House lawmakers on Wednesday backed plans to revise Army fitness standards for troops in combat jobs, mirroring plans passed by senators last week that could upend the way the services test the troops to ensure they are prepared for the rigors of the battlefield.
The proposal, included in the House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the annual Defense Authorization Bill, calls on the Secretary of the Army to “establish gender-neutral fitness standards for military occupational specialties.” that are superior to those of non-combat MOS.”
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee approved similar language in their authorization bill last week. Both committee votes passed with bipartisan support, despite objections from some Democratic leaders.
“Obviously a 100 pound artillery shell or a 150 pound backpack or a 200 pound soldier that has to be moved up a hill is different from using a keyboard,” said Rep. Mike Waltz, sponsor of the amendment. R-Fla., during the committee debate on Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, these are the standards that all Americans who want to serve this country must meet to win wars. Jobs are different and, therefore, they should have different standards.
The provision represents the second rebuke in a week for Army chiefs, who have spent the past few years tweaking their physical fitness test in response to previous criticism that the events were too taxing for service members in support roles. .
Army officials launched their revised Army Combat Fitness Test in March, following a congressionally-ordered independent review of the test’s shortcomings. All active-duty, full-time reserve troops will have the new test count this fall, and part-time reserve and guard troops will take the test for registration starting next April.
The current ACFT is simplified from its predecessor, which was specifically designed as an age- and gender-neutral test with different standards depending on whether a soldier’s job requires “heavy” physical effort. important” or “moderate”.
After a large number of women were unable to meet these minimum requirements, the military changed events and created a new scoring system with different standards for age and gender, changing its message to describe the ACFT as a high fitness test, rather than a readiness assessment. .
But lawmakers said the result was an overly broad physical fitness test and did not adequately prepare soldiers for the potential demands of the battlefield.
The language included in the authorization bill would require both the development of a new test for “combat MOS”, but also for service officials to better define what these jobs are and who should be held. to the highest fitness standards.
The wording of the report accompanying the Senate authorization bill goes beyond the Army physical fitness test to include more scrutiny by all services in their requirements. The senators included language asking the Department of Defense to come up with a list of close combat jobs and briefings for Congress on the physical requirements for them.
This could force changes to the services in the future, although the proposals so far only apply to the controversial Army test.
The move would apparently support DoD guidance from March directing services to ensure their fitness programs “meet occupation-specific and operationally relevant physical requirements for physically demanding career fields.”
The Army currently has job-specific physical fitness standards in its Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT, but they are considered the bare minimum for initial entry into career fields.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., led opposition to the move, saying Army officials “know more than our committee about the standards needed to meet their needs”.
“It basically takes away that flexibility in every way,” he said.
But for now, both chambers seem to be heading for a forced change to the test.
Both houses will need to pass their separate versions of the authorization bills before they can begin negotiations on a compromise measure. This work should extend until the fall.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the military, specializing in accountability reports, personnel issues, and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master’s thesis on the influence of the Cold War-era Department of Defense. on Hollywood films of World War II.