RISK: U.S. Navy loosens body fat restrictions to maintain pool of cyber-warriors

10 percent of the force have failed the physical requirements at least once since 2011

 Drone operators and cyber-security experts don’t need to be lean, mean, wrestling machines who can hold a plank for ten minutes and dead-lift 400 lbs.

The U.S. Navy has loosened its body fat restrictions to 26 percent for men and 36 percent for women. Previously, the maximum body fat was 22 percent for males 17-29 and 33 percent for females 17-39. Sailors aged 40 and over were allowed one extra percentage point.

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The Navy is also allowing sailors who failed their physical exams three or more times to be re-tested under the more lenient requirements.

The changes come amid debate over whether the physical requirements demanded of service members are still relevant or should be adjusted according to the job so the armed forces can maintain the pool of talent it needs for today’s high-tech warfare.

There’s been talk in the Army of easing up on strict body fat requirements for its cyber-warriors, for example.

All branches are reviewing their job standards to modernize their forces and prepare for the opening of combat posts to women.

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From drone operators to cyber-warfare officers, “there are a number of officers in jobs where it is really obvious why it would not make whole lot of difference what their weight is, other than to the extent that the culture in the military disrespects it and therefore, they can’t lead,” said former Army officer James Joyner, who teaches at the Marine Corps University.

He believes the military must change.

“It’s absurd the percentage of high school teenagers who are considered to be too fat to join the military,” Joyner said. “Maybe there are two problems: One, obesity, and the other that the standards are out of date and not relevant.”

Some 34,000 sailors, or roughly 10 percent of the force, have failed the physical requirements at least once since 2011, mostly because of body fat, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said.

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Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the service is not lowering standards but rather adjusting to reality: People today, in general, are bigger but not necessarily fat. The Navy is also considering larger uniforms sizes for the first time in two decades.

“It’s far more realistic,” Mabus said of the new body fat standard. “We were kicking more people out of the Navy for failing that, than for drugs.”

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