Capt. Chelsea Kim had just had a baby when she heard the Army would replace its physical fitness test with the new combat fitness test.
Kim’s husband, who was in one of the units at Fort Bragg that field-tested the new test, took her to a gym when she was about three to four months postpartum.
“I tried to do some leg tucks, and I couldn’t do any. And I was really overwhelmed,” Kim said of the combat fitness test. “But I’m a long-distance runner. That’s what I enjoy doing, … And leg tucks, I just started after I do a hard workout of running. If there are bars nearby, I just try to go and do at least 10 or so.”
Kim said it took a couple of more months postpartum to tackle the leg tucks.
On Thursday, she and other soldiers in her unit — the headquarters company of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion — tackled that and five other parts of the new test at Fort Bragg.
It was her first time to be scored on the event, though Army leaders announced in June that scores with the current physical fitness test will remain valid until March 31, 2022.
The old test had three components — sit-ups, push-ups and running.
The new test includes: the strength deadlift that requires lifting a 60-pound hex bar and plates for multiple repetitions; the standing power throw that measures the distance when throwing a 10-pound medicine ball; hand-release push-ups; the sprint/drag/carry, which measures how long it takes carrying two 40-pound kettlebells and dragging a 90-pound sled; the leg tuck, which scores how many times soldiers are able to tuck their knees in while pulling themselves up on a climbing bar; and a timed two-mile run.
The new test has been called into question by politicians and veterans advocacy groups.
After the test was implemented in October, Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, and Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, sent a letter to the Senate and House armed services committees urging that the test be postponed.
The senators cited data and initial test scores in raising concerns about whether the test will create a gender gap or limitations for certain occupations that require less physical responsibilities.
Citing the Baseline Soldiers Physical Readiness Requirements Study and an external review of that study by the University of Iowa Virtual Soldier Research Center, the senators said the leg tuck is “not a significant predictive variable” of performance of common physically demanding military tasks.
They asked the congressional committees to suspend the test until a study of its impact is conducted.
“This test runs counter to the Army’s new talent strategy that aims to create a 21st-century talent management system with policies, programs and processes that recognize and capitalize upon the unique knowledge, skills and behaviors possessed by certain individuals,” the senators said.
Last Monday, the Service Women’s Action Network also sent a letter to the congressional committees requesting the new test not be used until an independent study is conducted.
Representatives of the nonpartisan women servicemembers and women veterans organization questioned if an emphasis on muscular strength and endurance will affect the careers of women and older soldiers and overshadow “physical, ethical and mental” qualities.
“A fitness test that is so clearly biased simply cannot move forward without further review from an independent study that assesses all possible impacts of the (test),” said Deshauna Barber, chief executive officer for the Service Women’s Action Network. “If not further reviewed, the implications of implementing the (test) can have irreparable damage to the diversity of talent in our Army.”
As the committees have yet to make a decision about the request, Army leaders are continuing to focus on a timeline outlined earlier this year.
In a statement to The Fayetteville Observer, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston said scores for the test won’t be used in evaluations or result in adverse action until March 2022.
During a June 16 Facebook Live discussion, Grinston said the “ACFT 2.0” was updated to reflect that those who fail the leg tuck test will be allowed to do a two-minute plank instead.
Grinston said the plank, which involves supporting body weight with the arms on the ground in a position similar to a push-up held for a set amount of time, will be a “temporary event” to build core muscles.
Although the current test’s score won’t be in place until March 2022, Grinston said the new test would become the Army’s official test on Oct. 1.
“We need units to continue running the test so we can see the impact of having that alternative,” Grinston said Thursday. “When we called it 2.0, that was to show that it will continue to evolve. Testing data is going to inform the final policy decisions.”
On Fort Bragg on Thursday, soldiers in Chelsea Kim’s unit were testing soldiers for that data.
Capt. Maitiu Laman, commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, said he is responsible for ensuring 318 soldiers in his company take the test this year.
There are run-throughs of the test each Tuesday and Thursday, Laman said.
“It’s a process to get everybody understanding what it is and adjusting to it, and I think the Army has done a great job managing that,” Laman said. ” I know that when it was originally talked about there was a lot of concern like tomorrow this is going to be the record and we’re going to have no idea what we’re doing. But it’s been a very deliberate process from the top down, making sure that everybody had the equipment to start executing prior to any sort of directive of how to do it. So (it’s) a very intensive development plan.”
He said the deadlift is one example of addressing paratroopers’ training or mission tasks that require upper body strength to carry a 45-pound parachute when jumping from an aircraft.
Spc. Hunter Garcia, who’s been in the Army for two and a half years, is with a public affairs unit. He says he sees running tasks in the new test relevant to his job.
“It’s really important to be able to keep up with the troops. … We hold a camera, and so my unit has been very adamant on making sure we were getting good scores and that we were being a good example,” Garcia said.
As soldiers take the test, which sets guidelines for scoring according to military occupation specialty, Laman said he’s seen some in his unit meet minimum requirements, unless they have a physical medical condition that prevents them from completing a certain tasks and it is noted in their records.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the Army, but paratroopers get out for PT every single day and they’re going to prove something,” Laman said. “They’re not trying for the minimum.”
Kim, who’s been in the Army for eight years, seemed to agree.
“As a female in the Army, the timeline I think has been good because I have felt like — just me and maybe other women who I run with — we just needed some time to be able to deadlift more,” she said. “I don’t think most people don’t want to do just the minimum. We want to try to do the best that we can. So I’ve appreciated the time to get mentally and physically prepared to do a different kind of test.”
Grinston said the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command has published a full training guide without equipment to help prepare soldiers to pass the test.
“We know that there will be more changes as we look at the ACFT across the total Army,” he said. “Leaders have to talk to their soldiers, acknowledge their concerns and develop a plan to meet the standard. Take the test as soon as possible to identify the events you’re struggling with and use the tools available to improve those events.”
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