Air Force to enhance physical fitness test, standards for select career fields

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons
  • Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs
The Air Force began the rollout of Tier 2 physical training standards as more than 100 battlefield Airmen demonstrated new career field specific testing components at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Jan. 9, 2018.

The adoption of the Tier 2 standards will exempt battlefield Airmen from three of the four components of the Air Force fitness assessment because their occupational fitness assessments already effectively measure the fitness required for their missions.

Air liaison officers and tactical air control party operators will soon see the implementation of new physical fitness test requirements, making them the first career fields in the Air Force to have occupationally-specific and operationally-relevant standards, as well as a second fitness assessment.

Officials stated these requirements will ensure operators have the necessary physical ability to perform critical job-related duties beyond what is required of Airmen on the current Air Force fitness assessment.

“ALO and TACP operators will be given a 12-month period after implementation to adapt to these new tests and standards before they are officially enforced,” said Dr. Neal Baumgartner, Air Force chief of the Exercise Science Unit.

According to Air Force Instruction 36-2905, Fitness Program, all Airmen are required to maintain a certain level of physical fitness in order to meet the science-based health and general fitness criterion standards of the Air Force-wide fitness assessment. Referred to as a Tier 1 physical fitness test, the Air Force-wide Fitness Assessment is designed to ensure Airmen are present for duty in overall good health.

“These Tier 1 scores are critical for all Airmen, but they do not necessarily reflect military task achievement,” Baumgartner said. “There are certain career fields, ALO and TACP for instance, that required much higher and broader levels of physical fitness to meet the demands of their operational mission sets. This is why we initiated additional science-based work to determine this additional set of fitness tests and standards, referred to as Tier 2, to more adequately assess unique, physically demanding Air Force specialty codes.”

With help and support from RAND Project AIR FORCE, the Exercise Science Unit, or ESU, began developing Tier 2 standards for battlefield Airmen operators in October 2011.

“To properly develop Tier 2 tests and standards, we performed five major steps to develop a final product: identify critical physical job tasks, develop fitness tests and physical task simulations, validate fitness tests and standards versus operational physical requirements, implement and verify these tests and standards, and finally document Tier 2 products and provide recommendations for policy during the adaptation period,” said Baumgartner.

While assessing physical job demands in Step 1, three focus groups of ALO and TACP operators were used to identify 44 ALO-TACP Critical Physical Tasks, or CPTs. These were reviewed and approved by senior leaders from the operational community and used as the foundation for the remaining four Tier 2 steps.

To execute the second step of developing physical fitness tests and physical task simulations, ESU used a systematic process that involved evaluating more than 100 physical fitness tests to create the Tier 2 Operator Prototype PF Test Battery, the final prototype consists of 10 test components. Each of these components is accompanied by descriptions highlighting the specific purpose of the test, muscle groups measured, protocol for administration, scoring and relevance – the operational capabilities predicted by the test.

“The important take-away here is that each of these 10 components have specific relevance to unique ALO-TACP operational mission sets,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Gruse, ESU NCO in charge. “The grip strength test for example measures muscular strength in the hands and forearms, but why? While some may see this as redundant to other test components, our study found grip strength plays a significant role in performing tasks such as litter carries, casualty drags and rescue sled pulls during casualty movement.”

Tier 2 Operator Prototype PF Test Battery components:
• Grip Strength
• Medicine Ball Toss, back and side
• Three Cone Drill
• Trap Bar Deadlift, 5 repetition maximum
• Pull-Up
• Lunges, weighted 50 pound, metronome
• Extended Cross Knee Crunch, metronome
• Farmer’s Carry, 2x50 pound, 100 yards
• Row Ergometer, 1000 meters
• Run, 1.5 miles

In addition to the test battery, ESU and RAND designed eight broad physical task simulations, or PTSs, to approximate the CPTs performed by ALO and TACP operators. Like the fitness test battery components, these simulations were developed in collaboration with special operators, reviewed by senior leaders, and pretested during a pilot study. PTSs provide a realistic approximation of physical operational actions ALO and TACP could be confronted with during an operational mission. During Step 3, the ESU tested 171 Airmen on both the fitness test battery and the PTSs, validating the linkage, and developed the top 10 fitness test components for predicting operational physical success.

Physical Task Simulation components:
• Rope Bridge
• Rope Ladder
• Cross Load Personnel and Equipment
• Casualty Movement
• Small Unit Tactics (Parts A – D)

Baumgartner noted that the scoring system is a prototype, and the ESU, in conjunction with ALO-TACP leadership, will adjust scoring per data collected in the Step 4 verification phase of testing. To complete Step 4, the ESU conducted final verification testing of the prototype tests and standards between January and February 2017 with 30 ALO-TACP operators.

While there were no women represented among those operators, officials clarified that women are eligible for either career field provided they meet all minimum standards outlined in respective qualifications summaries.

In the coming months, additional information will be made available to the Total Force on how to prepare for testing and how to improve physical readiness. The ESU is also updating their Exercise Principles and Methods, or EPM, Course to train ALO and TACP physical leaders. The EPM Course includes recommendations and specific activities to better address weaknesses and build on strengths made clear by the Tier 2 test.

“Members can contact their unit physical training leader or strength and conditioning coach for feedback on form and techniques, and may contact us in the ESU regarding other questions they might have about the final Tier 2 ALO-TACP operator tests and standards,” said Baumgartner.

For more information about fitness programs, visit the Air Force Personnel Center website.