Friday, May 15, 2009

What the PT Test Doesn't Measure

I will be starting remedial PT (Physical Training) again next week for the soldiers who failed the last PT Test and need to get ready for the next one. In Iraq, more than in Oklahoma, the gym is one of the few things to do so I am able to divide the group into two groups:
1. The self-motivated ones who know what they need to work on, have a workout partner and have committed to a plan to pass the test.
2. Those who need some level of push or they will stay as motionless as possible, usually in front of some sort of video entertainment.

For group one I already have five individual plans of action and will check in regularly. For group two, I will be taking over a SPIN class on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of each week at 0530. The less motivated will join me in the SPIN class pedaling for an hour bright and early on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Our entire company does a 5k race each Wednesday morning and individual squads do PT Monday and Friday morning early.

It is my job to help get these soldiers ready to pass the PT test, which I think is very important. But over the last three months I have noticed that the PT test does not necessarily predict who will be the best soldier, especially for tough, dirty jobs. There are certain jobs for which I ask for Group 1 soldiers who have failed or barely passed the PT test. When we load and unload and hundreds of duffel bags; when we have to carry dozens of machine guns, barrels and tripods; whenever there is a job that requires lots of muscle and little speed, I am looking for some of the big guys who struggle to reach their required time on the two-mile run or the required number of sit-ups, but can lift lots of weight easily and will work for hours.

The PT test is a good measure of fitness, but not such a good measure of brute strength or willingness to work long hours. And there are many times in this manual labor job where the race is neither to the swift nor to the agile but to the big guy who can barely run two miles in 17 minutes but can bench press 350 pounds.

One more note on the Group 2 soldiers who bitch about PT, many of whom need to eat less in addition to working out more: These same guys watch a lot of war movies and really don't seem to see the connection between fitness and being a soldier. In fact, when 70 of us lived in one tent and there were no secrets anywhere, I started to notice that the guys who hated PT were the ones who tried to look "bad" in the group photos. Young soldiers are perpetually taking photos of each other, like all of their generation. I noticed the same guys who shirk every dirty job and grumble about PT were the ones who had their weapons prominent in the photos they were in. They like the look and idea of being a soldier. Maybe they somehow believe that if the worst happens they will have a Hollywood transformation into movie-hero fighting machines.

My guess is they will just be out of breath.

Live Forever? Yes! In This Body? No.

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