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Fit for life: how one command fixed its fitness program.

As I look out my office window to the parade field across from the Naval Station Norfolk headquarters, I see Sailors taking part in morning and afternoon PT sessions. They run, play soccer or dodgeball. They challenge each other to games of touch football. They do group calisthenics.

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Physical training is a part of our lives, plain and simple. Staying fit and maintaining physical-fitness standards isn't just good for us, it is mandated by the Navy's Physical Readiness Instruction. Nevertheless, there are still many overweight, inactive Sailors in the Navy. Their lifestyles are unhealthy and it shows.

About 30% of 18-20-year-olds who want to enlist in the military are obese or overweight.

Next time you're at a mall, in a crowd, or just walking down a street, look around. It's easy to see that obesity is a national problem, and the Navy isn't exempt. As leaders, we need to be more proactive with the physical standards of our Sailors.

When I arrived at Naval Station Norfolk last summer, I was surprised by the number of limited duty, light limited duty, and pregnant Sailors who were a part of the command. When we mustered for PT, all Sailors other than those fit for full duty simply wandered off the parade field, walked around the track or went elsewhere. There seemed to be no accountability.

The commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief challenged me to come up with a plan to improve our PT program. It was a huge task. We decided to engage MWR and Waterfront Fitness, along with all of our departmental command fitness leaders (CFLs), and introduce a more robust, participatory program. We still have a lot of work to do, but we're making progress. Sailors are profiting from these changes. Many find that they actually enjoy participating in weekly command PT.

We realized that we needed to include our limited duty and pregnant Sailors in weekly PT. We now provide a separate session for them, away from the main group. They work within their limitations, and we provide a safe, healthy workout that includes cardio, upper body and leg exercises. We emphasize hydration, nutrition and rest for our pregnant Sailors. We also encourage the limited duty and light limited duty Sailors to perform robust therapy sessions as often as possible, while maintaining a healthy diet and staying within standards.

The next item on our agenda was to provide a more aggressive Fitness Enhancement Program (FEP), the 19-week series of sessions for Sailors who have failed the Personal Fitness Assessment (PFA) and/or Body Composition Assessment (BCA) during a PFA cycle. FEP participants are supposed to work out at least four times per week, under supervision, concentrating on those areas that need correcting. According to the Physical Readiness Program, Sailors stay in this program for two PFA cycles; when they pass those two cycles, they're out of the FEP. We discovered that the program was not providing our Sailors with what they needed to lose weight or improve their PFA scores. Many of the Sailors were discouraged. Musters were spotty, and Sailors were often left to do their own workout without supervision.

We again engaged MWR and our CFLs, introducing more flexibility and choice to our FEP. We also tasked the Health Promotions Department from Sewell's Point Medical to provide bi-weekly nutritional training as part of FEP. Several Sailors signed up for and participated in the 8-week Ship Shape program also offered by Health Promotions, in addition to attending the four mandatory weekly FEP sessions. We also allowed three of our limited-duty Sailors who had joint and hip problems to swim as part of their FEP sessions.

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As a result, between the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 PFA cycles, approximately 35 Sailors completed the FEP--a 50% reduction rate. Two female Sailors each dropped 8% in overall body-fat composition during that 6-month period. The program still needs some tweaking, but we feel that we are making the right decisions in helping our Sailors achieve their fitness goals.

The final item we had to address was record-keeping. Naval Station Norfolk is composed of three separate UICs and more than 850 Sailors. Complicating this fact is that there is movement among departments, such as when a Sailor gets pregnant or goes on LIMDU. Another example is when a Sailor assigned to the Sewell's Point police precinct or one of the many homeported ships along the waterfront gets injured or pregnant; that Sailor is then reassigned to a department such as the barracks, galley or administration. Tracking then becomes an important issue.

We found that Physical Readiness Information Management System (PRIMS) wasn't being maintained internally as well as it should have been. Although the system is always undergoing change, there were many basic items that had to be fixed before we could go any further. It will always be an ongoing issue, but with proper maintenance and attention to detail, the system will always work in our favor.

Although our current program is only nine months "'new," we feel that it has improved tremendously. I owe that to the chain of command for their support, and to my staff in N7B Training and Readiness and to the ACFLs who remain committed to our Sailors.

Fitness is increasingly becoming a bigger part of Navy life. A new fitness instruction is in review; when released, it will make some sweeping changes to the current program. Rules are being tightened. Several Sailors were discharged last December for having three or more PFA failures in a three-year period. A few more from this past PFA cycle will follow suit. And as of 1 July 2010, BCA waivers for outstanding performance on the PFA are no longer authorized.

The Navy's new Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling Series, created by the Center for Personal and Professional Development, was released at the end of June. It is an exercise program designed to develop core strength, which in turn helps to reduce job-related injuries. It replaced the generic physical training so often found at commands Navy-wide. It also incorporates guidance on nutrition, hydration and diet so important to operational environments.

Leadership at all levels must be involved. We owe that much to our Sailors. Lead from the front; become a PT leader. If we take the pay and wear the uniform, we need to step up now. Sailors need to be encouraged to use resources to develop and maintain their readiness and overall fitness both on and off duty. Fitness is fun. It's everyone's business!

The author: QMC Gaspar is Training and Readiness LCPO at Naval Station Norfolk

Editorial note: The Navy's Physical Readiness Program instruction is Opnavinst 6110.1H.

By QMC (SW/EXW) Michael Gaspar
COPYRIGHT 2010 U.S. Naval Safety Center
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Author:Gaspar, Michael
Publication:Sea&Shore
Date:Jun 22, 2010
Words:1121
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