Army considering end to gender-neutral fitness testing due to high rates of failure for women

The Department of the Army may end gender-neutral physical fitness tests and retool them to specific genders amid high failure rates for women.

The newly-implemented standardized Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, which was years in development, consists of six events designed to mimic the physicality of battle conditions.

Now, however, The Telegraph reports that the Army is “considering a reversal of its new gender-neutral physical test to instead include different evaluation categories for men and women.”

A Pentagon study following the roll-out of the new ACFT found that as many as 65 percent of female soldiers were unable to successfully pass the test, while 90 percent of male soldiers could pass it.

The new test consists of a “maximum deadlift, a standing power throw, hand-release pushups, a spring, drag and carry, leg tuck, and a two-mile run,” The Telegraph noted. That is significantly more difficult than the previous Army Physical Fitness Test, or APTF, which only consisted of three events: Push-ups and sit-ups over a two-minute timeframe, followed by a timed two-mile run.

But because of the high female failure rate, Congress has paused full implementation of the ACFT while the Pentagon considers alternatives that are fairer to both genders, reports noted.

Soldiers must score at least 360 out of a maximum of 600 points to pass but, according to The Telegraph, women’s scores, on average, are about 100 points behind those of men.

“We had this big thing of inclusion but this is one of the biggest eyesores that goes against inclusion,” one Army official told Task & Purpose regarding the ACFT. “They didn’t think about it. It was mostly men that ran it and it’s mostly men who are going to take it, and it’s mostly men who are just refusing to take the L [loss].”

An Army Recruiting Command slide presentation titled “ACFT 3.0” that was leaked on Reddit in January contained suggestions on how to improve the test to make it fairer while staying true to the goal of producing more physically fit soldiers.

“We know there is a physiological difference between men and women,” says one slide, according to Task & Purpose. “The Army has to account for this and remove the competition between genders or Congress will never allow ACFT implementation. The goal of the ACFT is to reward the most physically fit, this accomplishes that accounting for biological differences.”

Army officials would not comment on the slide presentation specifically or any of the suggestions contained therein. Rather, according to Lt. Col. Gabe Ramirez, they “are pre-decisional.”

Among the reported changes is the elimination of the three separate scoring categories that are based on military occupational specialties (MOS) — that is, the job each soldier is trained to perform (infantry, public affairs, intelligence analysis, etc.).

“We are currently in the assessment phase as we collect ACFT scores from soldiers across the Army,” Ramirez told Task & Purpose. “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.”

“We are not going to artificially inflate the raw score for women, but we have to figure out a way to make it fair to both genders,” another Army official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Military.com. “We need a fair way that accounts for physiological differences.”

Active duty, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard troops have been authorized to take the ACFT since Oct. 1, 2020. But test scores will not count against soldiers until March 2022. Sgt. Major of the Army Michael Grinston has said that the current congressionally-mandated review of the test will likely be completed by the end of this year.

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Jon Dougherty

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