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Musculoskeletal injury top threat to Airmen readiness, lethality: Interventions support fitness improvement plan

Airmen participating in group fitness exercises

Airmen participating in group fitness exercises

Mission readiness is key to the execution of the National Defense strategy, and the Air Force Materiel Command is operating on the front lines ensuring Airmen are fit to fight.

The Department of Defense defines readiness as the ability of military forces to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions. A closer look at possible reasons for low readiness in the ranks of deployable Airmen shines light on the number of musculoskeletal injuries in the form of fractures, strains and sprains and their impact.

A review of the Air Force Materiel Command Community Action Plan 2019-2021 overview listed musculoskeletal injury as the number one reason for lost duty days in the U.S. Air Force and improving the physical health readiness of military members as a priority goal for the command.

“Musculoskeletal injury has been identified as the top threat to service member’s readiness and lethality, with physical training listed as the leading cause of injuries among service members,” said Maj. Gen. Carl Schaefer, deputy commander, AFMC.

According to the Defense Health Agency, physical training injuries are significant to the Air Force because of their potential for lost duty or training time, costs and military readiness. This also leads to a reduction in the number of Airmen ready to deploy at any point in time.

Injured members can be pulled from unit assignments, training qualifications can expire and equipment can break. When readiness suffers, the risks to forces increase.

To impact the causes of these new realities, AFMC’s Health Promotion Coordinators have implemented a two-intervention plan. The first intervention requires all Physical Training Leaders to complete a standardized four-hour PTL workshop before conducting commander-approved unit physical training.

The second intervention is for military members who receive a second consecutive unsatisfactory PT assessment score. These Airmen will be required to participate in a face-to-face Fitness Improvement Program class with the installation HPC.

A commander can refer a member for the FIP class after only one test failure, if an intervention is believed necessary.

If the military member gets a second consecutive unsatisfactory PT assessment score, they must participate in a face-to-face Fitness Improvement Program class.

Schaefer refers to this as “the initial phase to improve the physical health of our service members.”

The HPCs at each installation have been provided the training, resources and materials to assist their respective installations.

In addition, new AFMC Physical Training test rules, which took effect Jan. 20, allow Airmen who are current on their fitness assessments to attempt up to three mock diagnostic assessment tests before their PT test due date. The assessments provide Airmen with an idea of their current fitness level and where they may need to improve prior to their test due date. This is part of an overall effort to continue to encourage a culture of fitness across the command.

“When you improve the health of our military members, fitness restrictions decrease and readiness across AFMC increases,” said Schaefer.