RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Fit to Fight…

 

Regular readers will know I’ve been in the RAF for over 20 years – and in that time there have been lots of changes – what organisation wouldn’t have changes in that length of time! 

Perhaps the most obvious change is the shift from the Cold War mindset, of sitting in our bases and defending the mainland UK/north-western Europe from the ‘red hoards’, to fighting away from home – the so called Expeditionary Warfare. 

We’ve changed from the classic pitched battle warfare to counter-insurgency operations and this itself has had an effect on the personnel in the forces and particularly in the RAF. 

Why the RAF particulary you ask? Well – the nature of warfare has changed and how we fight – but also WHERE we fight. 

You see, the old style battle plans had us fighting in temperate Europe, where it can get warm, even hot – but not for long, and the rains soon come…but the NEW battles are being fought in the places where it gets REALLY hot for a consistant amount of time.  In Afghanistan, temperatures routinely get upto 40-50 degrees C.  This and the altitude that people may have to operate out there have a huge effect on the bodies of the personnel deployed there. 

And it’s this that has brought about a huge – but slightly imperceptable – change in the RAF. 

You see, when I joined in 1987, there was a certain amount of emphasis on being fit.  It was encouraged, but…well it wasn’t mandated.  People did phys if they wanted to or if they participated in station sports.  There was no “need” to be fit to fight these wars, as well, you were just going to carry on doing your job.  You wouldn’t be going far to do it.  You could fight the war from home!  There was a rudimentary fitness test of sorts – a run around a field in your sports kit -1.5miles in 11.5 minutes. Which isn’t  that hard to do.  

Indeed, people who did participate in sports and phys were often the subject of derision.  The phrase “Sport Billy” was not exactly an insult, but wasn’t a term of endearment to describe active people.  Believe it or not, there were self-styled “Sports Prevention Officers” (SPO) in workplaces who actively (excuse the pun) derided those who were fit.  

But then the world changed and we started to go away.  And stay away.  Forces started to stay in the Middle East.  People realised it was hard work.  We, in the RAF suffered people becoming non-operational from heat-stress and being unable to cope with the conditions. 

The heirarchy of the service realised that people needed to be fitter – compared to the other services, the RAF was not as fit as it should be. Physical training, which in the past had been considered to be something that people did in their own time, became compulsory – in work time.  

And again the SPO’s resisted this.  It seems a madness that people actually resisted going to the gym in work time, but some “anti-fit” dinosaurs did.  After a short time though these people left and attitudes changed. 

And attitudes change because the new arrivals into the service don’t know any different – to them it’s the way things have always been. The dinosaurs die out (well, leave the service!) and the younger ones progress. 

Fitness has become ingrained into the service in the way it should have been for years.  The new fitness test were slowly introduced and slowly increased in levels.  I still think they are a way away from the Army’s levels – and indeed I wonder about the effectiveness of a fitness test that is about sprinting up and down a gym, compared to a stamina test of a longer run (like the Army does).  The only real training for the RAFFT is doing an RAFFT after all. 

But, I am glad to be able to do my phys in work time. It might sound a bit rich to expect it, but I do.  After all, the service expects me to be fit to fight and can send me to places where I will need that fitness.  But I also appreciate it.  I know that people in civvy-street pay a lot for their gym membership (I pay £5 a year!) and that they’d love to be paid to go to the gym.  

There is also a little sense of regret that I have though.  I wish I had done this level of physical training and fitness when I was younger.  I should have…but I didn’t. I was too busy doing other things…and now…aww well, we can’t turn back the time, but I’m happy that I am probably fitter than I was when I was younger.

You see, lots of things in the service have changed…the way we fight, where we fight; the way we work, the way we train; even the way we look at the world.

I originally wrote this post yesterday – whilst actually in the gym – on the bike, but the technology let me down and my iPhone lost the post.

Awww well. Whilst some things change a lot…some things don’t.  We come to rely on technology but we have to be careful because that can still let us down. 

With a bit of training though, at least we know our bodies are less likely to do the same…

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