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Christopher Bjorke, Forum News Service, Published March 20 2013

Commander at GF Air Force Base forced from job due to waist size

GRAND FORKS - Col. Tim Bush was relieved of his command of 319th Air Base Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base on Wednesday because he failed to meet physical fitness standards, the Air Force announced.

He fell short by inches, he said, exceeding the Air Force’s maximum waist measure of 39 inches.

“I failed to meet the waist measurement component of the physical fitness standard,” he said. “That’s the only component I failed.”

Among other tests, the Air Force requires all airmen, including officers, to meet requirements for pushups, situps, distance running and waistlines. Men cannot have waists bigger than 39 inches. For women, the maximum is 35.5 inches.

“I’ve never failed” for situps, pushups, running “or anything else the Air Force wants to throw,” he said. “But I’m not a little guy.”

Bush is 47 years old, 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds.

“I am not in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I spend a lot more time doing administrative work than I would like.”

Bush’s removal marks the first time a wing commander has been relieved of command for fitness standards in the Air Mobility Command, which comprises 16 air wings and groups, according to command spokesman Maj. Mike Andrews. Bush is the second wing commander to be relieved in three years in the command.

He took command of the Grand Forks base in July 2011.

Bush’s command officially passed to wing Vice Commander Col. Christopher Mann, who will be interim leader. However, the Air Force told some community members of the decision earlier.

“I think the community would welcome someone reviewing the arbitrary standards that don’t serve the military well,” said Bruce Gjovig, director of the UND Center for Innovation and a member of the Base Realignment Impact Committee, who called the Air Force’s dismissal “a terrible waste.”

“Clearly, he can do the job,” he said.

Since coming to Grand Forks, Bush had a visible presence in Grand Forks and was “well-respected” and a “strong leader,” Gjovig said. “He’s cared about this community deeply.”

Grand Forks restaurant owner Ken Towers, who learned of the decision as a member of the base’s ambassador program, said the Air Force told him Bush’s removal was due to health reasons.

“To me, he looked like he was in good shape,” Towers said.

“I know the colonel and his wife fairly well,” he said. “They both seem like wonderful people.”

A number of pending decisions affecting the base make this a critical time for the base and for Grand Forks, Gjovig said. The base is in the running to host a new air tanker mission, and North Dakota is waiting for approval by the Federal Aviation Administration to become a test site for airspace integration of unmanned aircraft. Grand Forks County is also pursuing a lease of land at the base for a business park for the unmanned aircraft industry.

Gjovig said community members would try to support the Air Force base and its role in those goals while still supporting Bush as a local leader.

“I think we’re going to find a way to do both of those,” he said. “I think the Air Force has created an awkward position in our community.”

The Air Force instituted its current fitness standards in 2010 and revised them in 2011, but the requirements have long been unpopular and controversial among Air Force personnel.

Chief Master Sgt. James Cody, who took the advisory role to the Air Force chief of staff Feb. 1, said recently that he would review the requirements, according to the Air Force Times newspaper.

He told that paper he expected a decision by July on whether waist measurements should remain part of the fitness test.

“There’s airmen out there that will articulate that, ‘Hey, I can pass every component of the test except for waist measurement... but I still fail because I have too big of a waist and I’m a big person,’” he said.

The newspaper reported in July that the pass rate for the overall test, including waist measurement and other tests, was 93 percent.

Bush did not criticize the Air Force for relieving him from command, calling the decision “right, just and fair.” Commanders have to meet the standards they expect of the people they have the power to send into danger.

“If you can’t meet the standard, how do you hold them to the standard?” he said.

But he said he has always been physically able to do what was needed, regardless of his size.

“I guess I would classify myself as a Clydesdale,” he said. “I’m a big guy. I never give up. I work hard. I do whatever our nation and the Air Force has requested and required.”

Bush has been on active duty in Air Force for 25 years and is a graduate of the Air Force Academy.

He has requested retirement, and he and his family will stay in Grand Forks at least until his daughter graduates from Red River High School this spring.

Bush said he was confident in Col. Mann as the interim commander and called his chance to command the base “an honor and a privilege.”