Fitness just another job requirement?

Social Revolution

Social Revolution

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CALIF. -- As much as I love being an Air Force reservist, there are a few things I'm required to do that, quite frankly, I just don't like.

For example, I absolutely despise wearing blues with every fiber of my being. I've loathed them since the first time I was forced to wear them at basic training. Long sleeve, short sleeve or service dress, the combination doesn't matter. I find them to be incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient. All that ironing, the starch, the work that goes into preparing them ... it's always such a pain!

Yet every Sunday evening, I break out my ironing board and spend a good half-hour spraying starch and pressing creases into my shirt sleeves, ironing the collar, and making sure my name tag and service badge are pinned on straight. Every Monday morning I don that stiff-as-a-board shirt, put on the suffocating blue pants along with those dreaded, torturous shirt-stays and go to work.

I don't like wearing blues, but I do it each and every Monday because it's what the Air Force requires. There are established standards of dress and appearance that I am obligated to meet, and that means ironing my blues and putting in the effort to present a professional image while wearing them. Whether I like it or not, it's a requirement of my job.

Next month, another requirement for reservist will come into play that has garnered some dislike. The much debated, newly revised fitness program will officially take effect on July 1. The new program demands higher fitness standards as well as biannual testing requirements for those scoring below "excellent" on the fitness assessment. It also holds severe consequences, up to mandatory separation for multiple failures of the fitness assessment.

With the new policy, the command has made its message clear: For members of the Air Force, fitness can't be just about passing an annual test. Instead, it must become a way of life.

The new policy has been met with some strong backlash from many service members. A quick check of Internet message boards on the topic revealed hundreds of comments regarding the new program, most of which discussed the "inconvenience" of the policy, arguing the Air Force is placing "too much emphasis on fitness," and that the assessment itself is "unfair and biased."

Some argued there should be lower fitness standards for those who don't perform physically demanding duties. After all, several jobs in the Air Force are regarded as office work. It would be one thing if we were all out pounding the ground like the Army or Marine Corps, but this is the Air Force! What's the point of emphasizing fitness if the heaviest object lifted all day is the office coffee pot?

Plenty, if research is any indication. Numerous studies have shown that even small amounts of exercise lead to improvements in all aspects of life, including office work. It's proven that fitness leads to better problem solving skills and increased memory. Researchers at the Harvard School of Medicine state that regular aerobic exercise can increase cognitive ability by up to 20 percent. The takeaway is simple: The more physically fit you are, the better you will be able to perform your duties, no matter what they may be. If we are truly living the core value of "excellence in all we do," we should be taking every step necessary to perform at the highest level, including maintaining a high level of fitness. The fitness program simply provides more incentive to do so.

One of the most echoed complaints about the new fitness program is that the test is not "fair," that it is "biased" toward "skinny people who can run but can't bench press their own bodyweight."

As one of those so-called "skinny people," I can appreciate the argument that certain criteria of the test may be easier or in some cases, more difficult, for certain individuals. Not everyone is a natural-born runner. Not everyone can crank out 100 push-ups or sit-ups in a minute. But I also have no doubt whatsoever that with hard work, absolutely anyone can meet the minimum requirements to pass the fitness assessment. It's simply a matter of making proper lifestyle choices, and doing what is necessary to pass the fitness test. While a perfect overall score may not be within everyone's reach, there is no reason for any reservist's career to end simply because of failing the fitness assessment.

Admittedly, finding time to work out and practice for the test can be a challenge. The key lies in making fitness a daily priority. Whether that means getting up a bit earlier in the morning to go for a jog or hitting the base gym during your lunch hour, the time is there if you look for it. And once you set that routine, you'll begin reaping the benefits of the effort. The payoff of your effort will make it that much easier to stick to the commitment of being fit ... and that much easier to pass the test.

The Air Force fitness program isn't perfect. It may not be something everyone particularly likes. But, much like wearing blues every Monday, it is the standard that is in place. As members of the Air Force Reserve, it is our obligation to put in the effort required to meet that standard.

In the end, it's not about passing a test. It's about developing a lifestyle of healthy living, and finding the motivation to maintain fitness, even if working out is something we don't particularly like.

As far as my own personal motivation maintaining fitness is concerned ... well, if nothing else, I figure I'll at least look better when I'm wearing blues on Monday.