In previous articles for ClearanceJobs, I’ve thrown rocks at the Army’s catastrophically ill-considered Army Combat Fitness Test—the planned successor to the proven and successful Army Physical Fitness Test. I will admit, however, that my arguments against it emerged strictly from experience and logic. I am a fan of the original APFT because I watched soldiers in my platoon take the challenge to raise their scores, and watched pounds melt away and recruiting poster paratroopers emerge. As for logic, the APFT essentially costs a unit ten bucks and two hours to run through an entire company of soldiers, whereas the ACFT costs… more. Tens of millions of dollars more.

But, dear reader, I was willing to admit that I might be wrong! I lost many a night of sleep wondering: is the ACFT the salvation of American freedom? The greatest thing to happen to the Army since the black beret the blue service dress uniform the retro World War II-era pinks and greens! What if the ACFT produced one million hooah-shouting, Ironman-winning, CrossFit-teaching soldiers with the physiques of Greek gods and goddesses? What if we went to war with China and the enemy just dropped their weapons and ran the opposite direction, so intimidating were the American men and women on the front lines? What if, so musclebound and terrifying were our soldiers, that the Army stopped issuing rifles just to make it a fair fight when we went to war?

I really put myself out there by coming out so strongly against the ACFT, and, because no Army leader has ever been wrong, from General George Washington himself through to General James C. McConville, the present Army chief of staff—well, it was inevitable that I would have to eat my words.

But then last week, someone leaked the analytics slides presenting the pass/fail rate for the eleven battalions taking the ACFT. The short version: oh man was I right. The slightly longer version: the Army Combat Fitness Test is an unbridled, unparalleled, unimaginable disaster. The bottom line: the raw numbers reveal a test absurdly biased against women in uniform, but frankly, no one wearing a green uniform really comes out ahead in this thing.

WOMEN ARE BEING SET UP TO FAIL

The only thing that fails harder than the ACFT are the soldiers forced to take it.

According to the numbers, a jaw-dropping 36% of soldiers overall failed the test, with 64% passing. When you break it down by gender, 70% of men passed. But here is a number should kill and bury the ACFT evermore: 84% of women failed the test. Those numbers are so absurdly biased against women that I was afraid this was some sort of elaborate joke by Duffelblog. But I spoke with one soldier in a leadership position at an ACFT test battalion, and the soldier confirmed that the leaked numbers lined up almost exactly with those of the soldier’s battalion.

Here is why those fail numbers are so bad, male or female: you fail your physical training test, you get flagged. You aren’t going to military schools like Basic Leader Course or Airborne School. And if somehow you get there anyway, when you’re tested again you’ll be turned around and sent home. You cannot be promoted. You cannot be reclassified into another MOS. In the Guard and reserve, you cannot be transferred. You lose your tuition assistance. You can’t even reenlist!

Here is where it gets really ugly. If 84% of women are failing this test—keep in mind, 84% of women who are in battalions specifically preparing for the ACFT—you have essentially eliminated women from the United States Army. It gets uglier yet. When a woman gives birth, she gets a six-month profile excusing her from the ACFT. The thing is: the real killer for women is the “leg tuck” portion of the ACFT, in which you assume a pull-up position and bring your hips and knees up to your elbows and back down as many times as possible in two minutes. That’s asking an awful lot for a woman who has given birth in the last few months; and allows, basically, for no time to actually train up for the event once her profile expires. Already, women are failing the leg tuck test by 72%.

It is no secret that sexism is a problem in the military. What this test makes clear is that said sexism knows no bounds, and with the capricious stroke of a pen, those men have found a way to wash an entire gender from the ranks. If 84% of women are failing the test, the problem is not with women soldiers; it’s the test.

ALL BAD, NO GOOD

The ACFT consists of six events:

  •     Strength Dead-Lift (120-420 pounds)
  •     Standing Power Throw (10-pound medicine ball)
  •     Hand-Release Push-Ups
  •     Sprint-Drag-Carry (sprint, drag a sled, and then lateral shuffle then carry two kettle-bells)
  •     Leg Tuck (hanging from a pull-up bar, bring your knees or thighs to your elbows)
  •     2-Mile Run (20 minute max)

The Army has yet to address the myriad problems the ACFT presents for the Guard and reserve components, which make up the majority of the military branch. The gear necessary to take the test is locked up in cages by supply personnel who do not have time to sign out a literal LMTV’s worth of equipment on an already busy drill weekend. If your unit doesn’t have access to the Super Dome, your nearby testing grounds are not likely to meet the ACFT standard. (Dry grass, no rocks, no snow, no morning dew.) And because Guard and reserve soldiers do not have daily access to the gear and testing grounds (as their active duty counterparts do), they will be forced to purchase on their own dime a gym membership—and not the cheap gym, either. Planet Fitness doesn’t carry sleds. Can’t afford a good gym? Well maybe you’re not rich enough for the modern Army. I’ve heard reports of soldiers buying cans of paint to simulate the kettlebell lateral shuffle. (Kettlebells are not cheap.) It’s undignified and insulting. The reserve components are already missing their recruitment goals. This isn’t going to help.

But you know who it will help? The U.S. Air Force. I have been told that Air Force recruiters were warned by higher ups not to poach soldiers as this Army fiasco rolls out. But, hey, recruitment is an ugly business and recruiters have quotas. All they have to do is state the facts: Hello prospective female recruit: 84% of women are failing the Army’s so-called fitness standards. The problem is the test—not the woman. So do you want to enlist and be a private forever, or do you want to join the Air Force and reach your potential?

I know what I would choose.

The ACFT rolls out to the entire Army in less than a year. At present, it’s looking like the ultimate implementation of the ridiculed Army slogan “An Army of One.” But at least that was a slogan. If this test goes Army-wide, there might, in the end, only be one soldier left to wear the pinks and greens.

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David Brown is a regular contributor to ClearanceJobs. He is currently at work on his next book, One Inch From Earth, which tells the story of scientists who study the outer planets of the solar system. He can be found online at https://www.dwb.io.