According to Stars and Stripes, the U.S. Air Force has seen three deaths occur during physical fitness training over the past six months.
Those deaths have reportedly triggered more rigorous screening procedures — including screening for the sickle cell trait — in order to catch and flag at-risk airmen prior to any physical fitness assessment.
The Air Force in August explained that it had added sickle cell screening to the mandatory fitness screening questionnaire, or FSQ. The addition of sickle cell screening was, according to Military.com, directly tied to the physical training-related deaths.
“The changes to the FSQ is an example of how the Air Force continually looks at its processes to make sure we are taking care of our Airmen,” 22nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander Lt. Col. Richard Speakman said in the August statement. “By asking the one percent of the Air Force’s members who have the sickle cell trait if they have appropriately prepared for their physical assessment demonstrates the Air Force’s commitment to being adaptable and ensuring the health of Airmen.”
Sickle cell is an inheritable gene mutation which can cause adverse effects in carriers during extreme exercise, dehydration and high altitudes.
The PT-related deaths have also led the Air Force to consider additional changes to its test, including administering the waist circumference test at a different time than the rest of the physical fitness test, in order to avoid additional stresses on the body.
“We have airmen who go to great lengths to get a good score on the abdominal circumference … because it counts for 20 percent of the test,” Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth Wright told Military.com.