Congress Demands the Army’s New Physical Test Measure Strength and Endurance Rather Than Create Equity

The National Defense Authorization Act has ordered the Army to up its game on fitness standards, specifically for soldiers in some combat specialties. This comes after the inability of the Army to come up with a physical fitness test that will measure physical fitness and treat men and women equally. This text is from page 382 of the NDAA conference report.

(a) IMPLEMENTATION.—Not later than 18 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Army shall implement increased minimum fitness 
standards as part of the Army Combat Fitness Test for all soldiers of the following military occupational special2 ties or areas of concentration: 
(1) 11A. [Author’s note, the bracketed information is my addition. Infantryman]
(2) 11B. [Infantryman]
(3) 11C. [Infantryman] 
(4) 11Z. [Infantryman]
(5) 12A. [Engineer]
(6) 12B. [Engineer]
(7) 13A. [Field Artillery]
(8) 13F. [Field Artillery]
(9) 18A. [Special Forces]
(10) 18B. [Special Forces]
(11) 18C. [Special Forces]
(12) 18D. [Special Forces]
(13) 18E. [Special Forces]
(14) 18F. [Special Forces]
(15) 18Z. [Special Forces]
(16) 19A. [Armor]
(17) 19C. [Armor]
(18) 19D. [Armor]
(19) 19K. [Armor]
(20) 19Z. [Armor]
(b) BRIEFING.—Not later than 365 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Army provide a briefing to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and House of Representatives describing the methodology used to establish standards under subsection (a). 

The extraordinary use of the NDAA by both parties in Congress to tell the Army to get its s**t together was driven by the Army’s inability to come up with a test that had some relationship to combat duty but that women could pass.

Prior to and during World War II, the physical fitness test consisted of five events: squat jumps, sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, and a 300-yard run: this tested strength and short-burst speed. In 1959, the test was changed to add some skills as well as physical fitness testing and rebranded as the Physical Combat Proficiency Test. It retained the five-event structure, but the events were: 40-yard low crawl, 20-foot horizontal ladder/monkey bars, grenade throw (in basic training and for combat support troops, the 105-yard man-carry was used), and a 1-mile run in boots. In its first nod to women in the Army, the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) had their own test consisting of arm circles, body twists, a bent-over “airplane” exercise, sit-ups, and jumping jacks. 

Around 1969, the tests were changed again to consist of sit-ups, inverted crawl (aka perverted crawl), run-dodge-and-jump (aka trip-stumble-and-fall), horizontal ladder, and one-mile run in boots. This video is of Filipino Scout Rangers carrying on a tradition they received from the US Army, the inverted crawl.

In 1980, it became minimalist: push-ups, sit-ups, and two-mile run at first in boots but eventually in running shoes. (I usually scored 297-plus on this three-event, maximum of 300 points test — it ain’t bragging if you can do it.)

For most of its modern history, the Army used a fixed set of events in which the grades were scaled based on age and gender. The purpose was to require a certain level of general physical fitness, to provide a personnel management tool, and to give military school cadre a legitimate way to refuse admittance to anyone who rubbed them the wrong way. I’m only half joking about the latter. 

Once Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opened all military jobs to women, the Army Physical Fitness Test became a sore point. Why would a male tanker or infantryman have to meet one standard while the woman allegedly doing the same job was allowed to meet a significantly lower standard? Also, the reality of Afghanistan and Iraq had shown how divorced the APFT was from combat requirements. How many times were soldiers required to run two miles in sneakers?

This reality, plus the cross-fit craze, led to the development of the Army Combat Fitness Test.

The problems with the ACFT were two-fold. It required specialized equipment to practice and administer the test. As a company commander — I couldn’t imagine trying to put my company through this administrative monstrosity twice a year — and it had once standard for all ages and both sexes. The result was that 70% of men passed, and 84% of women failed.

An active-duty major who has over 20 years of Army service under her belt, however, told Task & Purpose that the ACFT “is discriminatory, hurts readiness, and reduces combat effectiveness by reducing our ability to gain expertise related to nonphysical tasks … It is a massive institutional mistake and should not be implemented above the battalion level.”
The major, who requested anonymity to avoid potential backlash, added that she doesn’t believe the test is gender neutral because by focusing on strength, “It will disproportionately negatively impact women due to sheer size differences, muscle strength baselines, and require extensive training for women to be able to compete ‘equally’ with men for output results vs measuring fitness.”

Here, I’m firmly with Clint Eastwood.

This resulted in the “leg tuck,” where you hold onto a pull-up bar and tuck your knees up above your waist, which had a 72% failure rate for women being dropped from the test as it was not a good test of core strength. I’ve tried it. I beg to differ. The forces of equity seemed to be winning out.

At a Congressional hearing in May 2022, Secretary of Army Christine Wormuth said the goal of the ACFT was to raise the overall fitness levels of soldiers and that the Army didn’t want to “disadvantage any sub-groups,” based on evidence collected in multiple studies.

The fact is that a 98-pound 155mm projo doesn’t care about your age or gender. It has to be loaded into the tube. A light infantry solder is going to carry over 70 pounds of equipment in ideal circumstances where the weather isn’t trying to kill him…if you are a machine gunner or a Javelin gunner, add another 30-40 pounds. Add another 60 pounds of parachute and ancillary gear if you are a paratrooper. I posted on this subject a few years ago: Women In Combat: Making A Virtue Of Weakness Gets People Killed. It is as true today as it was then.

Florida Representative Mike Waltz and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton have called for gender-neutral standards. Still, I seriously doubt they will prevail because the DIE/CRT imperative of “equity,” or the equality of outcomes, is more important than the lives of soldiers.

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