Soldiers assigned to the 128th Aviation Brigade at Fort Eustis, Va., attempt the leg tuck portion of the Army Combat Fitness Test in 2018.

Soldiers assigned to the 128th Aviation Brigade at Fort Eustis, Va., attempt the leg tuck portion of the Army Combat Fitness Test in 2018. (Corey Dickstein/Stars and Stripes)

This story is part of a Stars and Stripes special report on what's ahead for the U.S. military as a new decade begins. See the list of stories here.

WASHINGTON — The Army has spent years developing its next-generation fitness assessment to gauge soldiers’ ability to accomplish combat-related tasks, and in 2020 the Army Combat Fitness Test will become the service’s official physical evaluation.

The six-event test will replace the Army Physical Fitness Test in October. The three-event APFT has been the Army’s basic physical assessment since 1980, and leaders have long said it failed to adequately predict which soldiers could accomplish physical tasks necessary in war.

But the new test also has faced criticism. Soldiers have expressed concerns that the equipment needed to conduct the test — including kettlebells, medicine balls, pullup bars, a deadlift bar, weights and an exercise sled — is not readily available to all soldiers, whereas the APFT relied only on bodyweight exercises.

Megan Reed, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Center for Initial Military Training, which has spearheaded the new testing, said all Army units across active duty, Reserve and National Guard should have ACFT equipment by May.

Also concerning: Data from more than 60 Army battalions conducting field testing of the new assessment show a large disparity between male and female performance.

Army leaders have expected challenges from soldiers adapting to the new test, but Reed said they believe the service will see scores rise steadily throughout the year.

“As soldiers become more familiar with testing, training and administration, we anticipate success in the ACFT across all Army components,” she said.

The Army announced its initial standards to pass the ACFT in September as well as alternative test events for those with permanent profiles for physical issues and injuries.

Despite complaints from soldiers about the more difficult nature of the new fitness test, at least a handful of soldiers have earned perfect scores of 600.

“This test is about changing a culture of fitness in the Army, and with that culture change, is changing the way we approach physical fitness testing,” Reed said. “The ACFT was never designed to be ‘maxed’ out, but to properly assess a soldier’s physical abilities and preparedness.” Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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