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Fit to Fight program producing great results

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Six months of running, aerobic exercise, weight lifting and unit physical training under the watchful eyes of commanders is starting to pay off, as more MacDill servicemembers than ever are closing in on the goal of becoming fit to fight.

Joan Craft, director of the Health and Wellness Center, said it looks like the Air Force has come up with a winner, initiating a program that is producing real results at MacDill.

"I can't say anything but positive things about it," said Ms. Craft of the Fit to Fight program. "It's a major improvement over the past."

Ms. Craft said the primary difference with the new program is that responsibility for success has been placed with the unit commanders and that it is ongoing throughout the year.

In the past, Airmen would "crash and burn" to get ready for an annual fitness test, slacking off for months until the next test, said Ms. Craft.

"With this it is 12 months a year and PT is required three times a week," she said. "The other thing that's important is commanders are held accountable (for the fitness of those under their command)."

In just six months it's added up to a new level of fitness at MacDill, said Ms. Craft.

"I've been here since 1997 and I've never seen so many Air Force (members) working out," she said. "Now it's become a daily routine and we now see blue everywhere."

While reporting issues are affecting numbers in some commands like U.S. Central Command and the Joint Communications Support Element, where deployments are heavy, the numbers of those passing PT testing are high and they keep going up.

There is always room for improvement as the base works toward total fitness, but Fabian Beavers, assistant flight chief at the HAWC, says the benefits of the program already are being seen in a greater degree of readiness. Fewer Airmen are on a profile and more than ever are ready for the rigors of deployment to hostile environments and climates, he said.

"We have less health problems overall than before," said the recently retired master sergeant. "There is a greater degree in mission readiness and it (the Fit to Fight program) cuts down on the exemptions and more (Airmen) are able to deploy."

With success now measured in the increasing numbers passing PT tests the new emphasis is on the "commanders' eyeball test," a polite way of saying being in good shape on paper isn't the same as having a good shape.

Under the initiative, commanders are given the discretion to "eyeball" any Airman under their command and have them enroll in a body composition improvement program to improve their body proportions and physiques.

Fortunately the overall fitness initiative seems to be inspiring many Airman at MacDill, prompting them to take measures themselves to improve, said Ms. Craft. In what is a sort of Green-Eggs-and-Ham effect, MacDill's Airmen are discovering that once they try a fitness regimen, they like it, she said.

"It's been inspiring to see so many people taking this to heart," said Ms. Craft.

"They are not having to be told the benefits or forced because they are seeing the benefits of fitness on their own."

Many are reporting they feel better than ever or are able to eat what they like without fear of putting on pounds, she said. Blood pressure is under better control among some and many are choosing to quit or cut back on smoking and drinking.

"What we are seeing is a lot of people making healthier choices on their own," said Ms. Craft. "They see the improvement in themselves and they want to continue that and make them selves even better."

An example of one such turnaround is Staff Sgt. Ukeia Rachel, a member of the 6th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. She recalls failing her first PT test but with the help of some fellow workers in her office, began to get on track. While in the past she dreaded exercise and saw it as drudgery, these days she has integrated it into her lifestyle.

"It used to be something I avoided but now it is just part of what I do and I look forward to it," she said, recalling when she started getting ready for her test she could not complete a lap on the base track without being overly winded.

She worked her way up to a mile and a half on the track and started drinking more water. She also took the fitness classes required after failing and when she retested, she passed without difficulty. The increased physical capacity was important, but the lessons she learned in class, and the careful reporting and diet monitoring that went along with it, played a big role, Sergeant Rachel said.

The feeling is contagious, said. Ms. Craft. As more and more Airmen see those around them improving in fitness, it only inspires them more.

Col. Bernie Moore, U.S. Special Operations Command director of operations planning, is an example. He failed the test in March and took to running four times a week, doing situps and pushups. He improved his score 20 points and passed when he retested in July.

"There's no magic; it's just what they always tell you," said Col. Moore. "You have to watch what you eat and exercise."

Encouraged by losing 15 pounds in four months, an inch off the waist and a lot more wind, Col. Moore said he's keeping up the regimen.




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