Physical fitness a vital measure of readiness

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Andy Kaiser
  • Air Force Personnel Center command chief
Imagine reporting for duty one morning and having your supervisor say you've been selected for a 270-day deployment to a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan. After the news begins to sink in, you then find out you have to complete some tough combat skills training at Fort Bragg, N.C. Holy cow! Oh, and by the way, you need to be there in 10 days!

As you start to regain consciousness a few minutes later, you ask yourself, "Can I handle this? Can I physically complete the training, let alone the arduous demands at a forward operating base?" Beads of sweat form on your brow as you reflect on your recent physical training test score. You met the standard by scoring a 77, but you realize now you are not in the shape you need to be.

You may also ask yourself, "Why didn't I try harder during our unit PT sessions? Why wasn't I more consistent in my own PT regimen? Why didn't I push myself harder? I'm going to be at training in a week and a half, and I'm probably going to have a tough time!"

It's an important lesson learned the hard way -- physical fitness is a vital measure of readiness.

Regardless of the Air Force specialty code, military Airmen are warriors! At any given minute, we can be tasked to deploy halfway around the world, often in austere conditions, to work crazy extended hours, and put "lead downrange" if necessary. This is why we are called to a higher standard. Do you think someone who barely passed his PT test nine months ago and has given minimal time to physical fitness is ready to deploy to an arduous location? I doubt it.

A reading of Portraits in Courage Vol. III reminds us again of the critical role physical fitness plays in mission effectiveness. One of the portraits features Airman 1st Class Chad Kuykendall, a combat Airman who served as a convoy driver in Iraq. After his truck was attacked, he extracted his convoy commander from the smoked-filled vehicle. With his vehicle commander injured and unable to walk unassisted, Airman Kuykendall supported her as they moved to the nearest gun truck approximately 100 meters away. His fitness proved to be a large factor in the rescue.

I've been blessed to be assigned to units that required strong physical fitness standards because the mission demanded it. In the summer of 2001, some of my fellow Airmen in the 609th Air Communications Squadron dug 100-foot trenches by hand in 115-degree desert heat to lay critical antenna cable for the Combined Air and Space Operations Center. The "Devil Raider" Airmen from my last unit, the 621st Contingency Response Wing, always have one contingency response group on alert who are ready to deploy on a moment's notice anywhere in the world to establish an air base. Some of my previous units held "combat field days," which were athletic events that honed military skills. At the Air Force Personnel Center here, we've been conducting unit runs (including optional ruck marches) for several months now. These are just a few of the thousands of examples around the Air Force highlighting this point. A high level of physical fitness is necessary all the time, not just two months before the next PT test.

Some might say, "But chief, when I deployed, I went from my air-conditioned tent, to the air-conditioned dining facility, to my air-conditioned place of duty. It was less than a quarter-mile walk, and I never had to wear a flak vest or carry chemical gear. It really didn't matter that I wasn't in the greatest shape." If that was the case, consider yourself very fortunate. With about 29,000 Airmen deployed in U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility and more than 6,000 in joint expeditionary taskings on any given day, your next deployment could be far different indeed.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time telling you the benefits of exercise because they should be "no brainers" by now. In short, physical fitness gives you more energy, improves your cardiovascular system, diminishes stress, and helps you manage your weight. Of course, most people know these things. Most importantly, for the combat Airman (and all who wear the Air Force uniform are combat Airmen), your fitness level could be the difference between mission success or failure in the field.

Job knowledge and leadership are critical to your overall performance. Most people wouldn't consider trying to do a job they were not trained to do; however, I have often seen Airmen trying to perform duties they were not "fit" for. Physical fitness and readiness are vital to your mission effectiveness.

Army Gen. George Patton once said, "No b ___ d ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb b ___ d die for his country." So, how do we get the enemy to die for their country or cause? Many factors go in to that answer, but it's no secret. Physically fit combat Airmen help fulfill General Patton's mantra. It boils down to this: High Fitness = High Readiness = High Mission Capability.

So, if the most you can run is two miles, keep stretching it out a little farther each run. Before you know it, three miles will be easy to achieve. If you just completed your first 5K, that's great -- but don't stop there. If you can bust out 40 push-ups in a minute, that's good, but why not strive for 50, 60, or more? The more we push it (within reason), the stronger and faster we become. And when we do so, we are personifying our core value of excellence in all we do. Do not our fellow Airmen and beloved country call us to this? Don't let yourself, your team mates and country down ... be fit, be ready, be a leader!