Petty Officer 1st Class Bince Bucaneg, a company commander for recruit company Golf-197, assists a recruit in meeting the Coast Guard physical fitness standards, March 15, 2019. (Official U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm)

Big Neck? That May Not Help After Coast Guard Body-Fat Policy Review

BMCS Jon Ostrowski, a 30-year retired veteran of the USCG, remembered fondly weeks of pickles and water in preparation for the dreaded weigh-in. “If you don’t meet the weight requirements you are put on probation and possibly out of the Coast Guard,” he told HSToday. “I’m just really lucky I have a big neck.”

Concerned that crash-diet “stress many members may experience trying to ‘make weight/body fat’ may lead to unhealthy choices,” the Coast Guard has temporarily put the brakes on discharges based on body fat or weight standards, members were told in a Tuesday message.

A review announced by Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz in this year’s State of the Coast Guard address will utilize a recently established “diverse, cross-enterprise team” to “comprehensively review CG Weight and Body Fat standards and the effectiveness of the current weight program.”

“This team will make recommendations to modernize CG policy with an eye toward mission readiness, personnel wellness, and processes that preserve the dignity of our members,” the message continued. “This joint administrative and medical review will be conducted by a core group (COMDT (CG-13)), CG-PSC, and the Personnel Readiness Task Force (PRTF)), and augmented by an adjunct group of leaders and policy research experts, to define personal readiness and what the CG weight program should seek to accomplish.”

Officials noted that the recently released Women’s Retention Study (WRS) cited perceived “inequities with current standards” and concerns over using a tape to measure body fat.

Tammy Bogart, President of the Coast Guard Enlisted Association Mobile Alabama Branch and a critic of the current weight policy told HSToday, “The USCG definitely has to maintain a standard for performance of our many rigorous duties. I applaud any effort that focuses on the performance of those duties rather than one-dimensional metrics and highly subjective taping procedures.”

With the most recent update to the Coast Guard Weight and Body Fat Standards Program Manual in June 2017, the Coast Guard has used a combination of weight and body measurements to determine BMI (Body Mass Index) and based on that determine whether someone was “fit” enough to serve. The circumference of your neck could give you leeway to carry a few extra pounds.

The Tuesday memo to Coasties made clear that, while discharges have been put on hold, there’s no green light for members to raid the cookie jar. “During this review period, the current CG weight and body fat standards in REF (A) will be enforced,” states the message. “…All members who currently do not meet CG standards during the April weigh in period and those who have a separation package pending must continue to work toward compliance with current standards.”

The review panel is expected to submit its recommendations to Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray by July. “This wide-ranging review will compare the current program with our sibling Services, research healthy weight management guidelines, and leverage modern healthcare practices.”

Ostrowski, now president of the Chief Petty Officers Association, said he is happy to see the USCG potentially move toward metrics that reflect different body types and allow for hulky weightlifters and “big boned” individuals to stay in the service.

This story has been updated from an earlier version

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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