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Boot Camp helps Airmen get fit to fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
With the new Air Force physical training standards going into effect July 1, many Airmen have spent the last few months vigorously preparing for the revised measures.

The new changes, especially the minimum score requirements for the push-ups, crunches, mile-and-a-half run and abdominal circumference, may be seen by Airmen as either a welcome challenge to improve their fitness or an additional frustration that could even lead to their discharge from the Air Force.

In order to help those Airmen with marginal or failing scores, the base Health and Wellness Center established Hurlburt Field Boot Camp, a program marked by 80 days of intense physical training.

According to C.J. Stein, 1st Special Operations Aerospace Medicine Squadron exercise physiologist, Hurlburt Field's program goes one step further than an average fitness program to ensure all Air Commandos are truly fit to fight.

"We do more than simply offer a workout class," Ms. Stein said. "While other bases may have similar programs with a fitness staff leading the sessions, they may not normally have a medical staff tracking and getting the statistics like we do here."

She also pointed out that attendance in the program for Airmen who score less than 60 became mandatory after Col. Greg Lengyel, former 1st Special Operations Wing commander, made it wing policy in April.

"This shouldn't be viewed as a punishment but as an opportunity for them to change things," Ms. Stein said. "I hope they realize it's an honor to be in the program because it's something leadership affords them. We are here to use all the resources within our reach to help them."

Ms. Stein and two other HAWC members lead the early-morning, five-day-a-week sessions, which vary between circuit training, calisthenics, spin classes and miles-long runs. All the exercises are designed to help Airmen appropriately achieve and maintain their targets.

"Most people think the focus of Boot Camp is to help Airmen pass their PT test," Ms. Stein said. "While that is a short-term goal, the overall goal is to get them to lead a healthier lifestyle."

That focus on making better choices is concentrated on more than just attending a 45-minute workout session. Under the new PT standards, an Airman may be subject to discharge from the Air Force after failing two successive tests.

"Fitness is a silly reason to lose somebody because it's completely controllable," Ms. Stein said. "We look at this program as saving all the money, paperwork and hours that go into one person appearing before the board."

The improvements members make while in Boot Camp speak for themselves. According to average composite scores compiled by the HAWC, Airmen have seen an increase of 13.9 points in their score including 7.5 more crunches, 3.6 more push-ups, nearly three minutes off their runtime and more than seven pounds off their weight.

"I go through 80 days of people hating me," Ms. Stein said. "But at the end of the class, when they pass and come back and thank me, I know it ultimately came down to the fact that they have made a lifestyle change. When I had a boot camp graduate tell me he ran more than three miles one morning, I knew he made a lifestyle change, and that is such a thrill to see."
We now have graduates become physical training leaders with their squadrons and serve as role models for fitness," she continued. "They do all the effort, I just yell at them and count."

Although Boot Camp attendance is mandatory for Airmen who score less than 60 on their test, the option to attend is open to those who score less than 75.

Master Sgt. Scott MacKay, 1st SOW Public Affairs, scored a 73.95 on his physical training test Jan. 29. Despite describing his past scores as "respectable" and being a mere 1.05 points from a passing grade, he decided to go to Boot Camp rather than handle it on his own.

And when he finally retested April 16, he managed to take two-and-a-half minutes off his runtime and score an 80.95, which translates to an 89 under the new standards.

"Sometimes taking a step backwards can turn out to be the best thing for you," Sergeant MacKay said. "I never excelled like I did until after Boot Camp. And I'm definitely looking to get that last little point for excellent health."

Sergeant MacKay is so dedicated to the program that, even after passing his test, he continues to attend Boot Camp and motivate current members. He said it not only keeps him in the habit, but it gives Airmen someone to relate to.

"I used to be where they are and know how hard it can be," Sergeant MacKay said. "If you keep a positive attitude about it and are there to work, everything will take care of itself."

Senior Airman Christina McPheters, 1st Special Operations Maintenance Operations Squadron, started the program in late March. While she said she was nervous about the first day's three-mile run, Airman McPheters said she got so much motivation from the instructors and fellow members that she made the entire run without stopping.

"I wasn't fond of working out when I started," she said. "But they pushed me through it and made me more confident in myself."

And her accomplishments since then have only given more reason for them to cheer her on: she's taken four minutes off her run time, four inches off her waistline, maxed out on sit ups and nearly doubled her previous score.

"It's a terrific program," Airman McPheters said. "I'm truly excited about my next PT test and can't wait to accomplish it this time around."