Changes are coming to the Army Combat Fitness Test, as the service looks to comply with a law mandating it create a gender-neutral assessment by June, a continuation of the struggle over the test that was finally rolled out in October following years of delays.
Sgt. Major Michael Grinston, during an event hosted by the Association of the United States Army on Tuesday, said the service is weighing whether to use a gender-neutral version of the ACFT with a higher standard for combat arms soldiers, or repurpose physical tests currently required for expert badges.
"Here's what it is and draw a line -- or do we do a separate test?" he said.
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The changes are still being formulated, with some of the uncertainty driven by two competing congressional requirements built into last year's annual defense policy bill to "establish gender-neutral fitness standards for combat [jobs] that are higher than those for non-combat [jobs]," while also creating gender-neutral standards for all soldiers.
Grinston also said Tuesday that the service is moving forward with a change to its body fat standards that would create waivers for soldiers who score highly on the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT.
The ACFT was originally intended to be gender-neutral, but the Army reversed course after early test data, first reported by Military.com in 2021, showed that nearly half of all female soldiers were failing the test.
That helped ratchet up debate during the last Congress over whether the new test was right for the service.
Democrats called for a postponement of the test due to "unrealistic standards" for "medical personnel, judge advocates, or cyber warriors," also citing high failure rates for women. Meanwhile Republican lawmakers leveled heated criticism at gender-based testing benchmarks. The debate led to the inclusion in last year's defense policy bill of the provision requiring a new "gender-neutral physical readiness standards" by June.
One option, as described by Grinston, would be combat job specific standards modeled after current tests like the Expert Infantryman Badge, an assessment meant to evaluate a soldier's aptitude for combat. The EIB, Grinston said, now includes two total miles of running in full combat equipment, push-ups, sprints, "sandbags," crawls, buddy rushes, and farmer carries.
Army leaders, particularly Grinston, have been pitching units to prioritize those badge tests, especially the new Expert Soldier Badge -- which is identical to the EIB.
The Army is also looking at putting in place a waiver system for soldiers who perform highly on the fitness test but might not meet the current body fat standards, a change that is expected to be finalized in March.
Last year, Grinston teased the change but said it was still being worked out. At that time, he said the idea was if a soldier scored 540 on the ACFT, leaders would waive the need for a body composition test -- an assessment that is meant to ensure troops are in compliance with the height and weight standards of the Army.
That number would reflect near-perfect scores in the test's six events as the maximum is 600. The target for men, aged 17-21, is running two miles in under 15:30 and deadlifting 280 pounds for three repetitions on top of the other categories.
"What we found is that most people that score that, don't need to be taped anyway," Grinston said Tuesday.
The body fat test has seen scrutiny over the last several years, including concerns raised by soldiers and experts that it is not an wholly accurate assessment of fitness and can promote eating-disordered behavior in the rank and file.
For men and women between 17-20, they cannot exceed a body fat percentage of roughly 20% and 30%, respectively.
The Army has been testing out new ways to measure a soldier's body fat through body scanners or what troops refer to as the "bod pod."
He also said that there were "two more changes" the Army is looking to implement before April, but did not specify.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.
Related: Army Boosting Promotion Points for Expert Badges and Cutting Those for Fitness Test Performance