Sailors with a physical fitness assessment failure on their record will receive a clean slate that will allow them to remain in the service, under a new Navy policy unveiled Thursday.

The shift is part of a Navy-wide campaign aimed at improving accessions, retention and attrition so the service can hit its end-strength goals for 2023, according to Rear Adm. James Waters III, director of military personnel, plans and policy.

“This is connected because it clearly affects attrition, right? It will reduce attrition if we do not separate sailors based on past PFA failures,” Waters told reporters Wednesday. “But it came about through all of the analysis for this campaign plan, through a recognition that we don’t want to punish sailors because gyms were closed during the pandemic. We don’t want to disadvantage sailors.”

The policy, which the Navy labeled a “one-time reset,” means all active duty sailors and those in the Navy Reserve who want to remain in the Navy and advance will now have zero PFA failures prior to 2023, allowing commanding officers to reinstate retention and advancement recommendations. The policy does not apply to other programs that evaluate past PFA failures, including officer commissioning programs, selection or screening boards, and special duty screenings.

The Career Progression Department will stop processing officers for administrative separation due to past PFA failures. For enlisted personnel, their command will issue a special evaluation to restore retention and advancement eligibility, according to a naval administrative message.

“We expect this reset to balance challenges sailors had in preparing for and completing physical fitness assessments throughout the pandemic and also allow experienced and talented sailors to remain in the Navy,” Waters said. “We think this reset could allow up to 1,500 sailors to remain in the service who might otherwise be separated. Requirements and standards remain constant.”

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the Navy conducting a single PFA each calendar year, rather than two. Waters said there is no plan currently to resume two PFAs in FY24.

The Navy surpassed its retention goals for FY22 and is currently ahead on retention goals this fiscal year, Navy Times previously reported. The service met its active duty enlisted recruitment goals in FY22, but failed to meet recruitment target numbers for active duty and reserve officers, as well as reserve enlisted personnel.

As a result, Waters said the Navy understands it is facing a “challenging” recruiting environment due to a lower propensity to serve, fewer potential recruits who are eligible to serve, and the current competitive labor market. Such challenges require the Navy to implement “course corrections” like this new policy, he said.

Other initiatives launched in recent months aimed at improving retention and recruiting include suspending enlisted high-year tenure for two years to permit sailors who surpassed their high-year tenure threshold to remain in the service.

The Navy also launched a pilot program in December allowing sailors who scored lower on the Armed Forces Qualification Test as part of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to still join the service. The change means prospective sailors who score between the 10th and 30th percentile on the AFQT can still join the Navy as long as their ASVAB individual line scores are high enough to qualify for a Navy rating.

“We’ve got to continue to be efficient,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told Defense News, a sister publication, while on travel Dec. 8. “We’ve got to continue to provide incentives for our sailors to want to serve at sea, for example, motivate them. Not just from a financial perspective, but from a mission perspective and reward them in terms of promotions and things of that nature.”

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