The Army will ignore a soldier's weight, a sharp swerve from the decades of history where troops were evaluated based on the dreaded "tape test" that tracked body dimensions. But there's a catch -- troops can skirt the standards only if they score highly on the fitness test.
Soldiers who score at least a 540 on the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, will be exempt from having their body fat measured. That high score effectively guarantees a soldier is very physically fit, excelling in exercises including deadlifting a lot of weight and running a fast two miles, among others. The maximum score on the fitness test is 600
"If you score high on the ACFT, you should be good." Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston told soldiers at an Army conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Grinston, the service's top enlisted leader, said additional changes to how the Army approaches weight are being mulled. It's unclear when this new measure will officially take effect. But Grinston said all the changes should be finalized by June.
The new Army fitness test was rolled out October 1, after more than a decade of research and testing. The test’s controversial development saw Army leadership go back and forth on how soldiers’ performance, particularly womens’, should be measured. The final version ended up having gendered scoring, a major departure from one of the original goals of scoring men and women the same.
The news comes as Army planners are trying to revamp how it approaches the health and well-being of its troops. Some of those efforts include the new fitness test, encouraging soldiers to use mental health services and eyeing healthier food options at dining facilities.
There have been complaints across the force that some soldiers with certain body types can fail body fat compliance, including muscular women. The move to make high-performing soldiers exempt from being measured is a compromise, assuring otherwise physically fit soldiers aren't considered obese due to quirks in tape measuring.
Since 1983, a tape measure was used to gauge whether a soldier was in compliance with weight standards, analyzing their stomach and neck. That 200-year-old method of assessing someone's body mass index, or BMI, as a means to track obesity has largely been panned for its inability to effectively test how fit a soldier is.
Grinston said the current numbers on what is considered overweight are not changing.
"There will be no changes to the height and weights tables themselves; the science shows that they are correct," he said.
Service planners wrapped a 2,690-soldier study in July trying to identify potential replacements for the tape test. Three different body weight scanners were considered, but in many cases, the scanners found soldiers to be much more overweight than the status quo tape test.
That survey's findings and recommendations are still being reviewed by senior leaders for potential revamps on how the Army measures or takes into account a soldier's body fat.
The Army has been trying to overcome issues with obesity not just for serving troops, but also as it has cut into recruiting, with weight serving as a key limit on the number of potential recruits, with less than a quarter of young Americans even eligible for service. Sudden weight gain is also a key factor in developing potentially debilitating health conditions, something Army planners want to combat as much as possible.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.