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1st female Army infantry officer says lower fitness standards for women put troops in danger

Capt. Kristen Griest and U.S. Army Ranger School Class 08-15 during graduation at Fort Benning, Ga., Aug. 21, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)
February 26, 2021

In a new essay published Thursday, Capt. Kristen Griest, the first U.S. Army infantry officer, said lowering Army fitness standards could hurt the Army’s combat readiness and reduces the trust female soldiers can expect from their fellow soldiers.

In her essay for West Point’s Modern War Institute, Griest, who also became the first of three women to earn the Army Ranger Tab, said creating a separate fitness standard for women would reduce the overall effectiveness of Army combat units.

Referring to a proposed standard for women to run a two-mile test in under 21 minutes, Griest said “the presence of just a handful of individuals who cannot run two miles faster than twenty-one minutes has the potential to derail a training exercise, not to mention an actual combat patrol. Entire companies of 130 soldiers will be forced to frequently halt operations in order to medically evacuate the ill-prepared as they succumb to fatigue and injury.”

Griest said other soldiers will have to take up the burden of their unfit teammates, which could be inconvenient for training but deadly in combat.

Griest’s essay comes amid ongoing efforts to implement a new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), to replace its older, gender-based Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). Last week, the Stars and Stripes reported the Army is now considering changes to the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), to account for “biological differences” between men and women.

“Instead of addressing the issue of having some soldiers insufficiently prepared for the physical rigors of combat, which sparked the APFT’s revision in the first place, a gender-based ACFT in combat arms will normalize it and make it unmanageable,” Griest wrote. “It is wholly unethical to allow the standards of the nation’s premier fighting units to degrade so badly, just to accommodate the lowest-performing soldiers.”

Griest also warned that reverting back to a gender-based fitness test, with reduced standards for women, would undermine trust from their fellow soldiers.

“Under a gender-based system, women in combat arms have to fight every day to dispel the notion that their presence inherently weakens these previously all-male units,” Griest wrote. “Lower female standards also reinforce the belief that women cannot perform the same job as men, therefore making it difficult for women to earn the trust and confidence of their teammates.”

Griest wrote, “The entire purpose of creating a gender-neutral test was to acknowledge the reality that each job has objective physical standards to which all soldiers should be held, regardless of gender. The intent was not to ensure that women and men will have an equal likelihood of meeting those standards.”

The female infantry officer wrote that while she expects her opinion may make her appear “uncaring about equity or unsympathetic to women” she has actually reached her position through her own struggles in her military career.

“It is because I have failed almost every first attempt at a military task—from applying to West Point to graduating Ranger School—that I know first contact with failure is not a cause for concern,” she wrote.

Griest said she herself recently failed on the standing power throw event of a practice ACFT but was able to meet the standards after some training.

“Having never thrown a ten-pound medicine ball backward over my head, I missed the minimum distance for the infantry by 1.5 meters,” Griest admitted. “However, after six weeks of dedicated effort, I was able to meet the standard and I am motivated to further improve.”

She concluded her essay stating, “While the equity question must be addressed, the answer is not to implement gender-based scoring or reduce the minimum standards for combat arms. Doing so would have both immediate and insidious impacts on combat effectiveness, as well as on women’s credibility and potential.”