The details of when and how have not been worked out yet, but the Army made an historic announcement Monday with the unveiling of a new PT test to replace the long-standing Army Physical Fitness Test.
The service will spend the next year hammering out the details of grading and policy for the gender- and age-neutral, six-event Army Combat Fitness Test, but in the meantime, soldiers are bursting with questions about how this test will change not only their exercise routines, but possibly their careers.
“What we know to be true, based on the amount of testing we’ve done, is it’s attainable,” Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey told Army Times on Tuesday. “It’s not unrealistic.”
From hundreds of Facebook comments, Army Times gathered a few of the most common or popular reactions and brought them to the SMA. This is what he had to say.
What about profiles?
“What are they going to do with people with low back pain and are currently authorized alternative aerobic event and exempted from sit-ups?” wrote Michael Spillane on the Army Times Facebook page. “The whole profile system will have to be redone as well.”
Event alternatives are at the top of the issues to iron out, Dailey said.
“Part of what the APFT does now is, it allows you to do an alternate event,” he said. “But it also causes issues with maintaining standards.”
While a sit-up was not necessarily the standard for combat fitness, moving into a new, evidence-based PT test might mean less room for alternatives.
“When we correlate wartime tasks closer to our physical assessment — we say that being able to do this demonstrates your potential to be able to do your job at an acceptable level, for the type of job you must do in the Army — then the question comes: Do you have to do it or not?” Dailey said.
Tweaks could be made to elements like repetitions or run-times when the test officially rolls-out, Center for Initial Military Training commander Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost said Monday.
“The reality is, we do hurt people. I know that. Of course,” he said. “So what’s the standard to be a soldier?”
“And if you can’t, then you shouldn’t be a soldier,” he said.
The discussion meets directly head-on with the Defense Department’s ongoing discussion about deployability, and a new policy that forces out service members who are in a non-deployable status for more than 12 months.
“In no way, shape or form does the sergeant major of the Army ever [imply] that we’re not going to take care of you,” Dailey said. “But there is no right to wear the uniform that’s guaranteed to anyone. If you’re non-deployable, you’re non-retainable. That’s what our job is.”
The days of permanent profiles are on their way out, and fitness for combat will have a more narrow definition with a more rigorous fitness test.
“There’s an infinite number of places you can put somebody who’s hurt, and that’s what we’ve learned,” Dailey said. “There’s no such thing as a non-deployable unit.”
What does this have to do with combat?
“Throw a medicine ball? Because that’s [what] real combat [is] like,” Joshua Johannes wrote on the Army Times Facebook page.
According to Frost, the overhead throw engages similar muscles to lifting a casualty over the shoulder, or tossing a grenade 40 meters.
There’s a similar reason for the dead lift.
“Pick up a litter. It’s the exact same movement,” Dailey said. “Pick up an artillery round, the ammo cans, the water jugs.”
Dead lifts cause injuries, right?
“Stopped reading at first event being the dead lift,” Ryan T. Alexander wrote on the Army Times Facebook page. “It’s like the VA said, ‘We need to pay out as much disability pay as possible. What’ve you got for us?’ ... ‘Well, we can make every last soldier do a complicated, heavy lifting exercise with their lower backs.’ “
A new test with new events will require a new PT program, officials have said, and taking a year to roll out the new test ― after taking the previous year to create standards and finalize requirements ― should give units an opportunity to train soldiers so they will succeed on the ACFT.
Frost and Dailey themselves admitted to needing to brush up on their skills when taking the ACFT.
“I don’t do it,” Dailey said Monday. “I just don’t do dead lifts.”
That training should prevent lower-back or other injuries, because as soldiers become more aware of the lower body and core strength required for a successful dead lift, the risk of lower back strain should lessen.
As far as going into the test, soldiers should have an idea of their max weight from their preparation, Frost said.
Soldiers will get a practice lift, then do two reps with their chosen weight. But, Frost added, soldiers are not meant to start low for the first rep and then add on.
How long is this going to take? And much is it going to cost?
“Let’s go with a small unit of 100. If you get 10 sets of equipment, this test will take 10 hours,” Stephen Moore wrote on the Army Times Facebook page. “Nope, don’t see this one happening.”
With a 50-minute run time, Frost said, the test should take about a day per company of soldiers.
“When I was a battalion command sergeant major, it took me seven days to give them the PT test,” Dailey said. “So what? I did a company a day,”
The ACFT will likely take a little longer, he added, but not much.
“That’s the price I’m willing —– the chief, the secretary is willing —– to pay, to increase the readiness of the United States Army,” he said.
Part of the key to the APFT was its $0 cost to complete, which will change with a PT test that requires dead lift and pull-up bars, kettle bells and medicine balls.
“This PT test for active duty alone is a logistical nightmare,” Scott Atwell wrote on the Army Times Facebook page. “Literally impossible for an already cash strapped Army Reserve and National Guard.”
However, according to officials, much of this equipment is already available at many units, and will become more and more common as Holistic Health and Fitness initiatives continue to develop.
While it’s true that the equipment involved will cost thousands up-front, leadership expects the overall initial cost to be about $3 per soldier.
Breaking it down, Frost explained that every battalion will get 15 lanes worth of equipment each, at a cost of about $25,000 each. If you estimate that equipment will last 10 years for roughly a million soldiers, you’re down to about $3 each.
That cost, Dailey said, could be offset by a reduction in injuries, obesity and other health issues that the Army wants to tackle through these upgraded PT programs.
“It’s completely and utterly negligible when you’re talking about those cost savings and benefits,” he said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.