The Coronavirus pandemic has affected readiness in all of the military services. For the Army, it has impacted everything from deployments, permanent change of station moves (PCS), and the implementation of the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT).
The Army is still rolling out the new ACFT, as planned on October 1, but the results of those tests will not count until 2021. Due to the coronavirus, the Army suspended all physical fitness tests in March. All bases closed their gyms and PT formations were canceled due to social distancing guidelines. A trickle-down effect is that this impacted everyday physical fitness training, testing, and readiness.
The pandemic shutdown of a large segment of the economy also caused shipping delays for specialized equipment needed for the ACFT. The lack of equipment prevented soldiers from taking the new six-event assessment, which was transitioning the force from the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT).
Because of the delays in shipping the equipment and having the troops properly prepared for the new ACFT, the Army will also be tweaking the test temporarily. These changes, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston said, will only be temporary.
These tweaked changes will give soldiers a chance to adjust to the Army’s delay in implementing the ACFT. While a specific date hasn’t been set, the SMA gave the impression that the Army was looking at March 2022 for the new test’s implementation. However, the only soldiers required to take the APFT will be ones that did not have a passing score. It is not clear if that will apply to certain schools that require a PT Test on Day 1 such as the Army’s Ranger School or the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS).
“If you can’t do a leg tuck, we’ve added a two-minute plank,” said Grinston in a telephone interview with the media, adding that soldiers must first attempt the leg-tuck event. “We need that core strength… so if you can’t do any leg tucks, how do we build off of that? The plank can help us.”
“We do have a goal, but we have to be flexible for the total force,” Grinston added. “It’s hard to say. Does COVID come back even harder in the fall? I’m cautious to give a hard date because the conditions are so fluid.”
The changed ACFT will still consist of six events: the Maximum Deadlift; Standing Power Throw; Hand-release Push-ups; Spring, Drag and Carry; Leg Tuck; and a Two-mile run. The alternative plank event was added for any soldiers who cannot yet pass the leg tuck.
“Some soldiers are having challenges with the leg tuck and then, two, we have a large percentage of the Army that has not even taken the ACFT yet,” said MG Lonnie Hibbard, commander of the Center for Initial Military Training.
“Lower back injuries are the most common debilitating and costly injuries to the Army,” added Hibbard. “And that leg tuck is what trains the core, the hips, and the shoulders to reduce those injuries. So if they can’t quite do one leg tuck yet, we give them the option to do a plank.”
Soldiers correctly performing the plank must remain still, with their elbows planted beneath their shoulders, balancing on elbows and toes, arms out front with hands not touching, while maintaining a straight posture for at least two minutes.
The other change that the ACFT brings is that if a soldier fails it — for the time being — there will be no adverse action taken against them. Originally, if a soldier failed the test, he faced being chaptered out of the Army.
SMA Grinston said that prior to the coronavirus impacting the country, the Army saw vast improvements on how soldiers were scoring on the new ACFT. Now it is just getting back to the basics again and returning to a regular workout schedule.
“We can do this,” he said. “This is about having everybody have a better physical fitness standard. This is good, it’s achievable, and it’s going to be really good for our Army.”