Airmen-in-training at Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal do kettlebell swings during Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness training July 19, 2012, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The program,designed by the 366th Training Squadron Field Training Detachment 3 and 96th Force Support Squadron, emphasizes weightlifting mechanics, increased strength, power and agility. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dan Hawkins)
Airmen-in-Training from the 366th Training Squadron Field Training Detachment 3 work in the weight room during Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness training July 19, 2012 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The four-phase program is designed to last eight months long, corresponding with length of time students are at Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dan Hawkins)
Airmen from the 366th Training Squadron Field Training Detachment 3 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., complete box jumps during Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness training July 19, 2012. The revamped fitness program was instituted in January of 2012 to help Airmen at Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal get prepared for the physical rigors of the EOD career field. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dan Hawkins)
Airmen from the 366th Training Squadron Field Training Detachment 3 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., stretch out during Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness training July 19, 2012. The program, designed to help Explosive Ordnance Disposal candidates get prepared for the rigors of deployed operations, was instituted in January 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dan Hawkins)
8/14/2012 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.(AFNS) -- Physical fitness workouts for Air Force explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) candidates now have a battlefield twist at Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD), as the 366th Training Squadron Field Training Detachment 3 here has revamped their fitness program to turn Airmen into "tactical" athletes.
Air Force EOD operations have changed significantly during the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as the need for a more robust and joint operational capability increased, going from a primarily airbase response to full spectrum combat operations in physically demanding and non-permissive environments.
"Over the last 10 years, the Air Force EOD program has evolved," said Chief Master Sgt. Al Schneider, 366th Training Squadron Detachment 3 superintendent. "We have operators on the ground, we support special operations forces, we support Marines...we need to be physically fit so we're not a detriment to the mission. When we're out there on the ground with whatever force we're supporting, we're an asset. We have the EOD capability, but if we can't take the capability from point A to point B, the mission fails."
Career field leaders recognized the need for Airman to be able to physically endure the many hardships they will encounter in the field.
After collaboration with Air Education and Training Command, the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (P.A.S.T.) was implemented to raise the fitness level of EOD candidates. The P.A.S.T. is also used by other battlefield Airmen career fields such as pararescue and combat control.
Passing the P.A.S.T. is now a prerequisite at the recruiting stations and also at the Air Force's EOD preliminary course at Sheppard Air Force, Texas.
With the more demanding fitness requirement in place, it became clear to the technical training community a more rigorous fitness program was needed to meet the demands placed on graduates once they made it to the field.
"Putting the P.A.S.T. into our operations was a great first step," said Lt. Col. Jerry Sanchez, 366th TRS Detachment 3 commander. "But it really was just the beginning of our fitness revolution."
Wanting to go further to improve physical fitness training, Air Force Special Operations Command EOD, in conjunction with the Hurlburt Air Force Base (Fla.) Health and Wellness Center, designed a career field specific fitness test called the T.O.P.E., or Task Orientated Physical Evaluation.
The T.O.P.E. is a repeatable test simulating tasks EOD technicians will encounter in a deployed setting. The test consists of a 1.5 mile ruck march (with 50 pounds), simulated robot lift (50 pounds and four repetitions), a six-foot wall scale, a jerry-can run (with two cans) and finishing with a second 1.5 mile ruck march (with 50 pounds).
Although not currently in the EOD Career Field Education and Training Plan (CFETP), the intent is to include the T.O.P.E. test in the CFETP in the future to help ensure all technicians stay in the physical shape necessary to meet mission requirements.
With the writing on the wall, it was clear to the Detachment 3 staff they needed to ramp up the intensity of physical training at NAVSCOLEOD for the candidates. The question was how.
"We found career field-wide the need for a battlefield mentality in physical training," said Staff Sgt. Aaron Cantu, 366th TRS Detachment 3 EOD instructor. "To meet the demands of the battlefield, we developed a new PT program."
Enter the "Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness" program.
Developed in October of 2011, through a joint collaboration with Mr. Ben Gleason, former 96th Force Support Squadron exercise physiologist, and 366th TRS Detachment 3 instructors Tech. Sgt. Layne Mayerstein and Staff Sgts. David Flowers and Michael Turner, the program emphasizes weightlifting mechanics, increased strength, power and agility.
"What we want to do here is when they first get to their duty station, physically and emotionally, we want a full-up (EOD technician)," Schneider said. "If they did have to deploy the next day they would be ready to go."
Although the Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness program is not designed around the P.A.S.T. or T.O.P.E. fitness tests, the focus of the program is on developing tactical athletes who can complete mission-specific tasks.
With workouts concentrated on particular areas of the body and increasing in intensity as the program progresses, including power-lifting in the final phase, raising the fitness and confidence levels of the candidates is a primary focus.
"Our main goal for the students is to prepare them for going downrange," Turner said. "We want to make them physically fit, not only in body, but psychologically as well."
The four-phase program is designed to last eight months corresponding with students' progression through NAVSCOLEOD, with physical training five days a week. Each phase of the program is eight weeks in duration.
"It's a crawl, run, walk approach," Sanchez said. "It's part of an overall training plan...I want our graduates to go out to the field and be the subject matter experts when it comes to physical fitness."
In the future, the plan is to use the T.O.P.E. as a metric and another validation tool for the Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness program at NAVSCOLEOD.
Although the program is overseen by the detachment staff, the beauty of the program is it is led and executed by students, providing opportunities for candidates to be leaders.
"(PT) is led by the student leaders," Cantu said. "It's a great leadership evolution...fellow Airmen trying to push each other to make everyone better."
Using data taken from P.A.S.T. tests administered throughout the NAVSCOLEOD course, the program is showing that candidates are leaving in much better shape than when they arrived.
"We found out it's working from the Airmen themselves," Turner said. "We show a huge increase between phase one and phase two, not only in run time, but push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups."
From the testimonials of Airmen in the program, it's clear the results have been positive.
"When I first got here, (PT) was only three days a week," said Senior Airman James Ruiz, EOD candidate. "They teach you the basics when you first get here...how to stretch, workout, lift. It definitely gets you ready for the physical aspect of the job."
"I've seen a lot of improvement since I got here," said Airman 1st Class Kristen Fay, an EOD candidate who has doubled her pull-up reps since arriving at NAVSCOLEOD five months ago. "We like to have competitions in our group...it promotes teamwork and it's a lot of fun."
The tangible benefits include a healthier force overall.
"We're the only squadron in Air Education and Training Command to have a physical fitness score average of 90 or above and no medical profiles," Cantu said. "Everybody leaving here is in much better shape and ready to handle the physical stressors and day-to-day grind of a deployment."
The 366th Training Squadron Field Training Detachment 3 is part of the 782nd Training Group at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, which conducts technical training in telecommunications, aircraft systems, avionics, civil engineering, fuels and vehicle operations for over 13,000 students annually.
8/19/2012 7:21:31 PM ET Unfortunately the article misleads with inferring AF EOD's physical fitness initiatives are driving inputs into PAST standards used by Pararescue and combat control.The EOD PAST requirements and criteria are much less strenuous rigorous and demanding than PJ and PAST standards which have been Task oriented in the operational environment from day one of implementation.USAF Parescue implemented a career field specific physical fitness standard in July 1947 concrrent with the AFSC being established and CCT established and implemented a career field specific PAST standard in 1988.The typical AF EOD member being the subject matter experts when it comes to physical fitness is for what impact or benefit to the rest of the Air Force
John, Anchorage AK
8/19/2012 6:56:38 PM ET Interesting comments.The AF EOD beret proposal happened during 2010 and 2011.Disapproval was influenced by EOD badge already existing as a joint service duty badge holding similiar standing as the parachutist badges.Wear of the EOD badge inicates service member complete the required joint service training to perform EOD duties and is performing EOD duties.Also the physical fitness testing standards becoming more vigorous strenuous and demanding has nothing to do with AF EOD being considered for being classified or designated as a Battlefield Airman AFSC in AFPD 10-35.
John, Anchorage AK
8/17/2012 12:00:18 AM ET I'm wondering if next on the agenda for AF EOD is adding tactical training to the pipeline Having served in AFSOC and now Army EOD I see a definite need for EOD techs to have combat skills training frontloaded similar to what Navy EOD and other Battlefield Airmen do. I suggest adding to the current EOD pipeline in which NAVSCOLEOD grads complete SERE Army Air Assault and a finishing school where ground combat skills are learned and refined. This school would round out the new EOD techs in skills such as small unit tactics weapons medical vehicle ops additional EOD skills and would culminate in a realistic FTX combining their newfound skills with the training they received at NAVSCOLEOD. Throughout the pipeline PT naturally continues to increase in intensity. Chief Schneider is anything like this in the works Or am I way off base
8/16/2012 7:53:35 AM ET I'm excited to see the path that AF EOD is on. Not only does increasing the physical fitness demands on EOD students make them better prepared for supporting joint forces in ground combat, it also has the added benefit of washing out some of the lazy slugs that are smart enough to make it through NAVSCOLEOD but are otherwise unsuitable for such a team-oriented, selfless, no-fail, no-excuse job. We have FAR too many of them in Army EOD, sadly in-part because the PT standards are on par with the rest of the Army's which are pitifully low. Kudos to the AF EOD leadership for stepping up and pushing the fitness standards to what they should be from the ground up. I sure wish Army EOD would follow suit.
8/15/2012 7:06:29 PM ET @ Deployed EOD TL: you might want to brush up on some EOD info. They tried getting berets a LONG time ago and almost got them, too. But someone finally read the small print. You need to pick a color of a beret that hasn't been used. It was all a joke to see if the paperwork was actually read and would go thru, but somebody finally did read the fine print and that's why EOD isn't sporting pink berets You still want that coveted beret now?
EOD Knowledge, USA
8/15/2012 11:11:09 AM ET I love this, now when will we officially be made Battlefield Airmen and get our berets?
Deployed EOD TL, Afghanistan
8/15/2012 1:25:38 AM ET So just so I'm clear, EOD is creating new PT standards for their career field and other combat career fields are getting easier? Huh, go figure....i guess the strong shall stand and the weak.....will stand in front of them
Grave Danger, deployed again
8/14/2012 6:53:51 PM ET At long last finally an AF unit that chooses to use their assigned exercise physiologists and health science folks to create a fitness program that is relevant to the needs of the mission. Usually commanders will spend incredible amounts of taxpayer money to buy the latest fad or trend or infomercial fitness program to outsource the leader's accountability of unit fitness or to turn the fitness center into a private gym for the wing king and his wife. This is refreshing news indeed.
JT, Crestview FL
8/14/2012 5:54:34 PM ET This is a strictly EOD-run program with oversight from EOD staff and instructors only. Thanks, though.
CMSgt Schneider, Eglin
8/14/2012 4:13:08 PM ET Don't forget the fitness center staff that provide supervision and exercise guidance to all these students. It's not an easy job to monitor a couple hundred customers in a small area.