Day by Day

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

This is temporary

Soldiers in Basic Training won't have to pass the ACFT in order to graduate

The Army has suspended a rule requiring new enlisted soldiers and officers to pass the Army Combat Fitness Test to graduate initial military training through next year.

Army officials announced in June that all active-duty, National Guard and Reserve units would be cleared to take a lightly modified ACFT on Oct. 1, but their scores will be used for data collection only and will not count until 2022.

Since I'm in the thick of this, let me break it down for you.  For decades, the Army has used the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) as a measurement of fitness for Soldiers.  Did it work?  Well, yes and no.  It's push-ups, sit-ups, and a 2-mile run.  The APFT has its advantages:  It's simple.  You can conduct it anywhere you have a two-mile running course that's flat.  It doesn't take many people to conduct the test.  You can run a unit through an APFT pretty quickly if you have a team that knows what it is doing.

However, it has its drawbacks.  First, the Army got locked into a mentality that if you could do push-ups an run quickly, you were fit.  But combat isn't done in an APFT uniform, and a 120 lb stick that can run like the wind can't run with two ammo cans in his hand.  The APFT did the job, but it also got people stuck in a rut.  Most notably, commanders who thought that running a seven minute mile meant everything in the world.  Don't get me wrong, running a seven minute mile is a good thing, but it's not the ONLY thing.

In the past decade, the vast majority of injuries to Soldiers came during training.  And I'm not talking accidents, I'm talking Soldiers performing their tasks and drills and getting injured because they had never actually trained their lower back or their core to do the jobs that the Army needs them to do.  As in, pick up those ammo cans and haul ass to where they are needed.  Drag that casualty out of the fire zone.  Get your ass up and over that wall.  The Army actually learned a few things, one of those being that total fitness is more than push-ups, sit-ups and running.

The initiative behind the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) was based on the fitness programs that the Army developed for Special Forces quite a while ago.  It encompassed total body fitness, not just the three areas that commanders cared about because PT scores reflected on their OER.  That's Officer Evaluation Report, for those not in the military.  There's an NCOER for us non-coms.  

The ACFT is six events - First, we still have push-ups, but now they are hand-release push-ups.  Start in the push-up position.  Lower your chest to the ground.  While your chest is on the ground, extend your hands out to the side.  Bring your hands back in, and push your body off the ground.  Trust me, if you're used to normal push-ups, this variation will kick your ass.

Second, we have the three-repetition dead lift.  This event is what's causing somewhat of a problem for the Army, because it uses a hex bar instead of a plain barbell.  Getting the hex bar to units is taking time thanks to the Kung Flu panic.  Three reps with as much weight as you can lift.

Third, the power throw.  Take a ten-pound medicine ball, throw it behind you as far as you can.  Surprisingly difficult.

Fourth, the Sprint-Drag-Carry.  Here's where people are finding that their fitness regimens are failing them.  It's 25 meters out and back, five times.  Start with a flat out sprint, down and back.  Then carrying two 40 pound kettlebells, down and back.  Then laterals, down and back.  Then dragging a sled, down and back (this one just wipes out your quads.  Trust me on this).  Finished with a sprint down and back.  Total of 250 meters.  The drag portion of this event is harder than it looks.  By the by, the average weight for ammo cans for crew serve weapons?  Approximately 40 pounds.  Yeah.

Fifth, the leg tuck.  Grasp a pull up bar.  Lift your knees until they touch any portion of your arms.  Lower your body to the start position.  Do as many as you can.

Sixth, the good old two-mile run.  Only this time, you're running after you've just used up all your energy with five physical events.  

Now this is a radical departure from what the Army used to do.  What the eggheads are trying to do, through application of a test, is force the Army to change what it considers to be "fitness".  If all you're doing is pushing, sitting-up and running, you will fail the ACFT.  You need some gym time in order to pass.  Granted, you don't need a whole lot, and quite frankly the only real equipment you need is a pull-up bar in order to practice the leg tucks.  If you do squats with a couple of sandbags in your hands, you'll pass the dead lift.  But the point is that you'll need to practice the dead lift, which heretofore the Army hasn't even thought about doing as an organization.  Core strength matters now, in a quantitative way, and the Army hasn't ever thought about it like that.

So, since this isn't just a change in how Soldiers are tested, but a change in the entire philosophy of what the Army considers fitness, the headshed is giving the Army time to change.  I should say "time to change",  Scare quotes and all.  Because what I think is really happening is that the Army is putting this change in place, and giving some time for all the old, crusty, refuse to change leadership to shift out of their leadership positions through retirement and attrition.  All the old ways of thinking about Army fitness need to be tossed in the garbage bin where they belong.

Yes, I'm a bit biased.  I will freely admit it.  I think the ACFT is a good thing.  I think forcing the Army to consider total fitness is a good thing.  I only became truly engaged with fitness after I left the strict, narrow confines of Army Fitness Training.  The best PT scores of my early years were when I was tasked away to a different group and didn't have to do PT with my unit in the mornings.  I did PT on my own.  And my PT score went up by 30 points in three months.  That was the real eye-opener for me.  I argued with my First Sergeant when I got pulled back into the unit.  I showed him my PT cards, and showed him what I was doing for training.  His response was "Well, Soldiers should be doing more PT on their own anyways."  Dude, between first formation, reveille, PT and all the other stuff, you have me occupied for a total of three hours every morning.  Exactly how much time do you want me to spend correcting your shitty training after I finally get home at 1800 hrs?

I've also had Soldiers who could score a 300 on the APFT but couldn't do a damn bit of what they needed to do, such as lifting ammo cans.  Yeah, sure you can do push-ups.  When you're 120 pounds soaking wet, your arms don't have to work hard.  Now lift that 75 pound ammo can?  No can do, eh?  

Anyways, all of that was said so I can say this:  The Army isn't punishing people for not passing the ACFT, in part because they got held up in implementing the test thanks to the Chinese Cooties, and in part because they're fighting against certain leadership elements who have to get kicked out of the rut they're in.  It's not just the kids in Basic who don't have to "pass" the test, it's EVERYBODY.  That's until they finally get things worked out, and then it will be mandatory for everybody.

Anyways, I think the headline for that article is a bunch of clickbait, and I don't think they're telling the whole story.  Everybody is getting a pause, while the Army gets the ACFT implemented.  And then, all the people who thought they were fit are going to find out that their PT programs are lacking.

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