Armed Forces considers incentives to keep soldiers fit

The Canadian Armed Forces is considering an incentive program to go along with its new fitness test, to help keep soldiers in top physical shape.

Most soldiers are passing new fitness test, but military wants them to strive for higher standards

Canadian soldiers re-enforce a soft spot in the dike along the Assiniboine River in Poplar Point, Man. in 2011. The new military fitness test simulates tasks that all Canadian Forces members are expected to be able to perform, including lifting sandbags. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Armed Forces is considering an incentive program to go along with its new fitness test. 

The Fitness for Operational Requirement for Canadian Armed Forces Employment (FORCE) program was launched last year and after a transition period it is now the official physical fitness test for military personnel, replacing the 30-year-old CF EXPRES test.

The FORCE test consists of four different phases based on basic tasks military members are expected to be able to do. The standard to pass is the same for all members, no matter age, gender or trade, and the test has to be completed annually.

As of March 2014, more than 67,000 Canadian Forces members had completed the new test. The failure rate is 5.5 to six per cent, while the old fitness test had a failure rate of 2.5 per cent. 

According to documents CBC obtained through the Access to Information Act, in order to encourage members to not just pass the course but to maintain a high level of fitness, an incentive program is being considered to go along with the new test.

The Directorate of Fitness says the incentives will provide targets for individuals and groups to improve annually.

The direction for the incentive program is coming straight from Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson, according to Daryl Allard, the director of fitness at the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services.

"The FORCE evaluation is essentially the minimum standard for the universality of service, and it's the minimum fitness requirement to serve in the [Canadian Forces]. But our military leadership and our commanders want people to be obviously above and beyond that minimal floor," Allard said. 

He said just because members pass or fail the test doesn't necessarily mean they are physically fit.

"We feel we have the minimum standard right but to say that we're comfortable with people being under it definitely not and just above it, no. Definitely, we want to motivate people to achieve a higher level," he said.

An incentive program was associated with the old fitness test. If members took the test and passed a certain level, they were exempt from taking the test the next year.

Those exemptions were seen as counter-intuitive to encouraging a culture of fitness in the Armed Forces, so other options for incentives are being looked at, Allard said. 

The military is considering surveying members on what rewards they would prefer, conducting focus groups with the navy, army, air force and the primary reserve force, and consulting with the director of heritage and history on what medals, coins or pins could be given out.

The military would not go into detail about what options are being considered. But it is aiming to test some of the options on bases in May, June and July and to have an incentive program ready for 2015.


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