Space Force’s wearable fitness tech plan could have punitive consequences after all

Fears that the Space Force’s new fitness program will lead to micromanagement and punishment for undertraining, as well as risk personal data being used against Guardians, are circling the service’s developing plans to use wearable health trackers.

The Holistic Health Assessment, the Space Force’s answer to the military’s annual physical fitness tests, was touted by the service as a revolutionary way for Guardians to stay in shape year-round. The Space Force hopes soldiers will routinely wear fitness trackers similar to Apple Watches or Fitbits by 2023 so they can be focused on their health at all times, rather than getting out of shape and then fearing a penalty — or possibly termination career – evaluation.

But as Space Force fitness leaders visit bases to introduce the program during what they call “road shows” to share their ideas about the assessment, some Guardians have complained that the envisioned futuristic health plan could be turns out to be different from the one originally presented.

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During a “road show” at a base in Colorado, the program was described as having some punitive consequences for guards who don’t meet certain thresholds, despite early suggestions that the service would not penalize service members based on the data they collect through wearable devices.

While Space Force Command declined to discuss the specifics of the program in response to a request from Military.com, citing an ongoing development, a recording of a presentation with a question-and-answer session on the Holistic Health Assessment was posted on Garrison Peterson’s YouTube account- Shriver of Cosmic Forces. The undated video was hidden, meaning it doesn’t show up in searches and doesn’t appear on Garrison’s YouTube page, but was discovered by Military.com.

“There’s a lot of socialization about it being a non-punitive program and taking all the punishment out of fitness, and there’s a little bit of truth to that, but there’s still going to be some accountability,” Carl Shepard, a strength and conditioning specialist working on program development with the Space forces, said during the presentation.

Plans unveiled during the roadshow to keep Guardians on track for the new fitness program included monitoring service members’ devices to make sure they’re getting about 300 minutes a week of targeted physical activity, tracking muscle consumption levels of oxygen and monitoring their height-to-waist ratio to make sure they maintain a healthy physique.

The “Guardian Resilience Team,” a group of military personnel at each base specializing in fitness and training, will monitor the data entered by the wearable fitness devices to track who is falling behind.

The Guardians’ data will be analyzed and classified under a color code — red if it fails, amber if it’s average and green if it’s on track and exceeding expectations, officials said during the presentation.

When the program was originally introduced, Air Force Sergeant Major Roger Tauberman told Military.com back in March that he wanted to get out of “disciplinary, punitive interventions” for failing an annual test.

But during the road show, it became clear that Guardians who fell behind could be punished.

One employee who presented during the road show — and did not identify himself on the recording of the presentation — said he understands that some people’s fitness can fall by the wayside with various life situations, but noted, “If someone is red for a quarter , that’s when command will kick in.”

One Guardian, who spoke to Military.com on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media without approval, said there was some concern that the program could become punitive and lead to similar problems that the Air Force has seen – as people proving disordered eating to make the standards.

“I think it’s good for so long [as] it is not penal [and] as long as you take care of yourself,” said the Guardian. “It will be interesting how it applies.”

While there’s no annual test to stress about, some Guardians have grumbled on the Space Force subreddit that having to monitor multiple fitness factors every week sounds exhausting, even daunting — and not quite the test-free setup that’s been promised.

More than 200 Guardians responded to a sarcastic multiple-choice poll posted on the subreddit that asked, “What do you think of the PT changes?”

More than half of respondents chose “The new test scheme sounds amazing (I love micromanaging!!!)” or “Just let me test once ‘or twice’ a year (be an adult.)”

The others replied: “Wait…Space Force is doing PT???” or “I’m out, I don’t care!”

“We are delineating the parameters for studying, testing and evaluating a variety of measurables, including healthy sleep habits, diet, regular exercise and aerobic capacity,” Maj. James Fisher, a Space Force spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “Depending on the findings from our testing phase, we hope to move away from episodic fitness training and test a new program that focuses on holistic health.”

Reliance on personal fitness trackers has raised concerns among military security experts, especially after past incidents in which similar data shared on social media revealed the locations of military bases and patrol routes.

It’s unclear what devices Space Force will eventually land on, but the service plans to offer a wide variety of choices for Guardians to choose from.

Some watchdogs have expressed concern about how the Space Force and the Department of Defense might use and analyze their data in the future.

One caregiver, whose name could not be heard on the “road show” video, said during the question-and-answer portion of the program that he did not want his health data used against him when he hoped to receive safe care from veterans affairs hospital in the future.

“They’re going to have potentially two decades of health data on me by the time I retire,” another custodian said during the question-and-answer session. “All the problems you’ve built up over two decades of experience are because there’s also two decades of data to say ‘you didn’t run enough’ or ‘he didn’t train enough’ and that you could potentially limit one’s access to health care in retirement. I think that’s one of the reasons I would potentially opt out.”

Space Force officials said they do not plan to track GPS data and that it will not be shared with other agencies. Shepard, the strength and conditioning coach who helped with the presentation, said the service won’t keep their information for long.

“The space force will have that data, and we’re considering how long we’re going to keep it,” Shepard told Guardians during the roadshow. “A year, two years, and then we’ll … cryptographically erase the data.”

Little information has been released publicly by the Space Force about the wearables program since it was first announced in March.

“The purpose of the road show is NOT to provide information,” Tauberman wrote on the Space Force subreddit last month. “The aim is to reduce anxiety and improve confidence across the force WITH information. [that] itch, we’ll fail.”

The Space Force’s plans to develop a revolutionary fitness program come amid a recent shift by many of the services to ditch a single test where the score can often mean the difference between career advancement and discharge from the force.

Until the program is finalized next year, Guardians are told to rely on the Air Force’s decades-old PT test, which includes sit-ups, push-ups and a 1.5-mile run.

Other suggested parts of the cosmic health holistic assessment, which have not been widely discussed, would encourage regular sleep patterns, encourage a balanced diet and reduce alcohol consumption, and set aside time for meaningful meditation and reflection.

“This program will not only promote physical fitness; it will combine fitness with robust training on diet, sleep, hygiene and other physiological factors to promote social, mental and spiritual health,” said Fisher, the Space Force spokesman.

— Thomas Novelli can be found at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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