Beginning Oct. 1, a modified version of the Army Combat Fitness Test will become the service's new fitness evaluation, but training challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic will mean individual scores will not count against soldiers until 2022.
The course correction to the ACFT rollout comes more than two months after Army leaders suspended all physical fitness tests in late March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The virus caused delays in shipping special equipment needed for the ACFT and prevented soldiers from taking the new six-event assessment, which is meant to build fitness levels above the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT).
Rather than delay the implementation of the new fitness evaluation, the Army instead will replace the APFT on Oct. 1 with the ACFT 2.0, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston told Military.com on Friday.
"This isn't the version that we kind of rolled out [in 2018]," Grinston said. "This is the new version."
ACFT 2.0 still consists of six events -- the maximum deadlift; standing power throw; hand-release push-ups; spring, drag and carry; leg tuck; and two-mile run. But the Army has added an alternative plank event for soldiers who still struggle to pass the leg tuck.
"Some soldiers are having challenges with the leg tuck and then, two, we have a large percentage of the Army that has not even taken the ACFT yet," said Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, commander of the Center for Initial Military Training.
Troops will have to attempt to pass the leg tuck before performing the plank event, which requires the soldier to balance on their elbows and toes, "arms forward, hands not touching and the body must maintain a relatively straight line for a minimum of two minutes," Hibbard said.
The other main difference between the ACFT 2.0 and the original plan is that scores will not count against most soldiers if they are unable to pass until Army senior leaders decide the time is right to fully implement the new fitness test, Grinston said.
"There will not be any adverse actions if you don't pass," he explained.
The original plan was for soldiers to take and pass the ACFT after Oct. 1, Grinston said, adding that the feeling had been, "If you fail it, you've got to get out of the Army."
"Then COVID-19 hit. We suspended all individual fitness tests, so there was no APFT, no ACFT -- people weren't even coming into work yet," he said.
Active-duty soldiers were scheduled to take ACFT as a diagnostic on two separate occasions, six months apart. The pandemic prevented the second test, which had been scheduled for April, Grinston said.
There were also delays in getting units the fitness equipment needed to administer the ACFT.
"We tried to produce that equipment as fast as we could, but we didn't have all the equipment out ... some of the manufacturing of equipment got delayed. It's hard to take a diagnostic, if you don't have all of the equipment," Grinston said.
Currently, about "91% of the equipment has been delivered," Hibbard said, adding that all equipment should be distributed to units by the end of June.
"We haven't even taken the second diagnostic test, so how would we chapter someone out [after] 1 October if they failed the ACFT?" Grinston said. "So, we changed and said, 'You are going to take the Army Combat Fitness Test; however, you will not be removed. There are no adverse actions.' ... You have to take it, though. When it's the test of record, you actually have to take it and put [the score] in the system of record."
But soldiers who did not pass their last APFT will be required to pass to pass it once the fitness test ban is lifted, Grinston said.
"So, say in January, if I took the Army Physical Fitness Test and I failed it," he said. "Those are the only people that would actually be required to pass the APFT."
The temporary changes to the ACFT are intended to give soldiers about 18 months to take the test and train on their weaknesses, so they can be ready for their scores to begin counting for record in March 2022, Hibbard said.
"Our Army senior leaders will make those decisions as we are informed by data for the best interest of our Army," he added.
Currently, there is no timeline for when the Army will drop the plank alternative event to the leg tuck, Hibbard said.
"I think as the whole Army begins training for the ACFT and taking the test, a lot of the angst will be gone and the plank will become [overcome by events] because everybody will be passing the leg tuck," he said.
Before the pandemic hit, the Army was seeing "vast improvements" in how soldiers performed on ACFT events, Grinston said, so he remains confident that troops will soon regain that progress.
"We can do this," he said. "This is about having everybody have a better physical fitness standard. This is good, it's achievable, and it's going to be really good for our Army."
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct an erroneous reference to the ACFT in a quote. The reference should have been to the APFT.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.