SMA Reveals Timeline for Army’s Independent Review of ACFT

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Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston visits the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning to observe one station unit training including the 1st 100 Yards, a training event to teach Warrior Ethos and esprit de corps, Oct. 22, 2020. (Patrick A. Albright/U.S. Army)

The Army's most senior enlisted leader said Tuesday that the congressionally mandated independent review of the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, will be complete by the end of this year.

Army leaders have agreed to the review of the service's replacement for the Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, as directed by the Fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, but are still allowing units to take the more challenging fitness assessment since scores do not count against soldiers until March 2022.

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said Tuesday that he is supportive of lawmakers' concerns that the new ACFT needs further study to determine its impact on certain groups.

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"We got the panel together," Grinston said at an Association of the United States Army event, adding that the service is scheduled to meet with the panel for the first time in March.

"We've got three touch points ... throughout the year, and then a final report in December of 2021, so we are doing what they have said to do," he said.

Grinston did not give further details on the independent review panel.

The Army authorized all soldiers in the active-duty, National Guard and Reserve force to begin taking the ACFT, a six-event assessment designed to replace the three-event Army Physical Fitness Test, on Oct. 1, 2020.

Then in mid-October, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., raised concerns about whether the test was fair to both men and women, and whether it sets unrealistic requirements for those serving in fields with few physical demands, such as medical personnel, judge advocates or cyber specialists.

The Service Women's Action Network, or SWAN, in mid-November said it is unclear whether the ACFT, which was designed to be gender-neutral, is fair to female soldiers, arguing that fewer than 50% of women passed the ACFT in the third quarter of 2020, partly due to the methodology the Army used to standardize the test, called the Baseline Soldier Physical Readiness Requirements Study. The average study participant was a 24-year-old male. In addition, the study, which the Army claims is 80% predictive, included only 16 women, all volunteers with an average age of 23, SWAN leaders said.

Congress directed that the independent study examine whether the ACFT would "adversely impact members of the Army stationed or deployed to climates or areas with conditions that make prohibitive the conduct of outdoor physical training on a frequent or sustained basis," according to the legislation. The review should also evaluate whether the ACFT would "affect recruitment and retention in critical support military occupational specialties of the Army, such as medical personnel," it states.

Grinston said he is sure that the ACFT will evolve as a result of the independent review, just as the APFT did over time.

"The ACFT has evolved; that's why we called it 2.0," he said.

Since the new test's Oct. 1 launch, soldiers have been taking a slightly altered "ACFT 2.0," which still consists of six events: the maximum deadlift; standing power throw; hand-release push-ups; spring, drag and carry; leg tuck; and two-mile run. But the Army has added an alternative plank event for soldiers who struggle to perform the minimum requirement of one leg tuck.

The plank event -- which requires soldiers to perform the exercise for a minimum of two minutes -- is intended as a temporary bridging exercise to build core strength, Army officials have said.

"The APFT evolved over time, and the ACFT is going to evolve over time," Grinston said, adding that he is confident that the Army is already benefiting from the new test.

"We have reports from basic training and [advanced individual training] that started doing the ACFT that this is improving our fitness. We are seeing less musculoskeletal injuries, and that is our goal ... to make our Army stronger and have less injuries."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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