Physical fitness carries many benefits, but great care must be taken to define it. As currently implemented, physical fitness programs in the U.S. armed forces have significant faults that negatively affect readiness and human health, including:
- Within each military service, the same physical fitness standards generally apply to all military occupations, though unneeded for many.
- Current programs ignore medical impediments to physical conditioning and fail to dissuade over-conditioning.
- Physical fitness testing algorithms create a perverse incentive to begin and continue tobacco use.
- The exclusive focus on conditioning heart and skeletal muscle overlooks the easily deconditioned organ most critical to modern military success: the brain.
In essence, the physical fitness programs of today’s armed forces are designed for the battles Homer’s Achilles fought at the gates of Troy, not for the battles the United States will fight at the gates of air, sea, space, and cyberspace. Although all services will fight these battles, Navy examples are cited here.
1. Thomas M. Coffey, Decision Over Schweinfurt: The U.S. 8th Air Force Battle for Daylight Bombing (New York: David McKay, 1977), 134.
2. Matthew M. Burke, “Navy Opens More Assignments to HIV-positive Sailors, Marines,” Stars and Stripes, 1 November 2013.
3. Shawn Isbell, “Detailing and Placement,” Navy Personnel Command, November 2018.
4. ADM James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), and David Weinstein, “Time for a U.S. Cyber Force,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 140, no. 1 (January 2014).
5. ADM James A. Winnefeld Jr., USN, “You Have to Be a Good Thinker,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 141, no. 8 (August 2015): 16−21.
6. Kathryn E. Myhre, et al., “Prevalence and Impact of Anemia on Basic Trainees in the U.S. Air Force,” Sports Medicine–Open 2, no. 23 (December 2016).
7. G. L. Close, et al., “Assessment of Vitamin D Concentration in Non-supplemented Professional Athletes and Healthy Adults during the Winter Months in the UK: Implications for Skeletal Muscle Function,” Journal of Sports Sciences 31 (2013): 344–53. Kate A. Ward, et al., “Vitamin D Status and Muscle Function in Post-menarchal Adolescent Girls,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 94 (2009): 559–63. Michael F. Holick, “High Prevalence of Vitamin D Inadequacy and Implications for Health,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 81 (2006): 353−73.
8. John Bumgarner, Parade of the Dead (Jefferson, NC: Mcfarland, 1995), 68−69.
9. John McElroy, Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1962), 45−46.
10. John Ellis, Eye-Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War I (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 125.
11. Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, Halsey’s Typhoon (New York: Grove Press, 2007), 239.
12. Henri-Jean Aubin, et al., “Weight Gain in Smokers after Quitting Cigarettes: Meta-analysis,” British Medical Journal 345 (2012): e4439.
13. Dennis S. O’Leary, “Decision Brief: Obesity/Overweight in the Military,” Defense Health Board, 18 November 2013.
14. Yang Hu, et al., “Smoking Cessation, Weight Change, Type 2 Diabetes, and Mortality,” New England Journal of Medicine 379 (2018): 623−32.
15. Institute of Medicine, Combating Tobacco Use in Military and Veteran Populations (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2009).
16. Vincent Mysliwiec, et al., “Sleep Disorders in U.S. Military Personnel: A High Rate of Comorbid Insomnia and Obstructive Sleep Apnea,” Chest 144 (2013): 549–57.
17. Ehsan Shokri-Kojori, et al., “Beta-amyloid Accumulation in the Human Brain after One Night of Sleep Deprivation,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 115 (2018): 4483−88.
18. MAJ Nick Brunetti-Lihach, USMC, “Cyber War Requires Cyber Marines,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 144, no. 11 (November 2018): 18−23.