PT failure is more than an Airman’s problem

by Maj. Onnie Retkofsky
U.S. Air Forces in Europe

The last Monday of 2014 I reported to the Fitness Assessment Cell to complete my annual physical training test, along with many others. As we weighed in, got measured and paired up, I found myself partnered with a young Airman. We completed our pushup portion and moved on to sit-ups. As her turn finished and the physical training administrator began recording scores, panic ensued. I had counted 34 sit-ups, and 38 was the minimum they required.

Desperation consumed the Airman, and she asked, “Can you please just say 38?”
I was surprised and saddened by the request, but at the moment all I said was, “No, I can’t do that.”

I reported 34 sit-ups, and the test continued. Afterward, I pulled the Airman aside and lectured her on the basics of integrity and maintaining standards. As I walked away I wanted to offer my help, but my first thought was to let her supervisor handle the rest.
I have since regretted that decision. I spoke to a member of the Fitness Assessment Cell staff after I lectured the Airman and was told this was not an isolated incident, and it occurs throughout all ages and ranks. I was further disheartened.

I see this as more than an individual’s failure to maintain minimum standards. I also see this as a failure of our community.

I would like to believe that if someone had taken an interest in this individual and given her a pre-test two or three months ahead of time, this situation could have been avoided.

Some argue this is an individual responsibility, and the Air Force should get rid of those who will not maintain standards. I think there are exceptions to that line of reasoning.
The first exception would be for younger Airmen. I have trained 19- and 20-year-olds who did not know how to operate a treadmill or had not eaten anything green since basic training. Most do not understand the effects a desk job can have on overall health.

We recruit from a society that is predominantly out of shape, and though our young troops are motivated and eager, many are still learning to take care of themselves in a new environment. They need consistent, involved leadership during their first crucial years in the Air Force.

The second exception involves Airmen that have historically maintained fitness standards but, due to a wide spectrum of possible issues, begin to fail. The physical body is often a place where the challenges of life manifest themselves. When personal issues begin to overwhelm an individual, their health and fitness levels can and likely will suffer.

As members of the military, we are continuously transplanted from one base or state to another. We are broken away from our families and community. Therefore it is imperative we take care of one another. If we notice a co-worker beginning to struggle physically, as Airmen we are obligated to offer support and ensure they receive effective assistance somehow.

My intention in writing this article was to offer my assistance. First, to the Airmen who just failed their PT test and to anyone else who has just failed or thinks they are in danger of failing. I would also like to help anyone scared of taking the PT test. This test is a minimum standard, and I believe everyone can pass it if properly motivated and trained.

I am a certified personal and group trainer and a trained physical training leader. I will be teaching a free four-week course called “Emerging Warrior” at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Southside Fitness Center for anyone interested in improving their current physical condition and learning more about overall wellness. If you can dedicate yourself to change, instruction and hard work, you can pass your PT test and learn how to maintain that standard throughout the year.

It is my goal to help improve our health and wellness across the KMC in 2015. Through education, community support and dedication we can all finish this year stronger and healthier.

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