Long work hours, fewer chances to fail the body fat assessment and the Navy's obesity problem means getting to the gym is more important than ever for sailors. 

Roughly one in every 13 troops is clinically overweight, defined by a body mass-index greater than 25, according to Defense Department data obtained by Military Times. The Navy is launching a new program to get those numbers down and keep sailors from being kicked out. 

Six locations around the world are trying out 24-hour gyms on base, which allow sailors to work out whenever best suits their schedule. They are Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington D.C.; Sasebo, Japan; Naples, Italy; Whidbey Island, Washington; the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia; and the Naval Support Facility in Dahlgren, Virginia.

The pilot is part of a larger push inside the Navy to expand shore services, including gym access and child care, to sailors strained by high operational tempo, said Juliet Beyler, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for military manpower and personnel.

The gyms are unmanned during off-hours and set up with electronic access and cameras to make sure sailors are safe while working out, Beyler said. It’s too early in the program to have any real feedback on how things are going, she said.

The program grew out of a program launched last year that expanded gym hours. The Navy kept the gyms open an extra four hours and the sailor response was overwhelmingly positive. Beyler said that the expanded child development center hours dovetailed with the expanded gym hours well because sailors use the extra time to work out.

Beyler, a retired Marine officer, said she felt the impact of limited gym hours when she was deployed to Iraq.

"In my second time back to Iraq I was a battalion operations officer and the hours are just crazy," she said. "And with fitness centers being open only about 12 hours a day I had a really hard time getting to work out. Because I’d come in to work at 4 and get off work at like 10."

Beyler said the current breakneck optempo for sailors and Marines is driving the changes.

"Given the optempo, given the way our sailors and Marines work we need to make sure we give them the opportunity to work out whenever they can," Beyler said. "Being the naval services and being forward deployed the way that we are, fitness has always been integral to what we do."

"I’ve always said that maintaining physical fitness is as important as maintaining our weapons systems."

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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