Col. Tim Bush, pictured here in a 2011 photo, was relieved of his command after failing the waist measurement of his physical fitness test. He was 2 inches over the 39-inch limit set as an Air Force standard. (Air Force)
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Col. Tim Bush was giving a routine commander’s call March 20, but at the end he had an announcement.
“I closed by discussing our Air Force traditions, our core values and our standards, and that we are the greatest Air Force the world has ever seen because we have standards and we enforce those standards and we hold people accountable,” Bush told Air Force Times. “In this case, I didn’t meet it, so I need to step down as commander.”
He had failed the physical fitness test because his waist measurement was taped at 41 inches, 2 inches above the limit, he said. The Air Force responded by relieving him of command of the 319th Air Base Wing at Grand Forks Air Base, N.D.
“I offered the wing a final salute and then I left the stage,” Bush said.
Until that point, Bush had an enviable record. His previous assignments include serving as presidential advance agent for Air Force One, aide-de-camp to the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command and deputy director of mobility forces for U.S. Air Forces Central Command at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
His military decorations include the Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal and Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters.
The decision to relieve Bush of command was made by Maj. Gen. William Bender, Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, who oversees administrative control for six wings and two groups within Air Mobility Command, which includes the 319th Air Base Wing. Col. Christopher Mann, vice commander, was appointed acting commander.
When talking about the abrupt end of his Air Force career, Bush stressed repeatedly that the Air Force has its standards for a reason, and no one should be exempt from them.
“As a wing commander, I have a duty and responsibility to adhere to and enforce all Air Force standards, and in this particular case, I did not meet an Air Force standard,” Bush said. “When you don’t meet the standards as the commander, you can’t be the commander.”
He expressed no ill will toward the Air Force for relieving him of command.
“A tough decision for my chain of command, but in terms of enforcing equitably up and down all ranks, the Air Force made a fair and just decision,” Bush said.
This was not the first time he’s had problems with the PT test. After having shoulder surgery a year ago, he was unable to complete the test, he said. After some recovery, he passed the test in May but still could not do the pushup portion of the test.
On his latest test, he was able to pass everything except the waist measurement.
“I’m always confident that I can pass situps, pushups and run; I never had a problem with that, but I’ve been a big guy all my life,” Bush said. “I’m not a string bean, but I think I’m prepared to do what my Air Force and nation ask me to do — however, in this particular situation, I did not meet the standard, and so I have to step down as the commander.”
The Air Force’s fitness standards have been a “moving target” since Bush graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1988, he said.
“But we have better standards now than we did when I joined the Air Force in the ’80s, and we have a better Air Force because of it,” Bush said.
Laurie Johnson, Bush’s sister, remembers one moment that shows just how deeply Bush believes the Air Force makes the right call.
Johnson, who was also in the Air Force, was passed over for promotion to lieutenant colonel because of an error on someone else’s part, she said. When she told her brother about it, Bush told her to fight the decision.
“I remember his words to me, too. He said, ‘Sis, the Air Force is fair and sometimes their initial decision might not be a fair one; however, the thing I love about the military is that there are always ways to come around and have your stuff looked at fairly,’” she said.
Ultimately, she won and was promoted.
Bush was a “true mentor” to noncommissioned officers who literally went the extra mile — celebrating with them when they were promoted, Johnson said.
“He was the one who flew down on his own dime, a lot of times, to be at their ceremonies to congratulate them — to actually be that presence and not just send a note but actually be there,” she said. “You just don’t see that in all the leadership.”
For Bush, who has requested to retire, the future has suddenly become uncertain.
“My wife and I are exploring any and all opportunities,” he said. “My daughter will graduate high school here in Grand Forks on May 26, so we’ll stay here in the local area until she graduates.”
Bush hopes airmen can use his experience as a teachable moment.
“I think the airmen need to know it doesn’t matter whether you have one stripe [or] you’ve got bars, stars, leaves or eagles; you are accountable to meet the Air Force standards,” he said.