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FTG promotes fitness with new initiative

This past March, after nearly a year of delays due to COVID-19, the U.S. Air Force announced that physical fitness testing would resume July 1. To help upcoming testers focus and get themselves back into a fitness mindset, the 413th Flight Test Group started a fitness initiative for members to take part in. The voluntary effort involved a schedule of various activities available throughout the week. Activities included morning and afternoon walks and runs, midday strength-training workouts, low-impact circuit training and sports-based team activities.

This past March, after nearly a year of delays due to COVID-19, the U.S. Air Force announced that physical fitness testing would resume July 1. To help upcoming testers focus and get themselves back into a fitness mindset, the 413th Flight Test Group started a fitness initiative for members to take part in. The voluntary effort involved a schedule of various activities available throughout the week. Activities included morning and afternoon walks and runs, midday strength-training workouts, low-impact circuit training and sports-based team activities. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Jamal D. Sutter)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- This past March, after nearly a year of delays due to COVID-19, the U.S. Air Force announced that physical fitness testing would resume July 1. To help upcoming testers focus and get themselves back into a fitness mindset, the 413th Flight Test Group started a fitness initiative for members to take part in.

The voluntary effort involves a schedule of various activities available throughout the week. Activities include morning and afternoon walks and runs, midday strength-training workouts, low-impact circuit training and sports-based team activities.

The seeds of the initiative began with a simple meeting among a handful of Reserve Citizen Airmen within the group. As everyone bounced ideas off of each other, the plan formulated with one goal in mind.

“My intentions, along with the five other fitness enthusiasts, were to make sure that the flight test group had as many pass or exceeding members of the fitness standards as possible,” said Capt. Hope Bell, 413th FTG executive officer and organizer of the initiative’s committee. “We wanted to facilitate opportunities for people to prepare and be as confident, going into the test, as possible.”

After getting approval from 413th FTG leadership, the initial schedule of activities incorporated only committee-suggested exercises. However, as time went on, the team sought out recommendations from those participating to garner maximum excitement and involvement.

“What we have currently is just a template,” Bell said. “It’s totally flexible, and we want more input in this, so that we’ll have more involvement. I feel like the more that we allow people to function with their passions, the more that we’ll have buy-in and participation.”

Participation is something Master Sgt. Brandi Jackson, 413th FTG first sergeant, was initially concerned with. With some individuals, perhaps, being shy about their fitness level, Jackson said it’s her job to try to get them to overcome their hesitations.

Minutes leading up to an activity, the first sergeant often goes around the building from section to section in order to gather as many people as possible and remind them of what’s on the schedule.

Jackson said she sees the benefit in having a fitness program in place and getting as prepared as possible for physical training testing. As a first sergeant, she’s privy to current test numbers and trends. Jackson said since testing has resumed, one trend is some people who previously got excellent scores are now getting satisfactory scores and those who got satisfactory scores are now failing.

What Jackson thinks could be causing the trend is the recent removal of the waist measurement as a determining factor in overall fitness test scoring. What once could have been providing a decent boost in points is now creating a false sense of security in testers, rather than an urgency to compensate by doing better in the remaining testable components in a more balanced approach, she said.

“Since they have taken the waist component out, a lot of people are misconstrued that it might be easier,” Jackson said. “A lot of us try to do the mental math and look at what’s on the charts … so we’re setting ourselves up for failure when we subtract a component.”

One person agreeing with the first sergeant on the importance of being well-rounded when it comes to fitness training is Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Ray, 413th FTG superintendent of aircrew training. Ray said he had tough times in the past when it came to testing, which ultimately led to him changing his lifestyle for the better.

“I’ve had a tenuous relationship with Air Force fitness,” he said. “I’m a bigger statured person … so, that’s created some problems for me throughout my career. But I enjoy the career better than having those problems. I do the best that I can to fight through it, so when opportunities like our program come up, I try to get involved.”

Ray’s specialty area is long-distance running. Every Tuesday, he tries to make himself available for a three-mile run that others can join him in. But for people who don’t favor running or have other problem areas that need addressing, there are other opportunities within the program to train.

“There are different people with different strengths who got involved with our fitness effort,” Ray said. “There are some people who are really good at certain types of circuit training or muscle strength. Some people are better at running. It was a good thing to have options that could appeal to everybody. So if, maybe, doing burpees isn’t your thing, well, there are other things that you can do to get your body moving again.”

So far, the fitness initiative and its schedule of group activities has only been available for active guard reserve members and civilian employees coming in throughout the regular work week. But Jackson said they are planning to implement weekend fitness options for traditional reservists to participate in during the upcoming unit training assembly in October.

Additionally, Bell said she hopes to grow the program to a point where trackable statistics are being kept that go towards various in-house fitness competitions. She also wants to see the group participating in more base-organized three-mile or six-mile runs.

“I want people to know that health and fitness is a fun endeavor,” Bell said. “It’s not just about passing the fitness test. It’s about building camaraderie with your co-workers and with others around the base and having that sense of community.”