Over the last couple years, the U.S. Army has been trying to adjust the way they test their Soldiers’ physical readiness and make it more realistic to the physical demands required in a combat situation. After completing a three-year independent study conducted by the RAND corporation, the Army is now implementing an updated test called the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). The updated, test requires Soldiers to perform six event orientated tasks to include: deadlift, power throw, hand-release push-ups, sprint/drag/carry, plank and two-mile run.
“The new test is designed to be more realistic for Soldiers physical readiness,” said Staff Sgt. Sam Garcia, JTF Med 374 assigned ACFT non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC). Garcia, who is an LPN and the MCU (Multi-Care unit) NCOIC, his primary position, was assigned ACFT NCOIC program manager as an additional duty as he is also a certified Master Fitness Trainer.
According to Garcia and information found online, the Army is requiring all Soldiers in the Army Reserve to take a diagnostic ACFT by April of this year. To do this, a number of challenges has come to the surface such as equipment to run the ACFT and certifying Soldiers to run the test.
“A diagnostic exam is just an exam to let the Soldier know where they are,” said Garcia. “So far, we have trained about 23 personnel to grade the exam, but we are limited by space and equipment. Right now, we only have equipment to run one lane at a time and that makes it difficult to test a whole hospital.”
“Our Soldiers have really been stepping up and taking the lead in running our ACFT program,” Capt. Marissa Spitz, HHC Company Commander, who oversees the ACFT program for JTF 374 MED. “Many of them volunteered to become graders which required them to complete coursework and pass a written test. Physical and mental readiness is important for Soldiers. The new test is more challenging then the APFT [Army physical fitness test, former test]. You really have to put in the effort and train differently for the each of the events. Lifestyle changes also make a difference to include diet and workout routines.”
Garcia also shared that being able to offer the ACFT is important for Soldiers to apply for professional leadership development schools and receive promotions.
According to www.army.mil/acft, the U.S. Army has spent $78 million on new equipment to administer the ACFT so far to include 10,829 sets to active duty, 15,854 sets to the National Guard, and 8,037 sets to the Army Reserve.
Required sets include a hex-bar, 10-pound medicine ball, weighted rubber plates, a weight dragging harness and measuring tape. According to Spitz, the unit has received some of these sets, but many of them are located back at the home unit in Chicago.
“This is not a test that people are just going to show up and pass without any training,” she said.
Another challenge Garcia has discovered for the ACFT is scripting for administering the test. “For the APFT, there was a script that would be read at the beginning of each of the events. The ACFT requires the graders to give certain prompts as the Soldier are taking the test. I think this is just going to take time to get used to,” he said.
“To be graders, we had to take an 8-hour ACFT instructor course going over all the events,” said Sgt. Kalley Latham. “We went over all the technicalities, body alignments for push-up, plank and the dead lift, how to conduct the test safely, and when to terminate. I think the new test motivates Soldiers to train differently. It is much more team orientated even though you are taking the test individually. One of the events, the sprint drag carry, we actually get to encourage each other. Hearing everyone cheering and calling out your name gives you a boost of adrenaline, and makes you want to finish strong and not to give up.”
“I’ve noticed a lot more camaraderie to administering the test,” said Spitz. “The Soldiers usually have a lot more fun completing the events and cheering each other on.”
Additionally, many Soldiers in the Task Force have been taking full advantage of the extra physical training opportunities of the deployment by adjusting their diets, investing time in the gym, preparing for various ruck/runs, joining clubs (boxing and barbell club), and even exercising on the job.
While the primary goal of the ACFT test is to pass each of the events, a secondary goal is meeting height and weight requirements. A few Soldiers that have made the most of their deployment in this area is Spc. Zachary Mariani, Sgt. Peel Ben Yisrael, Capt. William Lopez and Maj. Jason Baumann, all losing over 30 pounds throughout the deployment. Many of them attribute their weight loss to watching their diet and increasing their physical activity. However, Baumann attributes his success to Red Bulls and pre-workout drinks and has lost over 40 pounds during the deployment.
“My biggest accomplishment of this deployed is getting unflagged,” said Mariani, who has lost an incredible 60 pounds throughout his deployment.
Flags are an administrative hold placed on a Soldiers personnel record who cannot meet height and weight standards, can not pass the ACFT, and this prevents them from promotions, attending schools and favorable evaluations.
“I went from the X-large uniforms down to a medium,” said Mariani. “For me, it came down to portion control and having a consistent battle buddy to go to the gym with. It helps having someone there to keep you accountable. Before the deployment I was only working out, maybe once a week. Now I am in the gym working out three to five times a week.”
Mariani prefers the new ACFT over the previous test, and his favorite event is the dead lift.
“It has been motivating to see so many of our Soldiers get into good routines and crush their fitness and nutrition goals. It really is about finding that motivation and making lifestyle changes,” said Spitz.