Two senators are asking for a delay in the Army’s implementation of its new combat fitness test, or ACFT, pending an independent study of how it will effect critical career fields and soldiers deployed to austere outposts.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked in a letter sent Tuesday to the House and Senate armed services committees for the ACFT roll-out to be paused and studied.
“We acknowledge that the ACFT 2.0 is a work in progress, but we have considerable concerns regarding the negative impact it may already be having on so many careers," the senators said in the letter, a copy of which was provided to Army Times. “It is imperative that we pause implementation until all questions and concerns are answered."
The six-event ACFT is a noticeably more difficult test than that which it replaces, with higher failure rates recorded among women. The increased difficultly is often attributed to the ACFT’s emphasis on core and upper body strength through exercises like the deadlift and hanging leg-tuck.
The letter, first reported by the Washington Post, noted that Army data shows “a consistent” 65 percent failure rate for women and 10 percent failure rate for men. The letter cited a University of Iowa study that showed eliminating the leg-tuck would significantly reduce failure rates.
Gillibrand and Blumenthal said there are “significant concerns” regarding the data used to develop the ACFT that trace back to a study conducted several years ago.
That study demonstrated the leg-tuck was not a significant predictive variable of how a soldier would perform their duties, but was still included in the six-event test regardless. The study’s test group also underrepresented women, the senators added, with the average participant being a 24-year-old man.
“The Army has failed to show that the leg tuck has any nexus to the skills necessary for combat,” the letter reads. “While the ACFT 2.0 provides the option for a two-minute plank as an alternative to the leg tuck, the Army has reiterated this is only a temporary option. Furthermore, only 60 points will be issued for the two-minute plank, greatly reducing the participant’s overall score."
Army leaders have repeatedly said that the ACFT is far more applicable to combat tasks than the older test, which simply required push-ups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run. The ACFT does, however, require significantly more equipment and preparation, service leadership has acknowledged.
Gillibrand and Blumenthal lobbied armed services committee leaders to support a legislative provision to delay the ACFT. The provision would be included in the final version of the annual defense bill, which is expected to be completed sometime after the November election.
The Senate’s version of the bill, passed in July, includes a provision requiring an independent study of the ACFT’s potential to adversely impact current and future troops. But the provision is not included in the House bill, also passed this summer.
The independent study is intended to determine the “extent, if any, to which the test would adversely impact" soldiers “stationed or deployed" to areas that make it difficult to conduct "outdoor physical training on a frequent or sustained basis,” the Senate version reads.
The provision also asks for the study to determine whether the ACFT “would affect recruitment and retention in critical support military occupational specialties ... such as medical personnel."
Though the Army is transitioning to the ACFT this year, soldiers' scores aren’t expected to count until March 2022. Soldiers are still challenged to train for and pass the new test, but no adverse actions will be taken against those who fail it.
The ACFT officially became the Army’s physical test of record Oct. 1. However, there have been challenges with the test’s implementation because the service is still dealing with quarantine and social distancing requirements brought by the global coronavirus pandemic, according to Army leadership.
How the defense bill provision, if successful, would impact the ACFT’s roll-out timeline remains unclear.
“We support advances in the Army physical fitness program and policies that promote the equal treatment of male and female soldiers," Gillibrand and Blumenthal said in the letter. "However, the ACFT as it currently stands, lowers standards and expectations for young, male soldiers while setting unrealistic standards for others including those with fewer physical responsibilities such as medical personnel, judge advocates, or cyber warriors.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.