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The weigh-in/body composition assessment (BCA) portion of the Navy’s physical fitness test (PRT) is in need of a change.

The height-weight tables are based on standards from the insurance industry that are out-of-date and no longer appropriate to assess the fitness of a contemporary military population—if they ever were. The current standards remain in place mainly because they are straightforward enough to allow many collateral duty physical fitness coordinators throughout the fleet to reliably administer them. What is often overlooked is the fact that precision (in this case, ease of replication) is not the same as accuracy.

It can be assumed that nearly everyone wants a force that can safely perform the tasks asked of them and also looks sharp in uniform. The Navy’s physical fitness portion of the assessment is divorced from occupational requirements and flawed in its own right, but I intend to talk about here about the more-overlooked BCA.

The Navy is a sea-going force and that presents unique challenges to physical fitness that the Navy prefers to ignore. While it is true that the physical fitness portion of the test can be waived for deployment or operations, the instruction is very specific that BCA cannot be waived. This serves to hold Sailors accountable for an area that they sometimes have very little control over. In addition to the real, physical consequences of rotating shift work on metabolism, there are often very limited healthy food options underway. Opportunities to work out can be similarly limited. While there might be a few functioning treadmills onboard, running in rough seas can be very difficult, even unsafe. The increasing length of deployments only exacerbates this problem. While Sailors may no longer be at high risk for scurvy, eight, nine, or even ten months at sea is still a long time and the toll it takes on one’s body is undeniably.

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The way the Navy implements policy has remained largely unchanged in 237 years. The Navy identifies a need, prepares a response, and mandates it from above[i]. This top-down approach cannot work in social media—or any field that is highly technical and rapidly changing. The trajectory of social media development in the Navy has consisted of three largely indistinct phases: hesitant adoption, hasty implementation, and halting stagnation. What is needed now is a transition to a more open system aimed at lowering internal barriers to communication.

Social media use highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques to achieve social interaction. A McKinsey Consulting report recently estimated that “things like improved communication and collaboration from social media in four major business sectors could add $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in value to the economy.” This value is mostly added through increased productivity. There are enormous gains to be had through connection and collaboration within the Navy.

The Navy and Marine Corps are two massive organizations and it takes considerable time to learn how to navigate within them successfully. Internal tools to break down communication obstacles are required. When a Marine 2nd Lieutenant learns that the canteens for her troops are leaking due to poor design, she should be able to quickly and easily reach the contractor to provide feedback. When the Navy decides to form a new staff to engage with Pakistan, a heritage Urdu speaker should be able to volunteer to contribute, even if he happens to be a Machinist Mate. As it is now, an enormous amount of human capital remains untapped because the right connections are not being made.

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2014 Information Domination Essay Contest