March 17, 2009:
The U.S. Navy is taking advantage of having too many sailors, by raising standards. Four years ago, it revived emphasis on passing the annual physical fitness test. For six years before that, the navy had lightened up on that, especially the weight (or, rather, overweight) rules. The navy eased up on the fitness rules in the first place, because it appeared that too many otherwise well qualified sailors were being forced out. But commanders believed that out-of-shape sailors were a risk to themselves, and everyone else, on the ships they serve. Just getting around all the ladders and confined spaces of a ship is physically demanding, and can be a matter of life or death during combat.
The fitness issue is tough. Navy food is generally quite good, and many sailors these days work at sedentary jobs. Moreover, the work schedules don�t leave much time for hitting the gym (most ships have an exercise room.) However, the navy has more people than it needs, and has decided that physical fitness and willingness to work for promotion are two ways to decide who, among people otherwise qualified, shall stay and who shall leave.
Sailors got the message, and currently 95.9 percent pass the semi-annual physical readiness test, and very few sailors have a problem with weight. But now the navy is going to come down harder on sailors that fail the physical fitness test. Promotions will be harder to get if you are not fit. The navy is putting particular pressure on senior NCOs, who are the ones most responsible for getting junior sailors to shape up.