The new Army Combat Fitness Test officially became the service’s test of record in October, but lawmakers have ordered a pause on further implementation pending an independent study to determine how it will impact deployed soldiers, recruiting and retention.

Regardless, soldiers are still expected to continue preparing for the six-event ACFT as the Army collects data from practice tests across the force, according to Sgt. 1st Class Will Reinier, a spokesman for Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston.

“ACFT is absolutely still being prepped for,” Reinier said in an email. “[People] must still prepare to pass the test once it’s implemented.”

“The rollout must now include these independent reviews,” he added. “It’s too early to know what impact that would have on the March 22 date.”

Army officials have repeatedly said that soldiers’ ACFT scores aren’t expected to count for the record until March 2022.

The gender-neutral ACFT is relatively more difficult than the test 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.

A letter penned by two Democratic senators this fall stated 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 those failure rates.

“I understand and acknowledge the concerns from across the force regarding the implementation of the ACFT and the provisions included in the FY21 NDAA,” SMA Grinston said in a statement reported by Wednesday. “The Army is updating physical training programs and will collect more than 1 million ACFT scores to support data-informed decisions.”

The ACFT has sparked concern that its stricter requirements could force troops out of the service, take an inordinate amount of time to prepare for and require a burdensome amount of equipment to execute, especially in forward-deployed areas.

A provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act requires an independent study 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 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.”

Army leaders involved in crafting the ACFT have consistently said that it is a far better gauge of a soldier’s preparation for combat tasks than the older test, which involved only push-ups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run.

“It’s just that there is a great anxiety. The goal is not to kick people out. The goal is to actually make them more healthy and physically fit,” Grinston told Army Times this fall.

The March 2022 date was intended to give soldiers “time to go ahead and see where you’re at, know your deficiencies and correct those and be ready to pass,” Grinston said. “I think that’s more than enough time to be ready.”

Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has 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.

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