From the Deckplates

By Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

His is not the only such case. During my time as a detailer, a Sailor at an operational command found herself in a similar situation. She was a former Naval Academy shot putter and was, according to her chain of command, an absolute fireplug of a Sailor. She wasn’t built like a typical woman and constantly measured over the desired body fat percentage. This young Sailor didn’t completely fit the model Sailor standard, but in fact had a body fat percentage in the single digits according to more accurate hydrostatic weighing.

Another Sailor, described as a stellar performer, was discharged for the same reason. This Sailor spoke a difficult and important foreign language well above established standards, scored outstanding on every PFA for at least the last three years of her career, but during the same period, failed the BCA.

The result in both cases was discharge.

These three Sailors had different issues. MA1 Kruger has a pretty average male physique except for a skinny neck. The former Academy shot putter had an unusually muscular build for a female. The former linguist simply had an irregular body shape that did not adhere to Navy expectations.

Their cases have striking similarities. Each involved a Sailor deemed outstanding in every other professional area. None fit the Navy’s inflexible policy. And none of them had any recourse. That’s the real shame in these cases; there is no avenue for Sailors or commands to challenge the mandatory discharge.

The Navy had a waiver policy for a short time earlier this decade. Sailors measuring up to 2 percent above body fat, but with certain PFA scores, could get a waiver from their commanding officer. Abolishing this waiver makes no sense, except that we went from a period of undermanning to record recruiting and retention.

So many Sailors pass the PFA, look good in uniform, but fail the BCA that this issue deserves attention. The solution is simple. Sailors exceeding body fat limits but who pass the PFA should get a waiver if deemed by their commanding officer to present an acceptable level of military bearing. If denied, Sailors should have an automatic and immediate waiver request forwarded to the first flag officer in the chain of command. That process would consider the Sailor’s overall physical fitness and appearance, documented by official photographs, in dress uniform and the physical training uniform. Approved waivers would cover Sailors for the most recent PFA and the next, and will be reviewed annually if necessary.

Not taking action has predictable implications. If people are our most important resource, we must consider the undue harm done to careers and personal lives. Additionally, if every Sailor is a recruiter, then every veteran is, in recruiting parlance, an influencer. Outstanding Sailors discharged without an appeal process have every right to steer candidates away from naval service. Their families, friends, and shipmates can share that right.

Sailors need to see that the Navy really does take care of its own. We all want “model Sailors,” but some square pegs deserve a system that helps them fit in a round hole.

 

Senior Chief Murphy transferred to the Fleet Reserve on 31 December 2008 after 21 years of active service. He served his entire career in the cryptologic community and was a qualified submariner.
 

Senior Chief Murphy will transfer to the fleet reserve on 31 December 2008 after more than 21 years of active duty.

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