Change for the sake of change isn’t always a good thing. I agree a Soldier’s level of fitness must be sustained — but that is a matter of the climate established by the commander. What I see happening here with changing Army fitness requirements is the creep of more social egalitarian standards.
According to a report in Military.com, for the first time in more than 20 years, the Army is gearing up to change its fitness test for every Soldier. Gone is the simple pushup, sit up, and run routine, and in its place comes a battery of sprints, jumps and rows. And the service is also introducing a grueling series of slalom runs, balance beam walks, casualty drags, and ammo carries it calls the Army Combat Readiness Test — a totally new evaluation that simulates the kind of body crush Joes experience on deployment.
To me it seems like we’re going back to the old style test with a new name, Army Combat Readiness Test (ACRT). The new test supposedly stresses readiness over fitness according to Lt. Gen Mark Hertling, Army Deputy Commanding General for initial training. LTG Hertling says that the objective of the new ACRT is to develop a “tactical athlete.” The standard for evaluation for the new ACRT will be excellent, good, or poor replacing the previous standard of passing and failing based upon a point score — hmm, this sounds fishy to me. Could this be just another means of giving everyone a trophy? No more APFT patches earned for superior level of fitness?
This new assessment is supposed to force a Soldier into actually staying fit rather than just getting in shape for the test day. Stupid me, I thought that was what our daily morning PT was all about, along with leadership that ensured its Soldiers were trained and ready, physically and mentally fit to accomplish their mission.
This new assessment will have timed events such as “rowers” (a hybrid crunch using a combination of arm and leg motion), best of three standing long jumps (sounds like something we did in elementary school), and a 60 yard combination of wind sprints. As well, Soldiers will be required to hurdle over gates, negotiate barriers, drag a casualty, balance with weighted ammo cans, maneuver through a simulated shooting course, do 100 yards of wind sprints, and weave through a slalom course, all timed.
Ok, these are all tasks that were part of a diversified unit PT program. I remember days when we had squad level PT and leaders showed ingenuity by having events such as 400 meter runs carrying a Soldier on a litter. I was in an artillery unit and in the old days you have to drive stakes into the base plate for the M102 105mm towed artillery piece. Sections would have stake-driving events for PT. At Ft. Bragg the 18th Airborne Corps standard was a 12-mile ruck march with 45 pounds in four hours, and run four miles in 36 minutes. In Air Assault School, the final road march standard is 12 miles with full combat gear in two hours 59 minutes — not one second more, lest you fail.
The Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) as it stands is a measure of upper body abdominal and aerobic fitness. In my experience, it was successful, and where it wasn’t, it was due to failure of leadership, not of the AFPT. I guarantee you’ll find more soft bellies jiggling around the Pentagon than at Ft. Bragg. And another thing, you don’t need a lot of resources to conduct the current APFT.
Back in the 80’s as a young Cadet at the University of Tennessee, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) featured events like the run, dodge, and jump, horizontal ladder, inverted crawl, pushups, and a two-mile run. Of course we also did other training events that stressed combat readiness through fitness, such as 10 to 12 mile rucksack marches. As I entered active duty, the APFT changed to three timed events: pushups, sit-ups, and two-mile run. I must admit, my current fitness program is based on those three events.
I agree PT has to be relative to physical readiness — kinda like the three-mile full chemical suit runs we did in our Battalion when I was a commander — to include 800 meters with gas mask. Sometimes instead of taking trucks out to the rifle range, units would road march out and back. At the end of the day, it is the commanders’ responsibility to ensure the combat readiness of their units.