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Reports: Army may use ‘gender-specific’ fitness test scores for promotions amid women’s high fail rates on gender-neutral test

New West Point Cadets practice their leg tucks during their first Army Combat Fitness Test at West Point, N.Y., July 14, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Michelle Eberhart)
March 16, 2021

The U.S. Army is considering reversing its plans to set a gender-neutral fitness standard in the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), an Army official told Military.com last month.

The ACFT was intended to be a gender-neutral test, and would have required soldiers to score 360 out of 600 possible points, but preliminary figures showed 54 percent female soldiers failing the gender-neutral standard, as compared to 10 percent of male soldiers, according to Army data shared with the Washington Post last fall. Female soldiers were also scoring 100 points lower on the test, on average, than their male counterparts.

“We are currently in the assessment phase as we collect ACFT scores from Soldiers across the Army,” an Army spokesman told American Military News on Tuesday. “We are taking a deliberate approach to gather information from the force and conduct an independent review in accordance with the NDAA so that we can revise the ACFT to ensure it’s fair for all Soldiers and is an accurate predictor of fitness required for combat.”

Fitness test performance is tied to promotions and there has been concern that the ACFT in its current form would hold back female troops seeking advancement.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021, included a provision that halted the Army from implementing the ACFT until the Army studies “the extent, if any, to which the test would affect recruitment and retention in critical support military occupational specialties of the Army, such as medical personnel.”

The Army official told Military.com that the service is considering keeping the six individual events of the ACFT, to be performed by male and female soldiers alike, but using a “gender-specific” scoring percentile for any promotion considerations. The Army would keep separate percentiles based on how male and female soldiers perform on the test and promotion review boards would only see what ACFT percentile score, without knowing if the score is for a male or female soldier.

“All they are going to see for evaluation is which percentile the soldier falls into,” the Army official told Military.com. “The gender identity will not be included in that information. If anything, it’s a more gender-neutral assessment process because it doesn’t show the raw scores.”

The Army is also considering giving soldiers an option between two different exercises for one of the ACFT events. The ACFT originally had the leg-tuck as one of the six events, an exercise in which a soldier hanging from a pull-up bar must bring their knees up to their chest. The minimum requirement for the leg tuck is one repetition. Several female soldiers told the Washington Post about their struggles to perform the leg tuck.

Under the potential new standards, dubbed the ACFT 3.0, soldiers would be allowed to choose between the plank and the leg tuck.

The Army official who spoke with Military.com said the gender-specific fitness test percentile scoring is still only an idea at this point, and no decision has been made on the matter.

“Soldiers don’t need to worry about the percentile bands right now,” the official said. “The Army needs soldiers to take the test, so it can see if the concept is valid for all soldiers.”

The concerns about fitness test scoring standards come amid several high-profile comments about equality in the military.

Last month, Capt. Kristen Griest, the first U.S. Army infantry officer and one of the first of three women to earn the Army Ranger Tab, wrote an essay sharing her opposition to gender-specific fitness standards.

“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,” Griest wrote. “The intent was not to ensure that women and men will have an equal likelihood of meeting those standards.”

The reported deliberations about the ACFT also come as several high profile military officials criticized Fox News host Tucker Carlson for questioning the military’s priorities in crafting maternity flight suits for pregnant aircrew members. Carlson referenced the maternity flight suits and the underlying U.S. military priorities for the suit, in relation to China’s military priorities, which have included the rapid growth of its naval fleet size in recent years.

One military leader who joined in the criticism against Carlson was Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, the senior enlisted member of the Army, who tweeted, “Women lead our most lethal units with character. They will dominate ANY future battlefield we’re called to fight on. @TuckerCarlson’s words are divisive, don’t reflect our values. We have THE MOST professional, educated, agile, and strongest NCO Corps in the world.”