The Army will likely have to implement further changes to its embattled fitness test, just months after the long-in-development Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, was finally rolled out, as Congress pushes for gender-neutral and potentially job-specific standards.
The must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which sets funding and policy priorities for the Pentagon, would require Army Secretary Christine Wormuth to revamp the ACFT within 180 days of the bill's passing, establishing the same fitness standards for men and women "that ensure soldiers can perform the duties of their respective" jobs. The language of the bill was unveiled late Tuesday and is expected to become law in the coming weeks.
The requirement would largely take the ACFT back to what Army planners were hoping for, though widespread skepticism from Capitol Hill and Wormuth effectively forced the service to have gender-specific standards shortly after a Military.com report on early test data showed that half of women could not pass the planned test.
The poor pass rate for women was partly attributed to the leg tuck, an exercise in which soldiers would touch their knees to their elbows on a pull-up bar. That exercise was eliminated in favor of the plank, which is generally seen as a better measurement of core strength. However, the two-mile run is still the most failed event.
The service was also aiming for job-specific scoring, the idea being an infantryman needs to be held to a higher standard of physical fitness than a soldier who works in an admin job.
Army officials interviewed by Military.com said that differentiating based on jobs quickly gets complicated and test developers who had tried to create such standards before the ACFT was put into use couldn't figure out critical logistics, including whether to grade a soldier based on their job title on paper or responsibilities within a unit. For example, someone in combat arms might be in a recruiting position or a non-combat arms soldier might be assigned to a cavalry unit.
Army planners are already in the early phases of developing separate job standards, but only for combat arms troops, while the rest of the force would likely keep the existing scoring standards. Military.com was first to report in October that the service is testing a completely separate gender-neutral fitness test, but exclusively for expert soldier, infantryman and field medical badges.
The ACFT went live for active-duty soldiers in October and is set to be the test that determines career advancement and potential separation for part-time soldiers in the National Guard and reserve in April. Soldiers have been taking the test in a beta period, during which there are no consequences for results, since 2019.
The ACFT took more than a decade to develop, replacing the decades-old Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, which was widely seen as a poor measurement of fitness, grading soldiers only on push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. Soldiers now are evaluated on deadlifts, a plank, hand-release push-ups, a two-mile run, and throwing a 10-lb. ball behind them as far as possible, among other fitness tests.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.