Bill seeks to raise fitness standards for Army close combat forces

by Tommy Grant

Under recently released language in the congressional defense authorization bill, soldiers in the close combat force will face higher minimum fitness standards on the Army Combat Fitness test than their non-close combat counterparts.

The House and Senate negotiated National Defense Authorization Act orders the Army to increase those standards within 18 months of the bill becoming law. It also removes some controversial efforts to reinstate the previous Army Physical Fitness Test as the test of record and create a gender-neutral test.

Infantry, engineer, armor, cavalry and Special Forces soldiers would all be required to meet higher standards than the rest of the Army.

But, Lt. Col. Randy Ready, spokesman for the Center for Initial Military Training under Army Training and Doctrine Command, told Army Times in an email Monday that new standards would not begin development until the bill became law.

Active duty soldiers had to take a record ACFT by April 2023. Reserve and Guard soldiers still have until April 2024 to complete their record ACFT.

Military Occupational Specialties potentially affected:

  • Infantry: 11A, infantry officer; 11B, infantryman; 11C, indirect fire infantryman; 11Z, infantry senior sergeant
  • Engineers: 12A, engineer senior sergeant; 12B, combat engineer.
  • Artillery: 13A, artillery officer; 13F, joint fire support specialist.
  • Special Forces: 18A, special forces officer; 18B, special forces weapons sergeant; 18C, special forces engineer sergeant; 18D, special forces medical sergeant; E, special forces communications sergeant; 18F, special forces assistant operations and intelligence sergeant; 18Z special forces senior sergeant.
  • Armor/Cavalry: 19A armor officer; 19C, reconnaissance/cavalry officer; 19D, cavalry scout; 19K, armor crewman; 19Z armor senior sergeant.

Source: Congress

Over the summer, legislators inserted language into the draft version of the NDAA that would have reverted the test of record back to the APFT. That language has been removed from the current version of the bill.

Within days of the APFT insertion going public, then-Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston spoke with media outlets about the impact of such a move.

“It would just kinda take us into chaos,” Grinston. “We already changed all of our (regulations) … so it would be completely confusing.”

The top enlisted soldier noted that the move to the ACFT was a more robust measure of fitness and an important part of the service’s larger Holistic Health and Fitness initiative.

“We need to move forward, not backwards,” Grinston said in June. “This is what’s good for the Army.”

Lawmakers also want the secretary of the Army to provide information on the methodology the service uses to determine the higher standards for close combat forces.

“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,” according to the bill.

Ready told Army Times that the methodology for determining the current standards, which factor for age and gender scoring, were developed from “nearly 630,000 ACFT scores” during early testing along with historic performance rates on the APFT and scoring scales from other military branches.

Maximum and minimum scores on the current ACFT were set using the 96th percentile of performance on the deadlift, standing power throw, pushup and sprint, drag, and carry.

The Army used Marine Corps and Navy data to set baseline times for the plank. Original two-mile run times were set so that no subgroup would be required to complete the run in a faster time than the legacy APFT standard. The scoring scales for the remaining events were set using an even distribution of observed soldier performance.

The previous language in the defense spending bill called for “sex neutral” fitness standards for certain military occupational specialties.

The original version of the ACFT was sex neutral, meaning that regardless of the participant’s sex, each individual would receive the same score for their performance on each event. The test was set to become the test of record for all soldiers in late 2020 until lawmakers mandated a pause in the rollout, citing concerns over initial high failure rates among female soldiers.

Current minimum standards, regardless of MOS:

  • Max Deadlift, three repetitions (pounds): all ages requirement for male soldiers is140lb and 120lb for female soldiers
  • Standing Power Throw (meters): for ages 17-21, the requirement for male soldiers is 6m male and 3.9m for female soldiers; for ages 62 and older, the requirement for male soldiers is 4.9m for female soldiers is 3.4m
  • Hand Release Pushup: the requirement for all ages, both male and female soldiers is 10 reps
  • Sprint/Drag/Carry (minutes, seconds): for ages 17-21, the requirement for male soldiers is 2:28 and 3:15 for female soldiers; for ages 62 and older, the requirement for male soldiers is 3:16 and 4:48 for female soldiers
  • Plank (minutes, seconds): for ages 17-21, the requirement for male and female soldiers is 1:30; for ages 62 and older, the requirement for male and female soldiers is 1:10
  • Two-mile run (minutes, seconds): for ages 17-21, the requirement for male soldiers is 22:00 and 23:22 for female soldiers; for ages 62 and older, the requirement for male soldiers is 23:36 and 25:00 for female soldiers

Source: Army

In 2020, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand D-N.Y. and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Sent a letter to fellow members of both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees noting a consistent 10% failure for male soldiers and 65% ACFT failure rate among female soldiers.

Following the congressionally mandated pause, Army officials developed a version of the ACFT that would account for biological differences between men and women, Army Times reported.

One such change involved adding the plank as an alternative to the original hanging leg tuck option for measuring abdominal core stamina.

The current test includes the same events for participants, regardless of age or sex, scoring on the test is scaled to age and gender.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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