• T. Kearny Vertner, III

Fit to Lead?

Strong military physical fitness scores are not a reason to skip unit fitness training; they drive a responsibility to lead it.

Airmen working out | Photo by Air Force Public Affairs
Photo by Air Force Public Affairs

"I scored an 'Excellent' on my Air Force Fitness Assessment; why do I still have to attend my unit's group physical training sessions?"


Anyone who has served in the military has likely heard something along these lines throughout their career. Often, it will be the junior to mid-career service member that takes outstanding care of their fitness through a careful regime. In some cases, these personnel are exceptional athletes in their own right, understandably concerned that any deviation from their established program might result in competition-damaging injury or soreness. They are the ones who dedicate countless hours pushing to the next level of their fitness, almost exclusively outside of regular duty hours. Unfortunately, they are also the ones who will feel like a few hours of light jogging and calisthenics next to their heavy-breathing teammates is a complete waste of their time.


It's not. It's an opportunity to lead.

First of all, the United States is troubled by a general lack of physical fitness in general. According to a 2020 study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that from 1999 to 2018, obesity in adults has steadily increased, topping out most recently at a staggering 42.4%. As a result, the CDC estimates that about 1 in 4 otherwise-eligible young adults are unable to serve, while only half are getting the recommended amount of aerobic activity to maintain a healthy body and lifestyle. As a result, even those who are able to join are unlikely to have a solid foundation of fitness, causing obesity in the ranks to creep up and become a source of increased injury and reduced readiness.


While I sincerely appreciate those with lofty fitness goals and the dedication to maintain them, there aren't enough service members like that. As the adage goes, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." Nobody can fight and win against our nation's adversaries and competitors by themselves; this is fundamentally a team effort. Even if we conscripted every professional athlete tomorrow, we'd fall considerably short.


This is where one's dedication turns into a responsibility: get out there and make your teammates better. You might not be able to bring them up to your extraordinary level, but you might just be the one who can motivate them to get just a little bit faster or a little bit stronger. Better yet, rather than standing to the side and quietlymocking whomever bravely stood up to lead the formation with comments like "why are they doing this exercise? What a stupid waste of my time," get out there and lead yourself. If you find the program ineffective, take charge and run it better!

Airmen working out | Photo by Air Force Public Affairs
Photo by Air Force Public Affairs

What are our fittest personnel getting out of such an approach? Nearly risk-free opportunities to practice leadership! While a seasoned military leader may be saddled with the burdens of life-or-death decisions on the battlefield or career-enhancing/ending decisions in garrison, physical training leadership carries no such weight. It's a great opportunity to work on skills like motivating others, elements of public speaking, quickly adapting your plans (oh look, it's raining), as well as showcasing what positional authority means in contrast with the legitimate authority of rank. It's always a great chance to lead up and beyond one's rank.


So if you're one of those athletes who is crushing your service's physical fitness assessment, just remember: you haven't earned the privilege of lower expectations or less time around your teammates; you're earned the responsibility to lead them.