"We like to speak of a culture of fitness, but we really haven't implemented a culture of fitness across the Navy," said Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel, in a July 28 interview. "Fitness should truly be about being healthy and mission readiness — Are you physically fit for times of combat and stress in the fleet? We need a system that speaks to better health, to the readiness of our sailors. And part of that is, are we doing things to encourage a culture of fitness?"
PFA fail reset
Admin separations, if the impacted sailor chooses will stop dead in their tracks and the focus is to get them
That's great news for the many sailors who say they have no problem with the run, sit-ups and push-ups, but consistently fail height and weight standards.
But it gets better.
Sailors on the edge of a forced separation for PFA failures will get a second chance to stay in.
"We're going to give them a chance to continue with the discharge if they don't want to continue in the Navy or reset during this fall period," Moran said.
"Between now and December, if they get down within the new standards and can pass under the new guidance, we reset their failure to one — then if they fail again, they're on the way out."
The new BCA
The next step is raising the threshold for a BCA failure.
Men ages 18 to 21 will stay at the previous 22 percent body fat max, but from 22 to 29 they're allowed up to 23 percent, 24 percent between 30 and 39, and up to 26 percent over 40.
For women, it's 33 percent from 18 to 21, 34 percent for 22 to 29, 35 percent for 30 to 39 and 36 percent over 40.
"It's a little more stringent than the DoD standard, but a bit more graduated by age than the current BCA standard," Moran said. "It takes into account the physical changes that happen as we all age, too — so in that way, it's a little more realistic set of standards."
"DoD has established a maximum limit for body fat percentage based on the American Medical Association and other institutions who say, if you exceed that limit, you have reached an obesity level that raises your likelihood for things like cancer or diabetes and other medical issues," Moran said.
"For me, that's the right side limit of where we will allow sailors to be — if you exceed that DoD limit, you are, by definition, obese, at-risk and that's a failure."
Sailors who exceed those body fat standards will be enrolled in FEP, but they won't fail BCA altogether.
And even that, Moran said won't be punitive, but instead it'll be "educational."
"We're going to give you the tools, nutrition guidance, exercise guidance and we're going to have you take the PRT every 30 days until you can pass and until you get down below the new Navy BCA standard," Moran said.
The Navy also plans to develop a Navy-wide registered dietitian plan, giving sailors more access to professional counseling where food choices are concerned.
Unlike the current policy, sailors who fail the BCA will now take the PRT if they're medically cleared.
"We had several thousand of sailors who failed the BCA last year," Moran said. "None of these sailors took the [PRT] last year, so we don't have any idea if whether they're fit at all or capable of carrying on a mission — we just fail them."
Nearly 1,300 sailors have been discharged because of failures in the 2014 cycles, though those numbers aren't final. That was up from 1,200 in 2013 and over 1,100 in 2012, when the numbers jumped significantly from about 700 in 2011.
Long time coming
The Navy's PFA has been the bane of many a sailor's existence for years. In a May speech at the Naval Academy, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus likened it to a twice-a-year crucible, where sailors go to extreme measures to get within standards.
The discussion came to a head last summer, when a list of PFA proposals drafted at a Command Fitness Leaders summit circulated through the ranks and caught fire.
The suggestions included doing away with "bad-day" retests for the PRT, mandatory tape tests and random BCAs throughout the year. Officials acknowledged the list but denied that any of those proposals were hitting the fleet.
Navy Times readers then responded to a call-out with their suggestions for improving the PFA. Chief among them were rethinking or canning the BCA, making CFLs better at taking measurements, more flexible gym hours and incentives for those who consistently score an outstanding on their tests, ideas the Navy took to heart.
Late last year, the Navy Personnel Command instituted a CFL Navy Enlisted Classification, to help commands keep better track of their CFL's qualifications and to help in the search for new fitness coordinators.
Rewards for maxing out your PFA are two-fold. Those who score an outstanding on one PFA cycle are authorized to wear a badge on their fitness suit, when it comes out next year.
Sailors who max out three PFAs in a row will earn a uniform award, though it hasn't been determined whether it will be a ribbon or a medal. Sailors can expect to see more information in the fall, CNP spokesman Cmdr. Chris Servello said.
And the NavAdmin NAVADMIN says that an award for three consecutive PFA cycles at the "outstanding" level would net a sailor an award. The details aren't included which isn't detailed in the message, but that award won't be a medal or ribbon for the dress uniform, said a Navy official sources say, as previously announced. [MUST CONFIRM WITH SERVELLO IN AM].
Instead, officials say the award will be a badge authorized to be worn on the new fitness suit when it comes out next year it's available.
Some of these, like the award,
The award, which will debut next year, would be a uniform ribbon or medal earned after three consecutive "outstandings" on the PFA.
Individual commands can reward their PT-maxing sailors with perks, like prime parking spots and special leave, the Outstanding Fitness Award would be the first service-wide recognition for PFA superstars.
"We have to measure it, track it for a full year, but the notion is rather than two annual tests, it's a focus on, are you making improvements and are you meeting standards for weight control, blood pressure cholesterol? Instead of a discussion of, are you inside your height-weight levels and can you pass the PRT? — which is where we are today."
That includes a fitness tracker pilot program in the works, to measure sailors' day-to-day fitness as opposed to relying on twice-a-year testing.
The Navy also plans to develop a Navy-wide Registered Dietitian plan, giving sailors more access to professional counseling where food choices are concerned.
That's part of a push that includes beefing up the ShipShape healthy eating program and SECNAV's new "Go for Green" initiative, which uses color-coded tags to advise sailors on the healthiest choices at the galley[MOVED UP/MF].
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.