With Wars Winding Down, Time to Cut the Fat

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Army photo / Spc. Michael J. MacLeod

Get Fit or Get Out: A soldier does downhill pushups -- tougher than the normal kind -- at Fort Polk, La.

You may recall that for several years after 9/11, the Army issued waivers so that wanna-be soldiers could enlist despite minor crimes, like drug offenses, in their past. They’ve clamped down on such waivers recently, and now folks already in uniform are likewise about to lose a break they’ve enjoyed since 2007.

Beginning Nov. 1, troops sent to military schools will have to meet weight and fitness goals, or face discharge from nearly a dozen schools, including the Sergeants Major Academy, the Joint Special Operation Forces Senior Enlisted Academy and the Senior Leaders Course.

“This waiver was implemented as a temporary wartime fix to mitigate the greater risk of sending untrained/unschooled Soldiers back to their unit without the required education and combat skills training,” the Army said in explaining the retoughened rules. “Now the Army can accomplish both, enforce standards at the unit and require Soldiers attending PME [Professional Military Education] to meet APFT [Army Physical Fitness Test] and height/weight requirements for graduation.”

Army Secretary John McHugh sounds serious in a memo outlining the revamped reg:

Soldiers attending the identified PME schools and courses will be administered an initial APFT and height and weight screening…One APFT retest and/or height and weight screening is allowed and will be administered no earlier than 7 and no later than 24 days after the initial failure of the APFT and/or height and weight screening. Soldiers who subsequently fail to meet physical fitness and/or height and weight standards will be removed from the course.

Acquiring PME is a key to winning promotions. As the Army itself plans to slim down from 570,000 troops now to 490,000 in 2017, failing the fitness test – and consequently failing such courses — is tantamount to a Get Out of Uniform Free card for lethargic and/or chubby soldiers.