Air Force's latest foe: pasta?

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Even as the Pentagon struggles to tighten its own belt, Air Force personnel in Italy apparently need to start doing more to tighten theirs, too. One in three at Aviano air base — 45 miles north of Venice — failed to pass the service’s ramped-up physical fitness test in July, the first month it was in place. And that was the good news. “The failure rate is, in reality, lower than we expected,” a tech sergeant helping with the testing said. “The expected rate was 35 to 40 percent.”

The new test is being administered by what the Air Force calls “Fitness Assessment Cells,” or FACs. In the past, buddies would often give each other required physical-fitness tests, and grade on the curve, so to speak. But now civilian FACs are doing the testing. Of the 319 who took the test at Aviano in July, 104 failed. Overall, the service estimates one in four will flunk the first time they take the tougher test. Those who fail have 90 days to take it again, and must attend a three-hour BEWELL class — “Balanced Eating, Workout Efficiently, Live Long” — on eating and exercise. Discharge is possible after two consecutive failures.

The maximum score, which includes a 1.5-mile run, is 100 points (75 needed to pass). It rates participants on aerobics (up to 60 points), sit-ups and push-ups (up to 10 points each) and what probably doomed some of  those in Italy: “abdominal circumference” (maximum of 20 points). The Air Force takes this stuff seriously — here is how Air Force regs now require one’s waist (“AC” in AF lingo) be measured:

Individuals conducting AC measurements will be of the same gender as the member being taped and certified…as an official taper.

Tape measure made of non-stretch (fiberglass) material will be used for the AC.

Tester will locate a horizontal landmark just above the right iliac crest.

Tester will place the tape on a horizontal plane around the abdomen at the level of the landmark. Ensure the plane of the tape is parallel to the floor and is snug, but does not compress the skin. Take the measurement at the end of a normal respiration.

Take the circumference measure three times and record each measurement, rounding down to the nearest ½ inch. If any of the measures differ by more than one inch from the other two, take an additional measurement. Add the 3 closest measurements, divide by 3, and round down to the nearest ½ inch. Record this value as the AC measure.

Gen. Norty "32.5" Schwartz

The tougher test is a hot topic in Air Force gyms and chow halls. An airman asked General Norton Schwartz, the service’s top officer, about it during the chief of staff’s recent visit to Turkey’s Incirlik air base. “The reality is we have to be fit to deliver on our promise of being able to execute as an Air Force,” Schwartz said. “The American people do have certain expectations of what their military looks like, and being fit is part of that image.” Easy for him to say: his AC is 32.5 inches.