Nobody Asked Me, But... Be Fit, But Be Fair: Eliminate the Body Composition Assessment

By Commander Mark McCulloch, U.S. Navy

Response: The Physical Readiness Test (PRT), consisting of sit-ups, push-ups, and a 1.5-mile run, already gives us a direct measure of fitness. Why do we need a separate and indirect indicator of the fitness level of our Sailors? If the PRT is not setting a high enough standard, adjust the passing thresholds until it does. Why does the current system judge Petty Officer Smith, who scores "Excellent High" on the PRT but has 27 percent body fat, less desirable than Petty Officer Jones, who only scores "Satisfactory Medium" but is at 22 percent body fat? Which would you rather have standing next to you in combat?

Objection: Obesity is a significant health risk, and we need a healthy force.

Response: Smoking is also a significant health risk, but not only do we not separate smokers out of the Navy, we often bend over backwards to make sure they have ample opportunity to light up. Both smoking cessation and weight reduction are valuable force/health multipliers, but they should be attacked the same way—through education and medical assistance, not by administrative separation.

Objection: Overweight Sailors look sloppy in uniform and give the public a negative image of the Navy.

Response: We don't otherwise punish Sailors for being unattractive, but in the rare cases where an overweight Sailor (who can still pass the PRT) cannot present an acceptable military bearing in a properly tailored uniform, leaders can use the "Military Bearing" block on their evaluation or fitness report to document the deficiency.

Objection: Maybe use of the BCA isn't perfect, but we need to reduce the force and the BCA has done more good than harm.

Response: Maybe use of the BCA has done more good than harm, but that doesn't mean the result wouldn't be even better without it. Additionally, I don't think we've fully evaluated the potential negative impacts of the current system. Any of us who have been in the Navy for more than a few years have probably met a first class petty officer who performed head and shoulders above his peers, but would never make chief because he'd lost the battle with his waistline.

Harder to quantify, but more troubling, is the potential health risk taken by our Sailors trying to meet BCA standards. Take a drive around the Norfolk area (or any other area with a heavy Navy presence) in the spring or fall and slow down when you see a sign for a weight-loss clinic. Scan the parking lot and you will see windshield after windshield with Department of Defense base decals. Most of these clinics are legitimate medical establishments providing a valuable service to our Sailors, but why are Sailors spending their own money in town when the Navy has free medical care? Moreover, what controls are in place to ensure that a clinic doesn't provide assistance in more rapid weight loss at a much higher risk to the Sailor's health, or that a Sailor doesn't take the good medical advice from a clinic and decide that twice as much will produce results twice as fast?

Maybe there are issues that I have not considered, but the answer seems clear. We all want a force of fit and healthy Sailors. We measure fitness very accurately through the semi-annual PRT and can adjust the standards to ensure whatever level of fitness is needed. The BCA adds little value while distracting Sailors from a focus on actual fitness and potentially increasing their health risk. Eliminate the BCA.

Commander McCulloch is a career surface warfare officer who is currently assigned as the Executive Officer/Prospective Commanding Officer of Assault Craft Unit TWO in Little Creek, Virginia.
 

Commander McCulloch is a career surface warfare officer who is currently assigned as the Executive Officer/Prospective Commanding Officer of Assault Craft Unit TWO in Little Creek, Virginia.

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