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DoD Announces Operation Be Fit

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 1997 – Whether it's pumping iron at a Camp Lejeune, N.C., fitness center, volksmarching around Neuschwanstein Castle in the German Alps or biking along a Japanese nature trail, there are many ways to remain physically fit.

With the change from winter comes a new DoD program designed to improve the health of all defense personnel and their families. Dubbed Operation Be Fit, defense officials hope the program will augment the military's physical fitness efforts and provide new ways to promote fitness within DoD.

Fred Pang, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, said the program will focus on improving and expanding fitness and sports programs. It will encourage recreational activities involving physical activity and promote active participation from all military community members.

"Maintaining the peace through military training and preparedness -- and fighting a war if necessary -- calls for men and women who are extremely fit," said Pang. "What we spend in fitness, sports and recreation programs that leads to physical fitness is an investment -- it's the human side of force modernization."

The military services have a variety of programs designed to keep service members physically fit. Carolyn Becraft, DoD's deputy assistant secretary for personnel support, families and education, said today's military service members are some of the best fit in the country. However, she said, the emphasis of the incentive is to expand fitness beyond the unit PT program and include activities that can be relaxing, fun and still promote exercise.

"This program is the perfect vehicle for us to wrap our arms around," said Becraft. "There are lifestyles of fitness that encourage 'moving' as a regular part of your daily life. This shows what we're going to do for fitness in the military -- whether it be riding a bike, walking, jogging or volksmarching."

Both Pang and Becraft cited findings of a July 1996 U.S. surgeon general's report on physical activity and health as an important reason to undertake this physical fitness program. The report ties regular physical activity with decreased incidence of disease, improved overall physical and mental health, and an improved quality of life.

"We know that if you grew up in a home where you -- as a child -- were doing physical activity, that's become part of your family culture," said Becraft. "It's a behavior -- one that you will model as you go on. We want our people to continue those fitness patterns because it promotes a healthy lifestyle that pays benefits all your life."

Last December, DoD hosted a fitness forum including senior representatives from the military services, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. One result is prompting DoD into taking its first departmentwide look at how morale, welfare and recreation fitness facilities at military bases support their customers and promote recreational fitness.

Becraft said some financing for these incentives is already in place, courtesy of former Defense Secretary William J. Perry's quality of life initiative two years ago. In 1995, DoD provided funds to MWR to budget day care programs and enhance recreation facilities at bases both stateside and abroad.

Because of these funds, Becraft said, many recreation facilities have more equipment and remain open longer. The key now, said Becraft, is to make progress in upgrading or replacing some older facilities, increase the number of trained and certified staff, and provide a fitness experience for service members and families equal to what's available in civilian communities. "Our overall goal is to get people into our facilities and get them moving," she said.

Some programs do not have that problem. A good part of the recreation budget goes to the military's sports leagues -- aimed primarily at service members and their children. Military athletes compete at unit level, base leagues and interservice play. Youth services sports programs teach individual basics in athletics and sportsmanship.

However, Becraft said, there is room for other sports that would encourage family involvement. "Look at your base population. If there's a need for a women's soccer league, don't be afraid to ask about starting one. If there are those who want to do some kind of organized sports activity, let's make sure we can provide a venue for it," she said.

Becraft said one way DoD hopes to improve is by promoting more family-oriented fitness activities, such as hiking, bicycling and ski trips. She said many recreation centers can book arrangements for outdoor activities that build family unity and fitness. They can also acquire most of the equipment they need for these trips and excursions -- boats, skis, backpacks, in-line skates -- through outdoor recreation centers.

While DoD is promoting the fitness program for all employees, Becraft said allowing DoD civilians to use a base's recreational facilities and equipment is still a local commander's decision. Civilians assigned to military bases overseas often rent sports and recreation equipment from military centers. Those assigned stateside may not have that privilege.

Still, these local issues should not discourage DoD civilians from participating in recreation programs, Becraft said. With all the community rental agencies and the amount of equipment and programs available in local markets, designing a family recreation program should be easy for anyone willing to participate.

DoD's fitness initiative is drawing praise from other health and fitness officials. "The Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health is a landmark document in our nation's understanding of a public health threat," said Sandra Perlmutter, executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. "I commend the Department of Defense for being the first federal agency to embrace the findings in the report and develop a specific action plan to increase physical activity among its work force and their families."

Perlmutter said she hopes other government organizations will follow DoD's initiative, but Becraft said DoD is not trying to compete for attention. "We really want to look at what our own program is doing," said Becraft, "but the president's committee is very interested in what were doing. I think they are delighted that a government agency jumped on board. I think they'd like to use that fact to trigger other agencies to take a look at their [own] work force."

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