As the Army tangles with Congress over the fate of the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, the service's top civilian leader says it needs to stay.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth took a stand for the test in an exclusive interview with Military.com on Wednesday at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C.
"I am a believer in the ACFT. I think it's a better test," Wormuth said in the interview. "I would like to see our folks in Congress land in a place that doesn't move us back to the APFT; I think that would be pretty problematic."
Congress has dueling ideas for what the Army should do with its fitness test and may include legislation in this year's must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which sets funding and policy priorities for the Pentagon.
One proposal, from the Senate, sent shockwaves through the Army with what leaders saw as an outrageous idea: Go back to the old Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT. That test is largely seen as a poor measurement of overall fitness, only testing soldiers on push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run.
Another top concern among Army leaders is that any major changes to the test would cause confusion and frustration in the ranks, further exacerbating the perception that the service has been unable to stick the landing on the ACFT.
Since the test became official in October of last year, there have been no tweaks.
"I worry about our soldiers having whiplash," Wormuth told Military.com. "My goal is we need to increase our culture of fitness. I think the ACFT does that."
The ACFT is a much more complicated test than the APFT, and soldiers cannot simply do runs for physical training. With the introduction of graded events that include kettlebells and hex bars, troops have been effectively forced to diversify how they workout -- which leaders hope will lead to a fitter fighting force.
The House is looking to implement gender-neutral test standards for combat arms soldiers. The House Armed Services Committee introduced that as an amendment to the defense bill in June.
The ACFT was originally intended to grade men and women on the same scale, but that was scrapped later in its development once soldiers started taking it en masse and nearly half of the women in the force were unable to pass. Much of the problem was attributed to the leg tuck, an event that was removed in favor of a plank.
The House plan for gender-neutral standards is closer to what service planners envisioned for possible tweaks, versus the Senate proposal, which would upend testing by reverting back to the old test. Even in its current state, the ACFT is widely expected to undergo minor adjustments -- likely involving how it is scored, as many believe the current minimum scores are too low.
One proposal Army officials have looked at is increasing the baseline standard for combat arms roles and grading those men and women on the same scale, but keeping gendered scoring for the rest of the force. However, that idea was mulled only briefly.
But for now, Congress' consideration of changes has effectively halted any initiatives from Army planners to make significant adjustments.
"I'm a fan of the ACFT. … I think we'll be able to continue using [it] to change the culture of fitness," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer told Military.com in an interview.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.