The Navy has a new message for tens of thousands of sailors who’ve struggled to work on their fitness:

The service rolled out a sweeping grace policy for physically unsat sailors Dec. 21, announcing that separations solely for physical fitness failures would stop, and sailors who’ve already been slated for dismissal for subpar performance on their Physical Readiness Test or Physical Fitness Assessment can now request to remain in uniform at least until the end of their service obligation.

“Effective Jan. 1, 2018,” the Navy’s new guidance states, “all PFA failures will be reset to zero.”

The reason for the clean slate? The sea service needs bodies to make numbers under President Donald Trump’s aggressive plan to expand the fleet. That translates to a need for 4,100 more sailors by end of fiscal 2018, Navy Times points out — strong motivation not only for the PFA grace, but other personnel moves the Navy has made this year, like relaxing high-year tenure ceilings for most enlisted sailors.

“My number one priority is to keep the Fleet properly manned,” Vice Adm. Robert Burke, Chief of Naval Personnel, said in a press release announcing the moves. “Retention of every capable Sailor is critical to the operational readiness of the Navy while ensuring every Sailor has the opportunity to safely achieve and maintain fitness and body composition standards.”

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Of course, the new policy is a pretty significant shift in “proper manning” and in who the service sees as a “capable sailor.” Previously, any member of the service with two PFA failures in three years could be recommended for administrative separation from the service. But here’s how that’s changing:

  • All commands are ordered to immediately stop processing PFA failures.
  • Separation orders for PFA failures with end dates beyond March 31, 2018, are canceled, straight-up.
  • Officers with PFA-related separation dates before March 1, 2018, can request to remain in the service.

There are still consequences for PFA failures; they just don’t include kicking many sailors out. Enlisted sailors who fail two or more PFAs in a row can stay in, they just can’t get promoted or re-up their enlistments until they pass again.

Officers “who fail one PFA will not be promoted” either, the guidance states, and officers who fail two PFAs in a row will still be recommended for separation — but if they pass another official PFA at any point before the Secretary of the Navy signs off on their dismissal, “administrative separation processing will cease and the member will be retained” — albeit with a nasty mark on their fitreps.

All that said, with a clean slate Jan. 1 comes a new challenge: All sailors will undergo a body composition assessment when they report to a new command. Fail that, and you’re stashed in the command’s “Fitness Enhancement Program” until they pass an official PFA.

So, for now, keep working on your fitness… and your PQS, and your sleep deficit, and everything else your department head, div-o, LPO, and detailer are throwing at you. And if you want more info on the new policies, the Navy has a website for that; just give them a while to get it working: