document a sailor’s progress and initiative in meeting physical fitness standards.

In determining a sailor’s retention eligibility, commands should consider the sailor’s qualification for continued service based on the ability to perform the functions of their rate without physical or medical limitation at sea, shore or isolated duty. They should also consider a sailor’s overall ability to contribute to Navy missions and a sailor’s likelihood of improvement in meeting fitness standards within 12 months.

The policy change is part of the Navy’s “Culture of Excellence 2.0,” a service-wide effort to improve leadership principles and standards, according to the administrative message.

“Building the bodies of great people is more than annual (or biannual) testing and includes ensuring healthy food, adequate sleep, opportunities to exercise (especially outside), and medical readiness,” Cheeseman said in the message.

The latest change comes as the Navy struggles to meet its recruitment goal for the second year in a row, with service officials having predicted a shortfall of approximately 6,000 sailors. But Navy officials have said the service surpassed its retention goal for 2024, retaining 16,967 active-duty sailors, Task and Purpose reported.

The Navy made changes to its fitness test in 2015, altering its policy at the time from discharging sailors who failed three fitness assessments in four years to kicking out sailors who failed two in three years, Stars and Stripes reported. The Navy abandoned that policy in 2017, replacing it with the two consecutive fitness-assessment failures mandate. At the time, the Navy was seeking to recruit 4,000 members.

In February 2023, the service wiped the slate clean for active-duty and Reserve sailors who failed fitness tests, resetting their records to zero, in a bid to retain members.

Between the two policy changes, in 2021, the Navy shifted to a single annual fitness testing cycle. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the service had two annual testing cycles. The new policy upholds the single annual fitness cycle through November 2025.

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Caitlyn Burchett covers defense news at the Pentagon. Before joining Stars and Stripes, she was the military reporter for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. She is based in Washington, D.C.

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