A sailor gets measured as part of his body composition assessment aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. Active-duty sailors used to have 10 days after the BCA to take their physical readiness test. Now, they have more than a month. (MC2 James R. Evans/Navy)
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As the body composition assessment approaches each cycle, some sailors take drastic action to drop pounds and meet the weight limit.
Some sailors may try crash dieting or take laxatives. Others might sweat it out in the sauna or wrap themselves in plastic while they work out. Some have been known to rub Preparation H on their waists to shrink their abdomen. These measures are all unsafe and strongly advised against.
Under new rules, the Navy is looking to put a greater distance between such behavior and when sailors are asked to take the physical readiness test.
Effective immediately, both active-duty sailors and drilling reservists will have up to 45 days after taking the BCA in which to complete the PRT. Under the old rules, active-duty sailors had only 10 days after their BCA to perform the pushups, situps and run. Reservists used to have 31 days.
“The change in the interval between the BCA and the PRT was designed to reduce the risk of health issues during the PRT,” said Bill Moore, who heads the Navy Fitness Office in Millington, Tenn. The change was announced in NAVADMIN 231/13, released Sept. 12.
“We have a lot of sailors that do strange things to get within standards, dehydrate themselves or starve themselves,” Moore said. “This gives them time for their bodies to recover, to rehydrate themselves and reduce the chance of issues arising during the PRT.”
And remember: Risks associated with physical training are very real, officials say.
From fiscal 2009 to the present, there have been four deaths during the semiannual PRT: one in 2009, one in 2011 and two in 2012.
An average of 1.3 sailors per every 100,000 have died in PT-related incidents each year over the past decade, according to Naval Safety Center data. Since 1996, Navy data show a high of nine PT-related deaths in both 1998 and 2002.
Failure to complete the test within the 45-day window will mean an “unauthorized absence” and trigger an automatic failure, unless you are caught up in a surge deployment or other unplanned event or emergency.
Better health screening
Navy officials are also making it easier for commands to flag sailors who, because of medical conditions, should not be allowed to take the PRT.
To do this, the Navy has connected the Physical Readiness Information Management System to Navy medical readiness reporting systems. Linking this information will be critical for command fitness leaders who will be able to stop sailors from being put through the PRT paces before they’re healthy enough to do so.
All sailors must have an up-to-date periodic health assessment. Those in a pre- or post-deployment status may also need to have a deployment health assessment on file. If you don’t, your command fitness leader will know. Here’s how: All sailors fill out a Physical Activity Risk Factor Questionnaire before taking part in the physical fitness assessment.
“If the sailor doesn’t have a current health assessment on file with medical, PRIMS won’t let them fill out their [questionnaire],” Moore explained. “They’ll be required to go to medical and get up to date before they’ll be able to proceed with their PFA.”
If sailors can’t get organized and get that information completed before the 45 days is up, they, too, run the risk of an automatic failure for that cycle’s PFA.
Sailors can check their medical status by logging into BUPERS online at https://www.bol.navy.mil/ and selecting “individual medical readiness status.”
'Not out to punish people'
Moore wanted to make clear that sailors only get one shot at taking the BCA during any given cycle. But there is some flexibility, with their commanding officer’s approval.
“The first BCA that’s conducted is the official and only BCA,” he said. “If there’s issues with it — if a sailor is not feeling well — they can wait to do the BCA on a different day, just don’t take it that day.”
Moore also stressed that the Navy is “not out to punish people.”
“We’re out here to maintain a healthy and fit force,” he said. “Once they do the BCA, that’s it. But by coming forward, well ahead of time, they can be referred to medical and hold off on the BCA for a few days and resolve any issues.”
For sailors with medical concerns — medication that makes you gain weight, for example — Moore said the key is making arrangements ahead of time. It’s possible you qualify for a medical waiver.