You'd think Air Force brass, who struggle with suicides and overweight airmen, would welcome any incentive its troops could have to raise morale and get in a few extra pushups for their fellow veterans.
The service warned airmen against joining hundreds of other service members and veterans in 22Kill's 22 Pushup Challenge while in uniform or on duty. That didn't sit well with Matthew Nelson, the Executive Director of 22Kill's Boston office.
"I think it's disgraceful," said Nelson. "Heaven forbid you get some extra PT in raising awareness for an issue that affects the warrior class of society. The Air Force has a history of this weak-minded mentality."
22Kill is intended to raise awareness for veteran mental health issues — including the infamous 22-per-day-suicide rate — as well as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury issues.
The challenge is to do 22 pushups in honor of a person or for a cause and to upload a video of you doing it to social media. Airmen from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida are uploading photos and videos doing their part for the cause.
Even soldiers from the UK are showing their support.
Airmen from Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado participate in 22Kill's 22 Pushup Challenge. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The Air Force, however, doesn't want troops to make it seem like the service is endorsing one private charity over another, officials say.
"Airmen may participate in non-profit organizations, including fundraising for non-profits, so long as they do so in their personal capacity, not in uniform," Air Force spokesman Maj. Bryan Lewis told WATM.
"That is a passive cop out and they know it," says Nelson.
The Air Force, with its high ops tempo and historically low manpower, struggles with an airman suicide rate that it can't control.
"We just don't have a good track record with it," Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said at last year's Air Force Association Air and Space Conference. "What we have is a track record of pushing people beyond what's reasonable and sustainable. We're going to lose our best people if we don't get this right."
Air Force spokesman Lewis reinforced the service's dedication to suicide prevention, mentioning Air Force participation in the DoD's own #BeThere campaign.
"It is commendable that Airmen desire to participate in, and support, organizations to raise awareness or funding for suicide prevention in their personal capacity," said Lewis. "We just want to make sure airmen are aware of what they can and can't do in uniform according to established regulations."
Meanwhile, a recent Military Times story called the Air Force out as a "close second" to being the most overweight service in the U.S. military, with the Army taking the top slot, according to data the paper obtained during an investigation.
While the Army doesn't allow soldiers to participate in the Pushup Challenge, it told Air Force Times it never felt the need to issue a statement on the issue. The Navy and Marines have not issued a statement either.
"All DoD employees must abide by the Joint Ethics Regulation, which is clear concerning such activities," Navy spokesman Ensign Marc Rockwellpate told Air Force Times. The Navy hasn't specifically advised sailors as the Air Force has, but Rockwellpate mentioned that sailors are required to abide by Joint Ethics Regulation 3-209, which says:
"Endorsement of a non-federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise may be neither stated nor implied by DoD or DoD employees in their official capacities. [T]itles, positions, or organization names may not be used to suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment of any non-federal entity except those specifically listed."
Chiefs and chief selects do pushups for the 22Kill Challenge aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). 22Kill is a veterans' advocacy group that brings awareness to the daily veterans' suicide rate. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tristan Lotz)
Endorsement or fundraising is not the intent of the 22Kill effort, Nelson said. The original intent was a combined effort to pushup 22 million times "to raise awareness to veteran suicide prevention through education and empowerment," according to 22Kill's pushup page.
"While [airmen] are allowed to participate in activities to honor fallen airmen or bring awareness to issues like suicide, if these activities are associated with any type of nonprofit, non-federal entity, or fundraising or membership campaign, it cannot be done in an official capacity," the Air Force said without mentioning the 22Kill program by name.
Celebrities like John Krasinski, Candace Cameron Bure, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, and The Rock also participated in the challenge.
"The military is synonymous with pushups and the challenge is to spread the word about our organization," 22Kill's Nelson says. "22Kill helps our warrior class through camaraderie, support, empowerment, and brings light to the small amount of people that defend this nation."
The counter currently reads 227,880,412 pushups.
"Maybe whoever made that decision should spend some more time in Arlington," Nelson says, "thinking about what's important, what is petty, and what causes harm or discriminates against another."