The Army is again changing the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), because at this point, why not? The test that was designed to establish a single physical fitness standard for all soldiers now has so many standards that I expect the next version to be soldier specific. “Well, he only did three pushups, but that’s the Henry Smith from Dayton, OH Standard. He did great. Good job, warrior. Hooah!”
Specifically, the Army has added gender-specific promotion evaluation standards to the ACFT (standards that will change annually) and is now preparing to roll out job specific standards as well. Which means a woman in finance and a man in finance will have different standards, and both of theirs will be different from a male military policeman, and his will be different from a female member of the infantry, whose standard will be different from a chaplain or a cook. And all their scores, regardless of whether they add or lose a single rep, will change every year.
Thank goodness the Army “simplified” things!
HOW WE GOT THE ACFT
The ACFT was announced in 2018 as the first replacement for the Army Physical Fitness Test in 38 years. The previous APFT was great—using it to field the most elite fighting force in human history, waging brutal warfare on multiple continents—but it was time for a change, I guess. The way you buy a new car or change up your hair style. The ACFT was to be implemented Army-wide in October 2020.
The ACFT was to be age and gender neutral. There was one standard for all soldiers. The ACFT—unlike the older APFT—required a staggering $68 million in hardware, and in some cases, specialized facilities, but never mind that.
Testing began in January 2019. By October, though, it was clear something was terribly amiss, and data leaked revealing that 36% of test-takers failed, including 84% of all women. (I wrote about it for ClearanceJobs here.) The ACFT was an unmitigated disaster. After heavily modifying the test, the new version “only” found 44% of women failing, including 53% of enlisted women.
Congress finally shut down the test until the Army leadership could figure out how to fix the mess. An independent study was convened and is presently underway. The test in whatever form it takes will not go into effect until March 2022.
WHAT IS THE ACFT?
The test itself is made up of six events. Currently—these six events seem to change monthly—the events are:
- Strength Dead-Lift (140-340 pounds)
- Standing Power Throw (10-pound medicine ball)
- Hand-Release Push-Ups
- Sprint-Drag-Carry (sprint, drag a 90-pound sled, and then laterally shuffle before carrying two 40-pound kettlebells)
- Leg Tuck (dangling from a pull-up bar, pull yourself up and bring your knees to your elbows, sort of like a hanging fetal position, as one apparently does in war) or planks (2:09 to 4:20 minutes)
- 2-Mile Run (minimum: 13:30 minutes, to maximum: 21:00 minutes)
Everyone was to meet the same ACFT standard. Obviously human physiology was never going to let that happen, so earlier this year, the Army created gender-specific promotion evaluation categories for the fitness test. Which defeated the purpose of establishing a gender-neutral physical fitness test in the first place, and directly counters Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston’s assertion that “Combat is age and gender-neutral, and now we have a [single] standard to be a soldier.”
Now there will be annual tabulations of soldiers’ ACFT scores, divided by gender, and broken into categories labeled green, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Green performers are the bottom 50% of soldiers. You still pass, but now you are green, I guess. Bronze soldiers are in the top 50% of test-takers; silver, the top 25%; gold, the top 10%, and platinum, the top 1%.
These numbers will change every year. Today’s gold is tomorrow’s silver. The idea is to show that a poorly performing soldier is actually a gold, or whatever. But what it does instead is obfuscate the soldier’s score—or more specifically, the Army’s colossal failure to establish a sane, competent replacement to the Army Physical Fitness Test—a test, mind you, that was never broken to begin with.
Rather than fix the test, the Army is basically saying that women are now allowed do fewer reps and run slower than men, and still pass. Which is fine because they never should have set women up for this kind of failure in the first place. (There is a reason women and men do not compete against each other in the Olympics, and it’s not because the women Olympians are out of shape.) But because the old Army Physical Fitness Test already graded genders differently, why are is the Army bothering with the ACFT?
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
The longer this ACFT nonsense goes on, the harder it is to keep straight. And now it gets more complicated yet. The Army is now signaling that it will make the ACFT job specific as well. An Army dentist will not have to do as many leg tucks as an Army infantryman.
Again, this makes perfect sense, but how far we have strayed from “a single standard to be a soldier in combat.”
At this point, the only thing harder than passing the AFCT will be grading the ACFT. They should change the name of the test to ASVAB and be done with it.