Army 1st Sgt. Christopher Williams, from U.S. Army Central Forward, based in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, completes a leg tuck during an Army Combat Fitness Test, Jan. 25, 2021.

Army 1st Sgt. Christopher Williams, from U.S. Army Central Forward, based in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, completes a leg tuck during an Army Combat Fitness Test, Jan. 25, 2021. (Jermaine Jackson/U.S. Army)

WASHINGTON — The Army could adjust how it scores its new Combat Fitness Test to account for the “biological differences” between men and women, a service spokeswoman said Friday.

The reevaluation of the ACFT comes weeks after Congress delayed its implementation over concerns the new test created an unfair disadvantage to female soldiers.

Army leaders are now looking at ways to apply scoring based on gender for the six-event, CrossFit-inspired fitness test, said Lt. Col. Peggy Kageleiry, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Center for Initial Military Training, which has led the ACFT’s development. The test was designed as a gender- and age-neutral fitness evaluation meant to simulate strength and conditioning challenges faced by soldiers in combat.

“We are addressing these concerns in coordination with Army senior leaders, Congress, and with those it impacts the most, our American soldiers,” Kageleiry said.

The ACFT was initially planned to be implemented across the service last year, replacing the decades-old, three-event Army Physical Fitness Test, which was scored based on age and gender. But the Army chose not to implement the new test officially because of limited training opportunities for its soldiers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress later stepped in and ordered in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that the Army halt further implementation efforts until a study of the test by a non-Pentagon entity determined whether it was fair for women and its impact on retention and recruiting. Congress cited initial Army data that showed women struggled to pass the test, especially its leg tuck event, in which soldiers hang from a pull-up bar and tuck their legs up to their chins.

Army testing showed women failed the ACFT at a consistent 65% rate, while men failed at about a 10% rate, according to Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who sought the pause on the service’s implementation of the ACFT.

The Army implemented an alternate event — a two-minute plank — for those who cannot conduct the leg-tuck.

Kageleiry said the Army would continue administering the test to soldiers, but scores would not count for or against them until about mid-2022.

She did not provide specific information about how the Army would account for biological differences in men and women in the future.

Task & Purpose first reported the potential gender-focused changes to the ACFT, citing Army documents that suggested an option would be to rank soldiers’ test performance within their genders for promotion board considerations.

For now, the Army is continuing with the ACFT on an age- and gender-neutral basis, in which soldiers are scored based on their jobs, Kageleiry said. She also said the service is confident the ACFT will eventually become its official test.

“The ACFT is the right test to ensure our Army is ready for [multi-domain operations] and the future operational environment,” Kageleiry said. “The ACFT is already strengthening our fitness culture, reducing injuries, and increasing Army readiness. We are losing too many soldiers to injuries. The Army's physical readiness program and physical fitness test must evolve to reduce injuries and empower soldiers’ abilities to perform those basic soldier tasks on an age- and gender-neutral battlefield.” 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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