Four strikes and you're out
By Tech. Sgt. Amelia Leonard, 439th Airlift Wing
/ Published October 28, 2016
WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- Senior Airman Catherine Libbey with the 439th Aeromedical and Dental Squadron and Senior Airman Kody Anischick from the 337th Airlift Squadron were recently one failure away from discharge when they realized their fitness was now or never.
Just because it’s an open-book test doesn’t make it easy. For some members, the Air Force physical fitness test is one of the most stressful elements of their career.
It seems simple: waist measurement, one minute of push-ups and sit-ups, and a mile and a half run. However, for many members, the struggle is real. Air Force-wide, the fitness test pass rate is only 85 percent, according to the Air Force Times. Westover loses nearly one percent of its members due to fitness failures every year. For two reservists at Westover, it took three failures and the threat of being kicked out for them to make physical fitness a top priority in their lives.
“The driving force behind my change was that I didn’t want to get kicked out of the Air Force for something that was so within my power to control,” Libbey said. “I didn’t think that was a good example for my kids. This was something that was very much my own issue.”
Libbey, who left for basic training in 2012, never expected to struggle with physical fitness. “When I first joined the Air Force, my physical fitness was probably one of the things I was most comfortable with because I had never had an issue with it.” In basic training, she received Warhawk status for receiving a 95 percent or higher on her PT test and successfully completing 5 chin-ups. Although all trainees at BMT are required to meet minimum physical training requirements in order graduate, some trainees get recognized by exceeding the minimum physical training requirements. There are two higher physical training levels trainees can reach. The levels are called Thunderbolt and Warhawk, with Warhawk being the highest level you can achieve, according to the Air Force Wing Moms, an unofficial support group for families.
“I really had no idea how you could get out of shape, Libbey said. “I was definitely judgmental before I had kids and before I went through this myself because I’m like, ‘How hard can it be? How can you just let yourself go? It shouldn’t be that difficult.’”
As Citizen Airmen we are often reminded of the three facets that make us unique from our active duty counterparts; Reservists have to balance their family, civilian job, and military career. Factors outside of his military career resulted in repeated PT test failures, said Anischick. “It was a shocking revelation. It can affect your career here, your career on the outside, your family life – it can hit you all at once.”
Making PT a priority in the civilian world takes a little bit more balancing than it may take our active-duty comrades. “It required all hands on deck,” said Libbey. “I needed help not only here on base, but at home as well.” She had become complacent and had been trying to find time to work out instead of making time to work out, she said.
“If it’s something that’s important that really needs work, do it often,” said Jimmy Pulchaski, wing exercise physiologist at Westover. “Find some direction and find someone who can keep you motivated and accountable.” Before coming to Westover, Pulchaski worked as a strength and conditioning coach at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Triangle, Va. He is available to provide members individual fitness consultations, including personal training and program development; body composition assessments by appointment and on a drop-in basis; and group training, he said. “I’ve worked with individuals with all sorts of issues including weight and mobility issues. I’ve seen it all.” It doesn’t matter what condition you’re in, he is comfortable attacking multiple angles to find ways to help each individual improve their fitness, he said.
Although Libbey lives outside the local commute area and was unable to work out on base, she recommends reaching out to the Westover fitness staff. “If I knew somebody who was struggling with their fitness, I would encourage them to accept any help or suggestions anyone gave them,” she said. "I would try to take as much from as many people who are offering their help and suggestions, especially at the fitness center because they will work with you and try to help you as well.”
Westover leadership is also here to help. Your chain of command wants to address any issues that they can with fitness because not only does it affect your career, but it can also impact the ability to complete the mission. “My first shirt ran with me during my last test,” said Libbey. “It was extremely important to have all that support.” Anischick also received personal support from his chain of command. “To have your commander even reach out and say, ‘Listen, I’m going to go work out with you one-on-one,’ it shows that he cared. It definitely made a difference,” he said.
Even though many Airmen feel alone after a failed test, it’s important to remember that you aren’t and that help is available. “When you hear someone in the same situation had overcome it, even if it’s not the same situation but something similar, it’s motivation,” said Anischick. “As bad as it was to be in that situation, it’s good to know what that feels like, because you don’t ever want to be there again.”