Sailors take pushup portion of the physical fitness assessment (PFA), May 15, 2022. US Navy Photo
Last week, the Navy announced it would hit reset on the service’s physical fitness assessments to give sailors a chance to get fit after almost three years of pandemic restrictions.
The PFA pass is the latest in a series of efforts the service has rolled out to increase recruiting and retention over the past two years, including most recently erasing failed fitness test scores for the past four years, as it aims to pull in nearly 38,000 new sailors.
“When unemployment is as low as it is, it’s always historically made it very difficult to be able to recruit members into our Armed Service,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said on Tuesday at the National Press Club.
“There also has been a challenge over the course of the last five years or so in terms of the propensity of young men and women to join the service and that has become another challenge… I’ll share a bit of good news, however, is that we’re retaining more marines and sailors now than we ever have as well.”
Starting last year, the Navy introduced a series of changes, from raising the age of recruits to bonuses meant to increase the number of new recruits while also keeping sailors in the service longer.. While the Navy met its recruiting goal in FY 2022 for active-duty enlisted sailors, it needs to bring in 37,700 new sailors this fiscal year, despite a lower predicted end strength, Capt. Jodie Cornell, a spokesperson for the chief of naval personnel, told USNI News in October.
The Navy has so far met its retention goals for sailors who have served up to 14 years, according to first-quarter data, USNI News previously reported.
Still, in the past two weeks, the Navy announced the erasure of previously failed fitness tests and announced it would continue retention bonuses for surface warfare officer lieutenant commanders and department heads. The sea service introduced a number of retention bonuses in FY 2022.
The changes, including some yet to be announced, are part of a campaign to keep the Navy manned, Rear Adm. James Waters III, director of military personnel plans and policy division, under the office of the chief of naval personnel, told reporters last week.
When looking at if the Navy will have enough sailors, the sea service considers new sailors, separations/retirements and retention, Waters said.
“So the Navy is pulling levers as we say as aggressively as we can in all three of those categories and an effort to maintain overall enlisted strength,” he said.
Erasing past Physical Fitness Assessment failures for the past four years is just one of the new announcements. It could help 1,500 sailors stay in the service, Waters said.
“It’s a very small percentage of the force,” he said.
It is a one-time reset. If sailors fail the PFA set for the upcoming spring and summer, they’ll receive a mark on their record indicating they did not pass and need assistance, Waters said.
The reason behind the one-time reset was to not punish sailors who were unable to work out at gyms during the COVID-19 pandemic, Waters said.
The change comes days after the Navy paid for a Super Bowl commercial in 16 markets, marking a shift in the sea service’s previous plans to stop advertising on television.
The ads cost the service about $1.8 million, USNI News previously reported.
In explaining other changes to encourage recruitment, Waters detailed how the Navy raised enlistment bonuses from $50,000 to $75,000 and also lifted the maximum recruiting age to 41.
Lifting the maximum recruiting age borrowed from a 16-year-old law passed by Congress when the Army raised its recruiting age. The goal is to widen the pool of potential recruits, although some positions will have lower age cutoffs, Recruiting Command spokesperson Cmdr. David Benham told USNI News in November.
“As we continue to navigate a challenging recruiting environment, raising the enlistment age allows us to widen the pool of potential recruits, creating opportunities for personnel who wish to serve, but were previously unable due to age,” Benham said.
The Navy also is accepting sailors with lower scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, as long as they score well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
The Armed Forces Qualification Test and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery are two entrance tests required by the Navy. The AFQT is scored based on percentiles, similar to the Graduate Record Examination, used by graduate programs.
The idea behind accepting those who scored in lower percentiles is that the Navy would place more weight on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which it said would be more reflective of how recruits would do in the service, USNI News previously reported.
Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy. Follow @hmongilio