Congress wants to halt implementation of the new Army Combat Fitness Test until a study determines how it will impact deployed soldiers, recruiting and retention, according to the final version of the 2021 defense bill agreed upon by both the U.S. House and Senate, but still pending the president’s approval.
The legislation requires that the ACFT be halted until the secretary of the Army receives the results of the study, which must be conducted by an entity independent of the Department of Defense.
The independent study would 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 defense bill 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.”
The ACFT officially became the Army’s physical test of record Oct. 1, though soldiers’ scores aren’t expected to count until March 2022.
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.
The legislation follows a letter sent in mid-October by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to the House and Senate Armed Services committees arguing that the ACFT roll-out should 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 wrote in the letter. “It is imperative that we pause implementation until all questions and concerns are answered.”
The senators also noted that Army data shows “a consistent” 65 percent failure rate for women and 10 percent failure rate for men. The senators wrote that eliminating certain events from the ACFT, such as the leg tuck, would dramatically reduce failure rates.
This summer, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston said the Army decided that a plank exercise could be substituted for the leg tuck.
“If you can’t do a leg tuck, we’ve added a two-minute plank,” Grinston said in June, adding that soldiers must first attempt the leg-tuck event. “We need that core strength … so if you can’t do any leg tucks, how do we build off of that? The plank can help us.”
The six-event ACFT is a noticeably more difficult test than that which it replaces. 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.
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 requires significantly more equipment and preparation, service leadership has acknowledged, though they’ve maintained that the standards are achievable.
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.