Senate committee advances bill that could kill Army combat fitness test

What is old may soon be new again.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday approved the House Fiscal Defense Policy Bill 2024, which according to an official summary reinstates the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) as a registration test. While the bill still has a long way to go before becoming law, the move signals the frustration of powerful lawmakers with the Army’s combat fitness test.

The combat readiness test, after a pilot and implementation period of years, became the official test for active duty soldiers on October 1, 2022.

But if the Senate committee proposal eventually receives President Joe Biden’s signature, which would require first full Senate approval and then House of Representatives agreement to include it in the joint version of the bill, the military could not implement a new test without a three-year pilot and waiting period that includes mandatory congressional briefings.

The Houses version of the 2024 tax policy bill, which has yet to be approved by the House Armed Services Committee, would currently mandate the Army to create gender-neutral physical fitness standards for combat jobs while on probation, but stops short of killing him outright.

The Army’s top petty officer, Army Staff Sergeant Michael Grinston, spoke to reporters Monday morning in the wake of Congress’s move. Though he declined to speak in direct response to the bill, Grinston has been outspoken about the impact a return to the old fitness test would have on the force.

Grinston argued that the combat fitness test is far superior to the old one, which consisted of just two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a two-mile run.

THE [old] APFT measures two components of fitness, muscular endurance and cardio fitness, Grinston explained. But the new fight test covers 10 of them, including muscle strength, power, speed, agility and more.

The new combat fitness test also plays a central role in the service’s broader efforts to implement its holistic health and fitness program, known as H2F. Rather than simply counting push-ups like they used to, the Army wants to transform how units collectively approach fitness, sleep, nutrition, mental alertness, and spiritual alertness.

H2F, which provides units with additional resources and facilities, relies on the service implementing physical fitness standards such as the combat fitness test that mandates a comprehensive view of what it means to be fit, service officials said. It’s unclear how much of the Army’s investment in H2F would be lost if lawmakers were to cancel combat-readiness testing, but the service has spent about $78 million on testing equipment, according to information on its website.

Even if fitness is only a small part [H2F]we’ve worked hard to make sure we train differently than we do [how] we were in the past, Grinston said. Early results indicate that units with H2F teams are experiencing lower rates of substance abuse and suicide in addition to fitness benefits, she said.

And if Congress goes ahead with eliminating the combat fitness test, the administrative consequences would be significantly disruptive, Grinston noted. The Army ties its fitness tests to performance ratings and performance factors in the promotion points formula that the service uses for its semi-centralized junior non-commissioned officer promotions.

It would just lead us into chaos, Grinston said of a potential combat test elimination. We have already changed all of ours [regulations]then it would be completely confusing.

Ultimately, however, the services’ top NCOs due to retire in August said that maintaining the combat fitness test is not just about reducing administrative burdens. It is all about preparing the army for the battle it will have in the future.

We have to go forward, not backwards, Grinston said. That’s what’s good for the military.

Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the military. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with the Texas Tribune investigating National Guard border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.

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