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In an October, 2018 photo, a soldier with the 128th Aviation Brigade at Fort Eustis, Va., attempts the deadlift during a demonstration of the Army’s new Army Combat Fitness Test.
In an October, 2018 photo, a soldier with the 128th Aviation Brigade at Fort Eustis, Va., attempts the deadlift during a demonstration of the Army’s new Army Combat Fitness Test. (Corey Dickstein/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — New soldiers and recruits will not have to pass a fitness test to graduate from the Army’s enlisted, officer or warrant officer initial entrance training programs for at least one year, service officials said Tuesday.

The Army’s Center for Initial Military Training temporarily axed the requirement that soldiers and recruits pass the new Army Combat Fitness Test to complete initial training programs, said Megan Reed, a spokeswoman for the Fort Eustis, Va.- based CIMT. Suspension of the fitness test requirement — long a standard prerequisite for completing such training — will remain in place at least through Sept. 30, the end of the 2021 fiscal year.

In late 2019, the Army began requiring trainees pass the six-event ACFT to graduate from initial entrance training courses. But the service allowed them to pass the test even if they failed one of the events.

The change brings fitness test policy for initial trainees in line with fitness test policies for the rest of the Army. Though the ACFT became the Army’s official fitness evaluation on Oct. 1, service officials decided during the summer that they would not count failing scores on the new tests against soldiers in fiscal year 2021 because of constraints on training and testing brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The temporary change applies to Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, One Station Unit Training, Warrant Officer Basic Course and the Basic Officer leader course, Reed said. However, trainees in those courses will still take the ACFT and they must pass other physical challenges to complete their training, she said. For example, recruits in Basic Combat Training still must pass an obstacle course, hand-to-hand combat training and an about 10-mile march.

Soldiers in Initial Military Training courses “are still challenged to the highest standard of physical fitness, and encouraged to take and pass the ACFT at the Gold Standard in” fiscal year 2021, Reed said in a statement. The Gold Standard is the lowest of three scoring tiers for the ACFT, which applies to Army jobs considered the least physically demanding.

The Army will no longer administer the decades-old, three-event Army Physical Fitness Test in any form, including at initial entrance training courses, service officials said.

Last October, Army leaders elected to begin testing recruits in basic training on the new fitness assessment in an effort to enlarge the testing pool that it was using to gather data needed to refine the long-planned ACFT. It was also meant to prepare those soldiers for an Army on the verge of a major change in how it approaches fitness and the overall health of its soldiers. The ACFT is designed to test soldiers’ fitness in ways more akin to how they use their bodies in combat than the former fitness test, which consisted of pushups, situps and a 2-mile run.

But the new test has faced its own challenges as the Army had to purchase and distribute new equipment across the force for its soldiers to train and take the new test. The ACFT’s gender- and age-neutral scoring has also faced criticism that the test is more difficult for female soldiers.

Army data shows about 54% of female soldiers who took the ACFT between January and May failed the test. Only about 7% of men failed the test during that same time.

Officials have long said they anticipated such challenges in the early days of the new test. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston said in June that the Army would continue to fine-tune the ACFT as it gathered more data in fiscal year 2021 with more soldiers taking the test.

He also anticipated soldiers’ scores would rise as they better understood how to prepare themselves for the new test and had greater access to the equipment needed to complete it.

Army officials have said all the gear needed for the ACFT — including medicine balls, a deadlift bar and weight plates, a pull-up bar, and a weighted sled — has been distributed to Initial Military Training locations and the vast majority of active-duty brigades have also received their equipment in recent months. Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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