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The War on Fat Sailors

Posted 03-10-2011 at 10:39 PM by drayer54
Updated 03-11-2011 at 05:38 AM by drayer54

Recently, Navy Times posted a cover story with proposals from sailors to make our current physical readiness test more rigorous and demanding. This has been one of many articles this publication has run on what feels like the Navy’s war against fat sailors. I find it bothersome that we are talking about further extending a system that is already a gigantic waste of resources. I am absolutely blown away by the idea that a run time is considered to be an accurate indication of a sailor’s ability and contribution to the Navy.

My experience, after 3 deployments, is that sailors today are technicians who operate expensive and intricate equipment with a great sense of responsibility. I have done most of my service in the nuclear community, where a great amount of emphasis is placed on routine academic testing with a rigorous qualification process that is mentally challenging and at times stressful. I have also been exposed to the combat systems world on our smaller ships, which are loaded with a plethora of complex equipment. The equipment that our sailors are operating is getting more complex and is creating an environment requiring smarter, more educated operators. I strongly believe the days of storming beaches, running missions that require “boots on the ground” and physically able Popeye-like sailors are behind us. We are headed in a direction that will require more educated and mentally capable sailors who can handle the intellectual challenge of operating the equipment that is being installed on our newest ships. I have yet to see any study that can provide evidence that males whose body circumference value is less than 22 percent are more likely to be successful or competent operators. The idea that an “in shape” sailor is going to be a more valuable asset has not been defended by anything other than opinion from smaller sailors.

I have personally witnessed many sub-par sailors, in standards, who cannot handle the duties of their rate or handle the pace of their division; resulting in them being assigned to a collateral duty or an alternate role where they are simply placed out of the way. These sailors slide through tour after tour doing the minimal load and after a laughable PTS process move on and continue to serve “honorably”. At the same time, we are watching sailors who have earned a difficult NEC, great evaluations, and a degree get shown the door because they are out of PRT standards. If we are trying to find a reason to downsize, we should be using knowledge-based processes to determine which sailors are not carrying their weight. This publication recently defended higher pay for Officers because they have skills that make them more marketable to the civilian sector. Shouldn’t we be also basing whom we keep and whom we cut based on skills that could be desired on the civilian or military side? Our current system is sorting out sailors by waistline and is in no way representative of skillsets or actual value to the Navy. The jobs that require running ability should train that way, but the Navy’s reactors haven’t steamed safely for over 50 years because of the running ability of its sailors. Our current inadequate system of deciding which sailors to keep and which to drop is in no way meeting or enhancing the “needs of the Navy.”

Our recruiters are closing the door on several bright minds whose weight will not allow them entrance to the military because we are using a selection process (and evaluation process) that is more applicable to the underwear models at the mall. Imagine two eighteen year olds walking into the local recruiting station. The first was a high school athlete and barely passed high school while scoring the current minimum of 35 on the ASVAB. The second was active in academic organizations and has earned a 99 on the ASVAB, demonstrating a superior ability in math and science. However, the second applicant is 30 lbs over the chart weight and is a few inches beyond the rope and choke test. I can’t imagine the scenario that would make the first applicant a better asset to an organization using the finest equipment and nuclear energy. Our recruiters should be seeking out the best talent and smartest applicants, not trying to figure out who is small enough and can pass the test. I’m not saying that the first applicant should not have the chance to serve; we have several non-technical positions available and there’s always the USMC office next door where physical rigors actually exist. The ASVAB standards that are in place are pitiful and are the first standard that I would propose lifting to meet the needs of the modern Navy. I scored a 99 on my test and was shoved to the nuclear community because at the time they were struggling to get enough students who could qualify to even attend the school. If we have any less than useful “fat” in this Navy, it is in the sailors who can’t read and write proficiently. How can we expect someone without basic math skills to understand the intricacies of a modern warfare system? I get far more frustrated with the number of senior enlisted personnel who cannot form a complete sentence than I do with the sailor who doesn’t run fast enough. The group of highly trained sailors that were sent to advanced warfare system schools are getting out and now working as civilians to fix the systems that the sailors can’t. I would start solving our problem and screening correctly by raising the minimum ASVAB scores to the 70’s for technical positions with higher enlistment bonuses to appeal to the brighter minds. Our institutions of higher education aren’t looking at waistlines when considering whom to contribute to the next wave of innovation; the Navy should have the same attitude.

The new ‘smarter’ ships are operating with lower manning and greater responsibilities on the individual sailor. The amount of shipboard assessments and administrative programs are growing by the day. We are also paying civilian contractors constantly to board our ships and perform repairs that sailors cannot accomplish alone due to a rapidly increasing shortfall in training and rise in workload that is irrelevant to their job description. The need for more competent technicians is rising and we are not spending enough time educating our sailors. The time that could be spent training sailors is frequently spent doing command PT that has become routine in most commands. My command has 1 person for every 100 sailors assigned to an office that’s sole purpose is the PRT. These sailors are maintaining the PRIMS database, FEP, and tracking overweight sailors. These sailors all went to an “A” school and have been trained to do a real job outside of this. However, due to the amount of overhead, these sailors are earning E5 and E6 pay to run a workout program and enter data into the PRIMS database. These sailors are not using their time to fix or operate equipment, nor is it being used to give or receive training. We have taken the concept of cutting our larger sailors and turned it into a massive drain on resources. The money being used to employ civilians who maintain PRIMS and sailors whose only applied skill is clocking run times would be better spent elsewhere as needs exist.

The attention that we are giving to the sailors who want tougher standards is only masking a much larger problem our Navy is facing. Many sailors who contribute very little, but happen to be in good shape, will continue to advocate tougher standards because that is about all they contribute. However, if we continue on this course, we will keep pushing good sailors and vital resources out of the Navy due to failure to meet standards that would never appear on a respectable resume. In my opinion, this is demonstrating gross negligence and is a process that should be reviewed and drastically overhauled.
The transition to a smaller Navy doesn’t have to be literal, instead it should be an opportunity to increase the quality of our candidates and make our Navy (and ultimately our country) stronger, beginning with the individual sailors.

Derek D. Drayer
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Total Comments 1


  1. Old Comment
    I am not advocating a Navy full of fat sailors, promoting health and fitness should still be a priority. This is an argument about using it as criteria for evaluations and seperations.
    Posted 03-10-2011 at 11:15 PM by drayer54 drayer54 is online now

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