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Airmen duck walk with their weapons during the Air Force pararescuemen indoctrination "Hell Week" course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 6, 2011. The duck walk is an exercise every military recruit completes during the physical evaluation at military entrance processing stations.

Airmen duck walk with their weapons during the Air Force pararescuemen indoctrination "Hell Week" course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 6, 2011. The duck walk is an exercise every military recruit completes during the physical evaluation at military entrance processing stations. (Vernon Young Jr./U.S. Air Force)

No matter what military service they join, hopeful recruits have shared one defining experience — the unusual, and for some, embarrassing group medical exams at military entrance processing stations.

But a new approach to screenings will consist of fewer exercises and will eliminate group exams, U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command said Monday.

Recruits will no longer be required to stand in their underwear among fellow military hopefuls, and instead will undergo a neuro-muscular-skeletal exam of just 10 exercises individually, it said.

The knee walk and knee fall are being eliminated, while other maneuvers will be combined or altered. This will allow recruits to proceed to follow-on stations without having to wait around for the group, the statement said.

The old exam required enlistees of the same gender to perform 23 exercises in tandem and individually in front of their peers, while chief medical officers assessed muscular and skeletal readiness, the command said.

The changes have been driven by more focused and efficient examination techniques, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kevin Cummings, MEPCOM command surgeon, said in the statement.

Army 1st Lt. Juan Fajardo administers the oath of enlistment to recruits at the Military Entrance Processing Station, Fort Dix, N.J., Aug. 11, 2021. The new version of the MEPS medical exam excludes the group physical exam.

Army 1st Lt. Juan Fajardo administers the oath of enlistment to recruits at the Military Entrance Processing Station, Fort Dix, N.J., Aug. 11, 2021. The new version of the MEPS medical exam excludes the group physical exam. (Diana Quinlan/U.S. Navy)

“We’ve progressed in our ability to evaluate physical function to the point that people standing around together isn’t necessary,” Cummings said. “If this method of screening was still effective, we would still do it because mission comes first. But it’s not as effective.”

One exam that will remain in a private, abbreviated form is the infamous “duck walk,” which for many recruits is their first experience in the military.

Social media blogs and videos prepare applicants for the exam and explain what they can expect — even before swearing the oath of enlistment and boarding the bus to basic training.

The move asks participants to walk in a crouched position, lifting their feet off the ground without standing up and rolling the foot heel-to-toe as smoothly as possible.

Officials said the maneuver still fits the proverbial bill and helps evaluate whether recruits have flat feet or other skeletal issues that could prevent them from “taking flight” and performing demanding physical tasks later in their military training.

“The duck walk is valuable because it involves coordination, balance, nervous system and muscle activation … many things are covered at one time,” Cummings said. “In the past we would have applicants walk all the way across the room and then walk back. Now on the exam they will duck walk two to three steps.”

The new exam will begin at select stations in the coming days, with a broad rollout following in February.

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Alexander reports on the U.S. military and local news in Europe for Stars and Stripes in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He has 10 years experience as an Air Force photojournalist covering operations in Timor-Leste, Guam and the Middle East. He graduated from Penn State University and is a Defense Information School alumnus.
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