Wow, is this analysis of the Army’s new fitness test WAY off base

By J.D.

I ran across an analysis of the Army’s new fitness test, which is to be formally introduced as a requirement by the end of Fiscal 2020, that misses its mark by such a wide margin I was left shaking my head.

The analysis was published by Military.com, and while this web publication does focus primarily on the military community, it’s a civilian-run media enterprise.

Still, my personal view is that the editors should know better because they are definitely marketing to a military audience.

In any event, the writer describes the Army’s ‘preoccupation’ with physical fitness as a “cult,” while claiming that the service needs to modernize its thinking for the 21st century force…or something like that.

Specifically, the writer claims that the Army’s fitness programs should be job-related, not service-related. In other words, if you’re an intel person, your AFPT shouldn’t be as tough as an infantry troop.

Emma Moore, a Research Associate for the Military, Veterans, and Society program at the Center for a New American Security, writes:

A new hurdle for U.S. Army recruitment and retention is coming in the form of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), scheduled to become the Army’s physical test by October 2020. In the pursuit of combat readiness, the Army has increased barriers to service at the same time it promotes more targeted talent management and attempts to broaden its recruiting base. This tension shows the dissonance between remaining a force that values and emphasizes physical fitness and working to welcome a wider range of skill sets. Ultimately, such an endeavor may harm readiness.

Physical fitness is an outdated measure of readiness for the majority of Army jobs, yet the Army has doubled down on emphasizing just that. The Army should be deemphasizing fitness as the cornerstone of every soldier’s identity and instead focusing on testing relevant to specific job categories. The need to broaden the recruiting pool to meet the increasingly technical realities of war runs counter to the endless pursuit of fitness as a measure of readiness.

The ACFT comes in the wake of former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ push for a more “lethal” force and the Army’s attempt to take a harder stance on obesity and fitness. The director of CIMT has said the ACFT is a change “in the right direction for the betterment of the Army and the soldiers” that “assesses your ability to be a soldier.” Attitudes about the importance of the ACFT regardless of budgetary, logistical, or Reserve hurdles indicate the Army is staying focused on physical capability as the premier component of readiness for the warfighting mission.

Physical fitness is and should remain an important aspect of military culture, bearing, and standards. However, it should not be the ultimate mark of a good soldier. The best soldier in a situation may not be the most fit soldier; cultural bias favoring fitness over other skills is short-sighted. Because the Army is still organized around valuing and promoting physically fit soldiers, the implementation of the ACFT risks losing diversity of expertise in favor of uniformity of exercise.

She seems to be arguing that 1) Mattis’ concerns were/are ill-founded; 2) the new ACFT is just too difficult; and 3) because it’s hard, the Army should just drop it altogether or change fitness standards to fit a soldier’s particular job.

I don’t know if Moore has ever been in uniform, much less in the Army, but she’s way off-base in her analysis.

First of all, just because a troop goes to personnel school straight out of boot camp doesn’t mean he or she will remain in that specialty their entire career. And ditto for the infantryman.

But because the Army expects all of its soldiers, no matter their Military Occupational Specialty, to be able to fight, that’s why there must only be one fitness standard — and why it must be stringent and physically challenging.

As for Mattis, he looked around as defense secretary and saw that the nation’s largest military branch had essentially lapsed into mediocrity. Obesity rates were creeping upward, leaving thousands of troops non-mission ready and non-deployable.

Also, Mattis — as well as the current Pentagon hierarchy — looked over the horizon and saw storm clouds brewing over Russia and China, then looked back at his own forces and determined they had been fighting bullshit brushfire wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for so long they weren’t mentally or physically prepared for great-power high-intensity warfare.

When I was in Afghanistan, we had male and female logistics personnel driving supplies between FOBs; sometimes those convoys came under fire and they were expected to fight when they were attacked.

They weren’t in a combat billet, per se, but that’s the nature of the Army beast: At any given moment, any troop could be expected to be sent into combat, no matter what their MOS.

As such, all troops have to be equally physically fit.

Survival Legion is focused on preparing our warriors for the rigors of their duty — combat and otherwise. Because to be less prepared than the enemy is not an option.

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