Army May Go Back to Job-Specific Scoring After All on the New Fitness Test

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U.S. Army soldier attempts three repetition maximum deadlift event ACFT.
Lt. Col. Stephen Miko makes his first attempt at the three repetition maximum deadlift event during a diagnostic Army Combat Fitness Test on the morning of Feb. 25, 2020 on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Alan Brutus)

The Army is considering returning to job-specific scoring bands for the new Army Combat Fitness Test, the service's top general told lawmakers Tuesday.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told lawmakers in the Senate Armed Services Committee that the force is still tweaking the test and balancing the desire for a fitter force while also striving not to harm efforts to fill the less physically demanding jobs that are critical to warfighting.

"I took it last week; I think it's a good test. What we want to do is move forward with implementation. It'll give us a more fit force," McConville told lawmakers. "If you're a Ranger...or in a fitness type organization … I would say you want people with a certain level of fitness. If you're doing something else, a neurosurgeon, you might be more concerned with that person operating than leading the battalion in PT."

There will be no final decisions on the new fitness test, including its standards, until an independent study on it is completed at the end of the year.

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The ACFT is in a beta phase, and soldiers are not penalized for performing poorly on the test. However, once the ACFT becomes official, failing the test could lead to someone's removal from the force. Low scores could stall a career, making it difficult to be sent to specialized training schools and promoted.

Currently, the test has a single standard for men and women of all Army jobs. However, when the ACFT was initially rolled out it had different scoring standards based on the physical demands of a soldier's job. For example, ground combat roles such as infantrymen and cavalry scouts had to deadlift more weight and do more push-ups to earn an excellent score than did those in non-combat jobs, like mechanics and chaplain's assistants.

"I took it last week; I think it's a good test. What we want to do is move forward with implementation. It'll give us a more fit force," McConville told lawmakers. "If you're a Ranger...or in a fitness type organization … I would say you want people with a certain level of fitness. If you're doing something else, a neurosurgeon, you might be more concerned with that person operating than leading the battalion in PT."

When asked about his performance on the test, McConville told senators he scored a 478, a solid score. The maximum score on the six-event test is 600, while the minimum to pass is 360, or 60 out of 100 points in each event.

In May, service officials including Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston told a House Appropriations Committee subpanel there could ultimately be de facto gender standards for the test.

Scores could end up being separated by gender, and divided by tiers -- such as the 1st, 10th, 25th, and 50th percentile of soldiers. In practice, this could mean men and women still would have to meet the same standards but would not be compared to one another. A soldier's percentile ranking could be reflected in their record; for example, a soldier might be described as being in the top 10% of fitness ability among their gender across the Army.

Lawmakers have voiced concerned that the ACFT's events put women at a disadvantage. Last year, Congress passed a law forbidding the Army to move forward with the test until the independent study from Rand Corp. is complete. Even then, the test's future remains largely in limbo.

Last month, Military.com obtained internal Army data showing that 44% of women are failing the ACFT, compared to 7% of men. The data also suggests, however, that women get better at the test as they become more familiar with the events.

Even among those women who can pass the ACFT, most aren't scoring high. Only 66 female soldiers have scored a 500 or higher since October, compared to 31,978 men, according to data from April.

The ACFT is also a monumental logistical task for leaders to administer. The test involves bumper plates, kettlebells, diamond bars, sleds and medicine balls, and a large amount of space, which has prompted concerns from soldiers about being unable to adequately train for the test.

The previous fitness test consisted of only push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. It required no gear, other than a stopwatch, and minimal setup and time. The new test consists of leg tucks or a plank, deadlifts, a sprint-drag-carry event, a standing power throw, hand-release push-ups and a two mile run.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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