The Space Force plans to rely on wearable fitness monitors to track troops’ sleep routines, heart rates and physical activity, one of the few leadership details has begun to discuss ahead of the rollout of the service’s new health assessment next year.
When asked about the upcoming fitness standards by Military.com, Gen. John Raymond, the service’s chief of space operations, told reporters at the Air Force Association’s annual conference in Orlando on Friday that he wants to focus on overall fitness, versus having Guardians prepare for one physical training test.
“We want to prioritize wearing the wearables that are out there to get data to be able to measure fitness holistically all year round, rather than just doing a one-time PT test,” Raymond said.
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As the newest service branch, the Space Force has been working to carve out its own identity separate from that of the overarching Air Force through its uniforms and lingo — and now by approaching physical fitness and health differently.
To date, the Space Force has relied on the Air Force’s standard PT test, which includes sit-ups, push-ups and a 1.5-mile run.
Raymond announced earlier this week that the number of active-duty Space Force Guardians will grow from 7,000 to around 8,400 by the end of the year. Notably, one-third of those will never have served on active duty in the Air Force.
A fair number of new Guardians have come from other branches of military service since the Space Force was created in late 2019. As the holistic health assessment continues to be workshopped, Raymond said he has directed new Space Force members to stick to a physical training test they’re familiar with for this year.
“The direction that I have given is that everybody’s going to take a PT test this year, in whatever service they were in,” Raymond said. “And it’s just to make sure that Guardians personally understand where they are with their physical fitness.”
Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, the Space Force’s highest noncommissioned officer, told reporters that Guardians will have three levels — green, yellow and red — to evaluate their health. That color coding will take into account sleep, cardiovascular health and fitness activity.
This will give officers opportunities to check in on their fellow Guardians’ fitness progress and allow them to stay on track throughout the year, Towberman added.
“We’re building this community, this culture of fitness, where in a fun way, people just immediately start taking care of each other and they’re connected,” he said.
Wearables have raised questions in the past about privacy and security. In 2018, a Department of Defense memo advised service members in deployed areas and at high-profile bases to leave their fitness trackers at home for fear of revealing compromising location data to adversaries.
“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents significant risk to DoD personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” the memo read.
Space Force leadership did not speak about how the wearables might affect operational security.
But when asked about the concerns of having Guardians’ private health data shared frequently with the Space Force, Towberman said that troops need to accept that using the trackers is part of their service, pointing to other communities that are using the wearable technology successfully.
“Privacy rights, for sure, are important,” Towberman said. “Also, these are the conditions of employment on the team. So as long as you understand what you’re getting into, I think that there’s a lot less concern about this.”
Additionally, Space Force Guardians won’t be out in the field as much as other service branches, mitigating some operational security concerns.
Space Force is the latest service aiming to reform long-standing physical fitness standards among the ranks.
The Air Force is looking at using a height and waist measurement ratio as a way to assess health among airmen. In December 2020, the branch became the first to ditch the waist measurement portion of the physical assessment.
Since then, the Army has also begun taking a hard look at the tape measure test, which has been used to measure a person’s body mass index since the 19th century.
That assessment is done by using a tape measure to compare height to circumference measurements around the hips, abdomen and neck to determine overall body fat.
Towberman knows that service members from other branches have gone to drastic measures to pass their physical fitness tests or make weight when it’s time to get on the scale. He hopes the new wearables will allow Guardians to think about their health all the time, instead of when it’s too late.
“It allows intervention — helpful, meaningful investment in Guardians — instead of disciplinary, punitive interventions because they were failing for six months, and then somebody has to do something,” he said.
— Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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