US Army Sgt. Brent Roberts, Task Force Avalanche, completes a leg tuck during the Army Combat Fitness Test portion of the Task Force Spartan Best Warrior Competition, May 27, 2021, at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Daryl Bradford, courtesy of DVIDS.
As the Army awaits the results of a congressionally mandated study into the usefulness of the Army Combat Fitness Test, the service continues to implement the controversial replacement to the Army Physical Fitness Test. Since its inception, the ACFT has been under fire from Congress for its high failure rates. Those numbers have declined significantly, though, as soldiers adapted to the new testing protocols.
According to Military.com, during fiscal year 2019, the first year the ACFT was introduced, roughly 79% of female soldiers failed. However, the number of failures shrank in fiscal year 2020, and this year fell again to 44%. The male failure rate of 28% in 2019 is now down to 7%.
“We’re seeing that on average, your score increases the more times you take it. Likely just getting familiar with the flow and events. There are also simple tricks (like eating during the test) that people are learning,” Sgt. Major of the Army Michael Grinston said in a May 14 tweet.
We’re seeing that on average, your score increases the more times you take it. Likely just getting familiar with the flow and events. There are also simple tricks (like eating during the test) that people are learning.
— SMA Michael Grinston (@16thSMA) May 14, 2021
Many within the National Guard and Reserve remain apprehensive about the new fitness test. Above all, it’s tough for soldiers to routinely access the specialized equipment needed to practice for the ACFT. For example, a senior noncommissioned officer in the Missouri National Guard, who spoke to Coffee or Die Magazine on condition of anonymity, due to professional restrictions on contact with the media, said that he agrees with the reasoning behind the new fitness test. However, he’s also concerned that equipment access could negatively impact some troops’ scores.
“We have soldiers that drive from St. Louis, Missouri, to St. Joseph, Missouri, for drill,” the senior NCO said, referencing the roughly five-hour trip some soldiers make across the state. “So even if I put equipment [in St. Joseph] for them to train, it’s still not available for everyone. So the system will force soldiers to say, ‘screw it and fail’ or have to get some sort of gym membership. And let’s face it, a CrossFit membership.”
Additionally, the senior NCO addressed the large area needed to administer the test.
“[Some units] do not have the space to conduct the ACFT, so those units are having to coordinate to drive to a different location on drill weekends. If you combine it with something big, like weapons qualifications, that takes a whole weekend anyway. Otherwise, it’s not conducive to training,” he said.
Overall, the senior NCO who spoke to Coffee or Die thought that the ACFT itself represented a positive shift in the Army’s fitness culture, despite the Army’s issues rolling the test out thus far.
An Army Reserve major, who previously served in the National Guard, agreed that the switch to the ACFT was positive for Army fitness overall, even if the rollout has had some issues. The officer also requested anonymity due to restrictions on interacting with the media.
“The way they have the grading scale, it’s much more objective, and fully encompassing of what physically fit really means, versus just situps, pushups, and a run,” he said.
Pushing out the equipment has been an issue for the Army. In June 2019, the Army selected Atlantic Diving Supply Inc. and Sorinex to provide equipment for the ACFT. This included manufacturing 950,000 pieces of equipment, which weighed more than 15,000 tons and was valued at $63.7 million. The price tag, according to Military.com, constitutes the largest purchase of exercise equipment ever.
So far, Sorinex has reportedly delivered a substantial amount of equipment to the Army. This includes 18,304 sleds, bars, and medicine balls, 329,472 bumper plates, and 36,608 kettlebells.
Next March, pending any recommendations from the congressional study, the Army is slated to begin the ACFT as the physical fitness test of record.
“I think it’s a very doable thing [the ACFT] if you’re genuinely in shape, which if you’re in the military, you should be,” the Reserve major said. “We’re in a profession that’s supposed to be physically demanding. Our whole job is to protect and serve the country, and we should be in shape for that.”
James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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