[Editor's Note: I wrote this story for posting this AM at Military.com. I know it's not a tech piece, but I thought for those of you in the service or with strong service affinity, it might stir some of that "rivalry" in ya...]
When the incoming Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway looked around the Corps, he didn't like what he saw.
No, it wasn't the Corps' aggressiveness, tactical savvy or combat acumen that worried him. Instead, it was the bulging gut, extra skin under the chin and the runaway waistlines that Leathernecks were squeezing into their cammies that got his dander up.
"Inspector General of the Marine Corps review of body composition programs indicates we still have Marines that fail to meet body composition standards," Conway wrote in an Aug. 11 Marine Corps-wide message. "This impacts combat efficiency and effectiveness and, unfortunately, is a clear indicator of some commanders' failure to enforce standards."
Marines have been at war for seven years -- rotating in a near-constant seven-month cycle of workups and deployment that leaves little time for physical training and all-around fitness. Come home, work out, pass the PFT, deploy.
Now, that's all changed.
Early this month, the Corps introduced a new fitness test that goes way beyond the current PFT that measures pull ups, crunches and a timed, three-mile run. The new "combat fitness test" -- which will be administered in addition to the standard PFT -- is more representative of what Marines are doing on deployment.
Divided into three events, the new test includes a timed ammo can lift, an 880-yard "movement-to-contact" run and a so-called "maneuver under fire" event that covers 300 yards.
"It's not often that we have to do a hump across the desert, but we sure have to sprint like this in urban combat," said Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green, top enlisted advisor to the commander of Marines assigned to the Pentagon.
"This challenges that 'two block war,' " Green said, sweat pouring off his brow after running through the CFT himself.
Marines will be required to start taking the combat fitness test in October. For the first year, the CFT will be graded on a pass/fail basis, with those who fail entering a remedial fitness program to get them up to snuff. Officials with Training and Education Command, which developed the new test, said the PFT and CFT will not be administered on the same day.
Marines who watched a demonstration of the grueling test on Aug. 18 were excited about the new demands if not a little nervous.
"It wasn't impossible, but it was pretty challenging," said 21 year-old Cpl. Hudson Bull, an infantryman assigned to the ceremonial marching team in Washington. Bull has taken the test before.
"I like anything that breaks people off," said Staff Sgt. Richard DeBoy, a platoon leader with three Iraq tours under his belt, describing the crushing effect the CFT's various "short burst" movements can have on a Marine.
Leathernecks will have to take the CFT wearing combat boots and cammies. After the 880-yard run, Marines get a five minute break, then must lift a 30-pound ammo can from chin height straight above their head as many times as they can in two minutes.
Then the hard part begins.
The "maneuver under fire" portion of the test is a 300-yard muscle-burning combination of crawling, casualty dragging, fireman carry, grenade throw simulation ending with a slalom run to the finish line with two 30-pound ammo cans.
In order to pass the test, a male Marine aged 17 to 26, for example, will have to complete the movement to contact run in three minutes, forty-eight seconds or less, execute at least 45 ammo can lifts in two minutes and run the maneuver-under-fire portion in three minutes, 29 seconds or less.
While the first year of this test will be conducted as pass/fail, beginning Oct. 1, 2009, the Corps will count scored results of CFT toward promotions and cutting scores, officials said.
The test was developed in close collaboration with the Corps' internal fitness professionals, sports medicine experts and Leathernecks from the Marine Corps Martial Arts program. It "fills in some gaps left out by the PFT," Marine fitness experts say, and it'll force Marines to re-engineer their workouts.
No more body building, Marine, it's time to put together a "functional fitness program" that incorporates short bursts of high-intensity activity using lots of muscles.
"How often do you actually do the motion in a leg curl?" asked Lauren Baker, head athletic trainer for Marines based at the Pentagon. "Unless you're a soccer player, not much."
Preparing for the CFT will "change their workout routine," she added. "Now they can have a little more fun with it."