Pfc. Llasmin Martinez, an automated logistical specialist from 1st Battalion, 43d Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th ADA Brigade, performs the strength deadlift during the Army Combat Fitness Test Jan. 27, 2020, at Stout Field on Fort Bliss. US Army photo by Sgt. LaShawna Custom, courtesy of DVIDS.
On April 1 the Army is poised to roll out a third version of its Combat Fitness Test. The latest iteration is removing job-specific standards, instead evaluating soldiers along gender-based percentiles. Many have criticized the move, including the Army’s first female infantry officer, Capt. Kristen Griest.
“It is wholly unethical to allow the standards of the nation’s premiere fighting units to degrade so badly, just to accommodate the lowest-performing soldiers,” Griest wrote in a Feb. 25 opinion piece for the Modern War Institute at West Point.
The new scoring system will “place everyone that passes the ACFT into an individual performance category based off of how well they score relative to their gender,” tweeted Michael Grinston, sergeant major of the Army. The Army will also be collecting data, per the mandate of Congress, for a Rand Corp. study in order to “allay concerns” that the test negatively impacts the careers of female soldiers.
The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act requires an “entity other than the Department of Defense” to conduct the study and report the results to the secretary of the Army.
“We don’t foresee any more adjustments, especially this year,” Grinston said. “The most important thing is, we need to take the test and put it in the training management system so we have data.”
Grinston added the new test will break down scores into “performance categories” relative to how soldiers score according to gender.
The concept we're going to evaluate over the next year will place everyone that passes the ACFT into an individual performance category based off of how well they score relative to their gender.
So, if your score is in the top 1% of your gender, you'll be in the platinum group. pic.twitter.com/XmBDGm4HaB
— SMA Michael Grinston (@16thSMA) March 22, 2021
The tiered model will still have the same baseline scores for both men and women: three deadlift repetitions at 140 pounds; a 4.5-meter standing power throw; 10 hand-release pushups; a 3-minute sprint-drag-carry; one leg tuck or a roughly 2-minute plank; and a 2-mile run in under 21 minutes. However, soldiers’ scores will be based on percentiles that compare soldiers of the same gender, rather than based on their specific jobs or the Army writ large.
Reverting the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, back to gender-based scoring has garnered criticism, notably from Griest, who said the reversion would negatively impact readiness by excessively lowering the requirements for women.
“Proponents of this ACFT standard will undoubtedly claim that it is an appropriate predictor of success for combat arms soldiers; as a recent infantry company commander, I can promise you it is not,” Griest wrote.
The return of gender-based scoring on the new ACFT is in response to legislation contained in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. In a letter that precipitated the legislative provision, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut raised concerns regarding a “performance gap” between men and women on the ACFT.
“We acknowledge that the ACFT 2.0 is a work in progress, but we have considerable concerns regarding the negative impact it may already be having on so many careers,” the senators wrote.
Griest, who is the first female graduate of US Army Ranger School, fears that this change will also impact the perception of women in the Army.
“The entire purpose of creating a gender-neutral test was to acknowledge the reality that each job has objective physical standards to which all soldiers should be held, regardless of gender,” Greist said, adding: “It is incumbent upon women who volunteer for the combat arms profession to ensure they are fully capable and qualified for it. To not require women to meet equal standards in combat arms will not only undermine their credibility, but also place those women, their teammates, and the mission at risk.”
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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