May 21, 2009:
In the last decade, the U.S. military services (especially the Air Force and Navy) have increased their physical fitness standards. Both services took advantage of the fact that they were reducing their headcount, and began raising standards to weed out the least fit (and most likely to get injured or ill). This included a revived emphasis on passing the annual, and sometimes semi-annual, physical fitness test. The brass saw this as a way to make their personnel healthier, whether they wanted to be or not. This leads to fewer accidents, and reduced health care costs.
Physical fitness was not a problem with the fifteen percent of military personnel who had combat jobs. With these troops, fitness is a mania. But everyone else had jobs that were often indistinguishable (other than the fact that everyone wore a uniform) from civilian jobs. Most of these careers did not require a high degree of physical fitness.
In the 1990s, the military services had lightened up on physical fitness, especially the weight (or, rather, overweight) rules. The trend towards easing up on the fitness rules came about when it appeared that too many otherwise well qualified people were being forced out. But many commanders believed that out-of-shape personnel were a risk to themselves, and everyone else, during an emergency. This was particularly true for sailors, for 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. In a combat zone, there is no booze, and the food is generally quite good. Most military personnel these days work at sedentary jobs. Moreover, the work schedules don�t leave much time, or opportunity (in a combat zone) for hitting the gym.
But since September 11, 2001, the physical fitness crowd has won out. Now the air force and navy have 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.
While there was, and still is, lots of grumbling about this, everyone got the message, and currently over 95 percent pass the semi-annual physical readiness test, and very few airmen or sailors fail to keep their weight under control. Promotions are be harder to get if you are not fit. The services are is putting particular pressure on senior NCOs, who are the ones most responsible for getting junior personnel to shape up.