During the Trump administration, the Defense Department began revamping physical testing designed to keep soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Space Force guardians fit and ready for duty.
The Army, in particular, sought to expand its Army Physical Fitness Test (AFPT) from three events — timed push-ups, sit-ups, and two-mile run — to six events that the brass felt better-prepared troops for the rigors of combat (while also reducing time lost annually to injuries, which hurts readiness).
What’s more, the brass thought it best to make the new Army Combat Fitness Test scores ranked by MOS (military occupational specialty — that is, the job a member is trained to do) and make the test itself gender-neutral because the difficulty of doing certain jobs doesn’t change based on a member’s sex.
Combat is combat; intelligence analysis is intelligence analysis; driving a truck is driving a truck; jumping out of a plane is jumping out of a plane, and so forth. So, the thinking went, the ACFT should reflect that ‘sameness.’
The intent was good, but the execution hasn’t been all that was expected. In fact, you could say it’s been a disaster.
Most female soldiers have been unable to pass the new test, leaving Pentagon officials scrambling for a solution that is likely to include the re-realization that yes, there are physiological differences between men and women.
Task & Purpose reports:
Briefing slides obtained by Task & Purpose marked as ‘pre-decisional’ from the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command for senior Army leaders show changes under consideration for the ACFT. Army officials have hailed the test — which consists of six events including a two-mile run, maximum deadlift, hand-release pushups, and a leg tuck — as crucial to soldier development, though lawmakers and advocacy groups have criticized it as potentially harmful to soldiers’ careers and not properly designed.
The slides describe “ACFT 3.0” and suggest permanently adding the option for soldiers to do a two-minute plank instead of the leg tuck — an option made temporarily available to soldiers last summer — removing the military occupational specialty (MOS)-specific requirements and eliminating competition between genders and scoring men and women in percentiles of their gender. Another proposal includes removing numerical fitness test scores from soldiers’ files for promotion boards in favor of color codes symbolizing their percentile in an effort to remove bias.
“We know there is a physiological difference between men and women,” reads one slide. “The Army has to account for this and remove the competition between genders or Congress will never allow ACFT implementation. The goal of the ACFT is to reward the most physically fit, this accomplishes that accounting for biological differences.”
One Army official who asked not to be identified panned the leadership’s decision to stick with the ACFT despite everything.
“We had this big thing of inclusion but this is one of the biggest eyesores that goes against inclusion,” the official told Task & Purpose. “They didn’t think about it. It was mostly men that ran it and it’s mostly men who are going to take it, and it’s mostly men who are just refusing to take the L.”
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Gabe Ramirez didn’t address the slide presentation but only said that the service branch is considering its options.
“We are currently in the assessment phase as we collect ACFT scores from soldiers across the Army,” Ramirez said. “We are taking a deliberate approach to gather information from the force and conduct an independent review in accordance with the NDAA so that we can revise the ACFT to ensure it’s fair for all soldiers and is an accurate predictor of fitness required for combat.”