‘One-Time Reset’: Navy To Scrub Fitness Test Fails From Sailors’ Records

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. Navy will scrub past fitness test failures from sailors’ records, a move that could prevent 1,500 servicemembers from leaving the service and meet retention needs this year, according to new guidance published Thursday.

The new administrative policy directs commanders to stop discharge processes for servicemembers who failed the mandatory physical fitness exam and nullifies pre-2023 failures as a consideration for reenlistment or promotions. Rear Adm. James Waters III, director of military personnel, plans and policy, said the policy will help improve the Navy’s chances of meeting its retention goals for fiscal year 2023, according to Navy Times.

“It will reduce attrition if we do not separate sailors based on past [physical fitness exam] failures,” Waters said Wednesday, Navy Times reported. “But it came about through all of the analysis for this campaign plan, through a recognition that we don’t want to punish sailors because gyms were closed during the pandemic,” he added. (RELATED: Here’s How The Military Dropped Its Standards In 2022 To Address A Major Recruiting Crisis)

Challenges in “preparing for and executing” physical fitness exams through the COVID-19 pandemic may have placed some servicemembers at a disadvantage, the notice said, as a justification for the change.

“This reset is intended to level the playing field and ensure every Sailor with the drive to continue has an opportunity to meet fitness standards and  serve in our Navy to the maximum extent desired,” the administrative notice said.

The Navy characterized the policy as a “one-time reset” for all active duty and Navy Reserve sailors who want to remain and advance in the service.

It does not apply to officer commissioning programs and other special evaluations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Navy only ran one regular fitness exam during the calendar year rather than two, as had been precedent, according to Navy Times. Waters said the service has no intention of resuming the biannual fitness testing.

“We think this reset could allow up to 1,500 sailors to remain in the service who might otherwise be separated. Requirements and standards remain constant,” Waters said, according to Navy Times.

The Navy met recruitment goals for the active duty enlisted corps in fiscal year 2022 but fell short on officers and reserve personnel, according to Navy Times.

Recruitment challenges dogged every service branch in 2022, hitting the Army the worst and resulting in an overall reduction in total personnel goals for fiscal year 2023. While recruiting rates and retention rates appear to be improving after the first quarter of 2023, military leaders, including Waters, say the recruiting environment remains “challenging,” Navy Times reported.

Fewer young Americans express interest in serving and meet the military’s physical and academic standards for joining, while higher-paying private sector jobs attract eligible individuals away from the Navy, Waters said, according to Navy Times. “Course corrections,” such as the new policy giving sailors a free pass on past fitness test failures, can help overcome those challenges, he added.

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