Fewer women are failing the Army’s new fitness test since soldiers first started taking the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, Military.com has learned.
"We're seeing that on average, your score increases the more times you take it," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said in a tweet Friday. "Likely just getting familiar with the flow and events. There are also simple tricks (like eating during the test) that people are learning."
Data from the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, shows the fail rate for women in 2019 was 79% and dipped to 60% in 2020. The data was compiled in April 2020 and was given to Military.com last week through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Yet women still score 114 points below men on average. The maximum score is 600. TRADOC data reports the male fail rate in 2019 was 28%, compared to 16% in February 2020.
Last week, Military.com reported 44% of women are still failing the ACFT, compared to just 7% of men, based on Army data from April 2021 -- a slight increase from last year's TRADOC numbers. The updated data took into account a change in March that allowed soldiers to perform a plank of at least two minutes in lieu of leg tucks. In the leg tuck event, which requires significant upper-body strength, the fail rate for women is 41%.
Only 22% of women failed the plank event, a significant decrease from the leg tuck fail rate but still a far cry from male scores in both events. That raises questions about whether the new test will threaten the ability of many women to remain in the Army, thus delivering a substantial competitive advantage to men.
Nearly half of the Army has taken the ACFT and submitted scores to the force's massive data collection effort as leaders continue to tweak the final version of the test.
Grinston said Friday that within the last year, 317,600 scores, representing 48% of the total active-duty force, have been submitted to Rand Corp. Rand is compiling a congressionally mandated study on whether the ACFT adversely impacts retention or troops stationed in places where training for the test could be complicated.
The Army has 1,006,743 soldiers currently serving, including the reserve components. The total number of scores submitted for data collection may not represent the number of tests taken overall.
"This information isn't as granular as data shared across the internet earlier this week, and doesn't tell the whole story," Grinston noted, likely referencing Military.com's reporting. "I'm happy to see the progress we've made and looking forward to the independent review's findings."
Army leaders are trying to balance test requirements to support a stronger fighting force without creating career disadvantages for women. Some have argued a more challenging fitness test could limit the force's talent pool for jobs that are critical to warfare but not physically demanding, such as cyber roles. Others say soldiers have had plenty of time to train for the test and improve their scores.
Grinston noted that most scores have been submitted in the past six months. More units have been able to safely conduct the ACFT recently, given that most service members have had opportunities to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Gyms are also starting to open back up with eased capacity limits, making it simpler for troops to train for the test, which requires expensive gear and a large amount of space.
Grinston said his goal is to have 500,000 tests submitted by the Army's June 14 birthday.
The National Guard has submitted only 25,000 scores in the past six months, he said. There are 441,539 soldiers and airmen in the Guard, according to data from the National Guard Bureau.
However, the Guard has faced unique challenges when it comes to the ACFT since it has been on a constant string of domestic and overseas missions, during which it can be difficult for leaders to facilitate a test.
On top of deployments, Guardsmen largely do not have easy access to the gear required to train for the test. Military.com has talked to a dozen Guardsmen across the country who say gear is often not supplied to individual units and instead given to larger elements, such as a brigade headquarters, which could be hours away from a soldier's home or company location.
Soldiers who fail the ACFT will not be adversely affected until March 2022. But both data groups show that the test is a significant hurdle for women, which could have major implications when it becomes official. Failure to pass a fitness test not only holds a soldier back from rising in the ranks, but can quickly lead to being kicked out of the military.
During a Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee hearing last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., cited the Military.com report on women struggling to pass the ACFT to Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, asking him whether he found the data concerning.
"We fully acknowledge that the initial limitation of the test did show that there was a large disparity, one of which was a little bit troubling between genders, and then we will continue to assess," Brito said.
President Joe Biden's nominee to be the next secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth, told senators at her confirmation hearing last week she is concerned about the force's new fitness test and whether it will push a significant number of women out of the service.
"I have concerns on the implications of the test for our ability to continue to retain women," said Wormuth, who would be the first woman to serve in the role if confirmed.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.