Marine Staff Sgt. Leonard Langston, 47, blames himself for weighing 4 pounds over his maximum weight of 174 pounds for his 5-foot-7 frame.

"I think we've gotten away with keeping ourselves accountable. Especially the older Marines have let things go," he said after sweating through 75 crunches with others ordered to the exercise program. "And unfortunately, I'm an example of that."

Military officials say the tape test is still the best, most cost-effective tool available, with a margin of error of less than 1 percent.

Air Force Gen. Mark Walsh noted only about 348 of 1.3 million airmen have failed the tape test but excelled otherwise.

Even so, his branch heeded the complaints and modified its fitness program in October. The Air Force obtained a waiver from the Pentagon so airmen who fail the tape test but pass physical fitness exams can be measured using the body mass index.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith applauded the move. Smith said he has received five Navy achievement medals but has not been promoted since failing the tape test once in 2009.

"They call you names like 'fat bodies,'" Smith said. "They talk a lot of trash to you and put you down quite often."

He launched an online White House petition this summer to talk to leaders about the tape test.

The 1,700 signatures fell short of the 100,000 needed to get a response, but Smith said the Air Force gives him hope other branches might also heed the complaints.

"There's got to be something better for Marines who are working hard but just born like a tree stump," Smith said.