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Shape Up: Corps tightens weight, appearance standards

By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon & Lance Cpl. Gregory Aalto | | August 21, 2008

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In the final stage of the Corps' physical fitness makeover, the commandant signed a new order Aug. 8 defining tougher body fat and appearance standards for Marines.

The one change likely affecting a broad number of Marines is no longer allowing a higher body fat percentage for those with high scores on their semiannual physical fitness tests.

In fact, the order "severs the link" between PFT scores and personal appearance, said Gen. James T. Conway, Marine Corps commandant, in a message to all Marines Aug. 11. Now physical fitness and appearance regulations are defined in two separate Marine Corps orders, MCO 6110.3 titled "Marine Corps Body Composition and Military Appearance Program" and MCO 6100.13 titled "Marine Corps Physical Fitness Program."

During Headquarters Marine Corps inspections of previous body composition programs, Marines were found to be out of weight standards but not assigned to a corrective program, said Conway.

"This impacts combat efficiency and effectiveness and, unfortunately, is a clear indicator of some commanders' failure to enforce standards," said Conway.

Yet, the order empowers commanding officers by giving them authority to decide whether a Marine who doesn't meet height and weight standards but still has a sharp military appearance should be granted a waiver.

On the flipside, the commander can also assign Marines to the Military Appearance Program if they fall within height and weight limits, but "still fail to present a suitable military appearance," according to the order.

To maintain fairness and impartiality, Marines assigned to the program have the right to appeal to the next higher officer in their chain of command.

"Tendencies toward increased weight have become a dangerous trend over the last decade in out American society," said Conway. "But Marines are different."

In the order, Conway warned that failure to meet and enforce standards could not only jeopardize operational readiness, but "erode American confidence" in the Corps.

"Selective compliance with the Marine Corps orders on weight control is over," the commandant said.

Previous standards defining maximum and minimum weight based on a Marine's height still apply. However, those who fall outside those standards must not exceed a certain percentage of body fat.

Men between 17-26 years old are allowed a maximum 18 percent body fat. Men 27-39 years old are allowed 19 percent. Men 40-45 years old are allowed 20 percent and those 46 years and older are allowed 21 percent.

Females 17-26 years old are allowed 26 percent body fat. Women 27-39 years old are allowed 27 percent. Women 40-45 years old are allowed 28 percent and those 46 years old and up are allowed 29 percent body fat.

Previously, Marines with a first-class PFT score could have an additional 4 percent of body fat.

Previously, Marines who failed to meet body composition standards where placed on a corrective program for at least six months. With the new order, the Corps will allow a grace period of up to 120 days after weighing in before formal action is taken.

The first 60 days are known as the notification period. During this time, the unit's senior enlisted advisor for enlisted personnel or executive officer for officers will issue an informal letter of concern and a 60-day action plan. The actions during this stage are determined by the individual unit.

If a Marine does not meet standards after the notification period, the 60-day cautionary period begins immediately. The unit will again be in charge of setting up a plan to assist the Marine in getting to regulation. A letter of caution will inform the unsatisfactory Marine that if they do not comply with set standards they will be placed on a formal program following the 60-day cautionary period.

After 120 days, Marines who still do not meet the height/weight or body fat standards will immediately be assigned to the formal Body Composition Program by the unit's commanding officer.

"Admittedly, decisions to assign Marines to the body composition and military appearance programs are difficult, and sometimes involve Marines who are otherwise solid performers," said Conway. "It is, however, the right thing to do for the individual and the institution."

Assignment to the program restricts promotion, prevents re-enlistment, results in adverse fitness reports and lower conduct marks, and could force the Marine to leave the Corps.


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