Army's Controversial Fitness Test Might Become Official This Year, Leaked Plan Says

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Senior Army leaders participate in the combat fitness test.
Senior leaders of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade participated in the Army combat fitness test, Aug 14, 2018, on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (1st Lt. Verniccia Ford/101st Division Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs)

The Army's controversial new fitness test may replace the decades old standard by which troops are measured later this year after years of advocacy by Army leadership confronting a skeptical Congress worried about the test's practicality and lopsided gender disparity in performance

On Sunday, the timeline for the test's implementation was posted on the Army's official website and was quickly taken down. The briefly-available outline said that the Army's Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, would be administered and used to evaluate soldiers starting in April. The test was introduced to the service in 2019 but the results were only used to help Army leaders figure out how the test should be graded and which events would survive, with the data not impacting troops careers.

All active duty soldiers and full time Army National Guard and Reserve troops would still have until Oct. 1 before their performance on the new test would begin to impact promotions or could lead to administrative actions, according to screenshots of the now deleted webpage. Failure to pass a fitness test is grounds for separation from the Army. All part time National Guard and Reserve soldiers would be required to have an ACFT score in their record no later than April 1, 2023. 

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All active duty and full time Guard and Reserve soldiers would be expected to take two tests per fiscal year. Part time troops would take one test. 

Army officials insist the timeline is not yet official and was published prematurely. Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, who expressed major concerns over the test, has the final say.

"A contractor inadvertently posted a pre-decisional ACFT course of action that has not been approved by the Secretary of the Army," Col. Cathy Wilkinson, an Army spokesperson told Military.com in a statement. "We apologize for the confusion. Once the Secretary of the Army makes the final decision on the Army's fitness test, the Army's priority is to clearly communicate the test of record and the timeline." 

Military.com obtained early data in May on the test showing nearly half the women in the Army could not pass the ACFT, a problematic finding given the force's recent string of commitments to foster a more inclusive environment. The test requires soldiers dead lift between 140 and 340 lbs., something smaller soldiers, especially women, struggled to achieve high scores in testing. 

Women began to perform better on the test as the Army conducted further testing and substituted doing planks instead of a leg tuck event -- an event which tasks soldiers with pulling themselves up on a bar and then touching their knees to their elbows -- which requires a lot of upper body strength. The early data Military.com reported on was collected before the plank was introduced as an alternate event. 

Yet simply passing the test might not be enough for soldiers' careers. High scores can lead to getting troops into elite courses such as Ranger school and can snowball into quicker promotions and more job opportunities. Internal figures from 2020 showed only 66 women scored 500 points or higher, compared to 31,978 men. A score of 600 is the max. The two mile run is by far the most commonly failed event.

When that data was cited in Wormuth's confirmation hearing, she said she was skeptical of the necessity of the CrossFit-style test. While the Army needs some baseline of physical fitness, she said she wasn't sure if such a difficult test was needed for a force where such a minority serve in ground combat roles and given the Army's need to be a competitive employer in growing fields such as cyberwarfare.  

"I have concerns on the implications of the test for our ability to continue to retain women," Wormuth, the first woman to serve in the role, told lawmakers at her confirmation hearing last year.

Congress delayed the ACFT's implementation in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act -- which sets funding and policy priorities for the Pentagon. Lawmakers directed an independent study be conducted on the test's impacts on retention and soldiers' ability to train for the test in different environments. That study, conducted by Rand Corp., has since been completed and findings are being reviewed by Army leaders. Those findings are expected to be publicized in early March. 

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

Related: Can the Army's New Fitness Test Survive Critics and Become Official in April?

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