By Thomas Brading | Army News Service
WASHINGTON — A day after publishing the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) 2.0, Army leaders jumped on social media to directly answer questions about it, and how it may impact Soldiers during a virtual town hall June 16, 2020, on Facebook.
More than 270,000 viewers from around the globe streamed the live event, as Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston, along with a panel of Army leaders, took on questions submitted by Soldiers, in hopes to help them flesh out how this current implementation phase of the ACFT will affect them.
What’s clear is that the ACFT will be the service’s new fitness test of record Oct. 1, despite COVID-19 delays. Instead of stalling its long-planned target date, failures won’t be counted until the Army publishes further guidance.
This grace period gives troops time to train following shipment delays and gym closures from the pandemic, he explained. Other parts of ACFT 2.0 needed clarification — especially at the individual level, where every Soldier is different, Grinston said.
One of the first questions involved Soldiers taking the test after childbirth. More specifically, what ACFT policies should postpartum troops expect?
“Every woman is different as they go through a pregnancy and postpartum,” said Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, director of Army Futures Command’s Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team.
“We all handle pregnancy differently, and we will all be guided by our medical professionals as we come through the experience,” Gervais explained, regarding individual postnatal care. “As we go through pregnancy, it’s important to take it slowly based on your condition.”
An individual’s factors following childbirth should be set by their medical professional. That said, the official ACFT postpartum policy will be set through rigorous data collection, she said.
“In order to get (a postpartum ACFT policy), you have to provide the data,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jamila Smith, U.S. Army Military District of Washington command sergeant major. “Some of us are going to have to go out there and take the ACFT — but first and foremost, the most important thing is every woman’s body is different. Soldiers need to involve their medical provider before going out and attempting any exercises.”
Although current data includes more than 200,000 ACFT test-takers, more than 135,000 of those come from initial-entry trainees, said Maj. Gen. Lonnie G. Hibbard U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training commanding general, which doesn’t paint a clear picture for postpartum policy decisions.
“We’re not racing to get Soldiers to take the ACFT,” Hibbard said, regarding Soldier safety. “We’re looking at how to rehabilitate Soldiers whether it’s postpartum, or a knee surgery. It means rehabilitation, then return to the fight, and then test.”
Height, weight standards
But some things won’t change, like weigh-ins and body fat assessments, Grinston said. When asked if they will change, he answered with a firm “no.”
However, he suggested individuals check out the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness program (H2F). The program is a comprehensive, integrated, and immersive health and fitness approach meant to help Soldiers physically, mentally and spiritually.
In addition to H2F, Hibbard added healthier food options will be distributed to dining facilities across the force, and in the next fiscal year, dietitians will also be available at 28 H2F-resourced brigades to help reinforce nutritional basics, and get Soldiers to, or maintain, the body standards required.
The H2F system is the Army’s primary investment in Soldier readiness and lethality, optimal physical and nonphysical performance, reduced injury rates, improved rehabilitation after injury, and increased overall effectiveness of the total Army.
The system empowers and equips Soldiers to take charge of their health, fitness and well-being in order to optimize individual performance, while preventing injury and disease. Army senior leaders are committed to resourcing 18 brigades a year with H2F human performance teams through fiscal 2026.
ACFT purpose for support roles
Another topic on troops’ minds was how taking the six-event test affects their overall readiness — especially those in traditionally noncombat roles. Also how should they train at home without the proper ACFT equipment?
At the basic level, Soldiers have to “get creative in the morning when doing their functional fitness training,” Hibbard said, adding that the basic run, push-up and sit-up routine of the past won’t cut it anymore.
“By changing to functional fitness, and changing the way we’re working out, we’re driving down injuries and we’ll be a much better Army for it,” Hibbard said.
To get creative, Grinston suggested Soldiers read up on the Army Physical Readiness Training manual. The updated version has “fabulous exercises that don’t require weights, and they build the required strength, mobility, power and agility to do the ACFT,” he said.
Regarding a Soldier’s readiness, especially those in traditional noncombat roles, Grinston said the purpose of the ACFT is to “make our Army better, all of our Soldiers stronger, so they can do the tasks we’ve asked them to do.”
This question, especially from support and service support occupations, is nothing new for the Army’s top enlisted Soldier, who admitted it’s pretty common and replied, “I’m not sure what (noncombat units) are?”
“It’s not like World War I, where there is a (front) line, and then there’s a rear area where everybody is safe,” Grinston said. “That’s not the way of the world anymore. When an indirect fire moment happens, (it can involve) every MOS. For example, if you’re a dental tech in Bagram — where bases have been nearly overrun — you may have to react to indirect fire.”
Potentially all Soldiers, at all levels, could one day find themselves in a combat situation and need to apply strengths forged by the ACFT, which is why it was chosen to replace the Army Physical Fitness Test, he said.
As far as the ACFT’s predecessor goes, it is gone for good — for the most part. All Soldiers with a passing APFT score will stay good until March 2022.
“There was some confusion with the date,” Grinston said, to clarify its meaning. “It means Soldiers who have taken their APFT and have a valid score will carry it until March 2022.”
Let’s say a Soldier failed their last APFT, prior to when all fitness tests were suspended, that Soldier will still need a passing score once the halt is lifted.
Another big, yet short-term, change is that a minimum two-minute plank was made an optional fill-in for the leg tuck event. This fix will help Soldiers transition to the latter, once things are up and running again, Hibbard said.
“I know there’s a lot of angst,” Grinston said. “Soldiers are asking why now? We have so many things going on in the world. But through hardship is opportunity.
“That’s how we are as an Army, we look for ways to make our Army better,” he said about the ACFT rollout. “Let’s move the Army forward, not go back to what we used to do and expect different results, let’s move the Army forward.”