I turned 51 this month. This means I am now officially too old to serve in an operational combat role without generating a lot of additional paperwork. To celebrate my new non-combatant status I attempted a British Army personal fitness assessment (PFA). I’ve been doing PFAs since 1985 and old habits are hard to break. Back then they were called the BFT – basic fitness test. As the original name suggests it’s a measure of the minimum standard of fitness required to be a British soldier.
Everyone, from the Chief of the General Staff to the newest recruit must conduct the test every six months. Failure is not an option. If you can’t pass you can’t wear the uniform or take the Queen’s shilling. For almost every soldier I’ve met and served with along the way, comfortably passing the PFA is a matter of personal pride and a measure of self-esteem. Anyone in uniform whose appearance might indicate an inability to meet this mandated fitness requirement is subject to intense scrutiny and scepticism.
The test itself is simple enough and requires the individual to complete as many press ups as possible in two minutes, followed by as many sit-ups in two minutes followed by a best effort mile and half run. Soldiers must achieve a minimum standard according to age and gender as outlined in the table below:
For those soldiers who aspire to more than the bare minimum, which is almost everyone, there is a second benchmark known as the 300 Club. Passing into the 300 Club requires a much higher standard of fitness as follows:
Naturally, like everyone else, I’ve always aspired to be in the 300 Club. Here’s how I got on:
There was a time, about 30 years ago, when I could comfortably run a mile and a half in under eight minutes but these days I’m happy to settle for sub nine. After all, I am getting on a bit.
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.
‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
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‘SPIN ZHIRA vividly conveys the disjointed essence of modern warfare and the impossibility of balancing the adrenaline of combat with ‘normal’ life. This book brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
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‘If you want to read about political and military success in Afghanistan, this book isn’t for you. If you want a fresh perspective from someone who is not a career officer and who is brave enough to bare his soul, then SPIN ZHIRA is a must read.’
Lt Col Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone and An Active Service
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army
‘A journey of love, service and adventure. Excellent.’