Injuries complicate quest to reach fitness goals for Misawa airman
Stars and Stripes June 7, 2007
Pacific edition, Thursday, June 7, 2007
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan
More than three years after the Air Force rolled out its “Fit to Fight” fitness program, Misawa Air Base officials say more people are meeting the fitness standards.
In October 2005, for instance, 195 people were in the “Fitness Improvement Program” (FIP) after scoring a composite 70 points or fewer out of 100 on their annual fitness test, according to Maj. James Stryd, 35th Aeromedical Squadron health promotion flight commander. Currently, 56 people at Misawa are in the program.
Stryd attributes the decrease to mandatory unit physical training, a component of “Fit to Fight” that requires units to work out together three times a week.
But some airmen who can’t perform all test areas due to a medical condition or injury say they’re at an unfair disadvantage.
Of the 56 people currently in FIP, seven are on a medical profile, according to Stryd.
A recurring back injury made Tech. Sgt. James Cook ineligible for everything but getting his waist measured.
The Air Force Physical Assessment includes a 1.5-mile run, one minute of push-ups, one minute of crunches and abdominal circumference measurement.
With a midsection at 39 inches, Cook failed the test and landed in FIP.
He’ll have to retest in 90 days, not enough time to drop down to a passing 34 inches, he figures. In the meantime, he’s required to work out five times a week with other members of his 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron shop who also are in FIP.
At first, he felt it unfair to be in the program because of his condition.
“But there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. “The program is designed that way. It’s like with anything in the military, whether I personally think it’s fair or not, it doesn’t really matter. That’s what we signed up for.”
On the plus side, he’s already lost 33 pounds and says FIP has come a long way from the days of the Air Force’s old weight management program.
Michele Pittman, an exercise physiologist at Misawa’s Health and Wellness Center, said FIP combines a multidisciplinary approach, targeting both exercise and nutrition. Airmen in the program initially must attend a “healthy living” class and report back to the HAWC monthly for one-on-one consultations. The HAWC also trains unit physical training leaders on how to conduct PT sessions for their FIP airmen, she said.
Airmen in FIP retest every 90 days. According to Air Force guidance, four consecutive scores of “poor” or four “poors” in a two-year period garners one a look by one’s commander and legal advisers.
“It’s not a point of separation. It’s a recommendation for retention or separation,” Pittman said.
The HAWC recently completed an 18-month study that found 94 percent of airmen in FIP eventually received a passing score after going through the program, Stryd said.
Base officials said in the past year at Misawa, there have been three fitness discharges. All three were on a medical profile at some point after failing their test the first time, officials said.
Staff Sgt. Brian Kirst is trying not to become a discharge stat.
He can’t run because of a titanium rod in his left leg, a permanent reminder of a motorcycle accident four years ago.
“I can’t run at all unless it’s a life-or-death situation,” he said.
The Air Force requires airmen who can’t run due to a medical condition or injury to perform cycle ergometry as part of their annual fitness test.
Kirst, 32, also with 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron, has failed the bike test twice in the last two years and will re-test in July.
“I can still do my job. I can still do everything the military requires me to do,” he said. “The only thing I can’t do is keep my heartbeat between 140 and 147 beats per minute in order to exceed the [bike] standard.”
He wishes the Air Force would be more flexible in its options for him, such as allowing him to complete a timed 1.5-mile run on an elliptical trainer. Airmen on the track, he notes, are tested on time and not heart rate.
Stryd, in an e-mail response, said that if a person is showing progress, each unit commander “takes it under account and has discretion as what to do on an individual basis, there are no hard and fast rules. Commanders have options with the new fitness program.”
Stryd also noted that if an airman has a continuous medical issue for a year, Air Force guidance requires a medical evaluation board review the airman’s case and issue a recommendation.