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Here’s How Marines Fared On The New Physical Fitness Test
This year, the Marine Corps set out to make Marines stronger, faster and generally more fit by raising the service’s physical fitness test standards, and it appears that they succeeded.
After the official launch of an enhanced physical fitness test in January, the percentage of first-class physical fitness test scores declined for the first time in years, while second, third-class, and failing scores increased, and average PFT scores dropped for the youngest male and female Marines, and increased or held steady for the oldest Marines, based on an analysis of 2017 fitness test scores provided to Task & Purpose through a Freedom of Information Act request. Though top-tier scores may be on the decline, individual event scores (number of pull-ups, crunches, and run times) all increased or remained about the same, which indicates that Marine fitness remains high.
In the past, roughly 90% of Marines scored a first-class on the PFT, but by raising the requirements for a top score, the service curbed the percent of first class PFTs. In 2017, only 71.2% of Marines received top marks on the new PFT, with 19.2% getting a second-class, and 6.7% scoring in the third tier, and the remaining 2.9% failing.
“So what this means is that first-class has become more meaningful,” Brian McGuire, the deputy director of the Force Fitness Division and one of the architects of the PFT overhaul, told Task & Purpose. “One of the brightest stars in the constellation of developing a test is that you want to be able to distinguish between levels of fitness: high-fit, mid-fit, low-fit, etc. That’s what this has done: given us the ability to better distinguish between different levels of fitness.”
Marines with Headquarters Battalion conduct pull-ups during their Physical Fitness Test aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 14, 2017.U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jesus Sepulveda Torres
As part of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller’s overhaul of the service’s fitness program, the PFT underwent a number of major changes, including tougher requirements for individual events, a sliding point scale based on age, the addition of pull-ups for female Marines, new requirements for a top score, and alternative exercise options, like push-ups and rowing.
The changes were announced following a series of townhall visits by the commandant to Marine Corps installations in the fall of 2015, during which Marines consistently said the PFT and CFT needed to be scored differently.
“The events weren’t too easy, but the scoring was too easy,” McGuire added.
The 2017 data set provided to T&P; was drawn from 199,637 Marines who ran the physical fitness test this year. To accurately gauge changes in fitness scores, the most recent data set was divided into the same age brackets as the previous four years — the new PFT divides Marines along four-year age groups — with the change in scoring for different ages taken into account in the 2017 data set. Many of the key findings for the full 2017 PFT season line up with earlier analysis provided by Task & Purpose in June, and again in July.
One of the reasons for the decrease in first-class scores overall is the hike in point requirements, which was raised from 225 to 235 in 2017. The PFT averages for the youngest age group of female Marines, 17-26, was 233 — just two points shy of the first-class cut-off — compared to male Marines of the same age, who averaged 238, McGuire said.
However, the dip in first-class PFTs doesn’t mean that Marines are less fit. On average, Marines are knocking out more crunches — since the requirement was raised — more trips over the pull-up bar, and run times are holding steady overall — though the youngest Marines, 17-26, achieved slightly slower run times this year than the year prior.
Additionally, the drop in first-class PFTs won’t severely impact promotions, McGuire said. Among E-3s and E-4s, it’s a Marine’s PFT score (in addition to combat fitness test and rifle range scores), not their class, that counts toward promotions, so a two-point drop for female Marines is “negligible,” McGuire said.
“There’s really not that much of a difference,” McGuire said. “This was something where we did want to incentivize fitness and we did want to distinguish between different levels of fitness in Marines, but we did not want to cause any deleterious effects to promotion.”
Other major changes to the PFT included the addition of pull-ups for women and the option for all Marines to swap push-ups for trips over the bar. In 2016, female Marines had the option to do pull-ups over flexed arm-hangs, though just under 2,000 elected to do so. By 2017, the number ballooned to roughly 9,500, with female Marines averaging eight trips over the bar.
“As far as the pull-ups go, I’ve been training for it beforehand, so I was pretty prepared for that part,” Sgt. Kesz Wesley, a water support technician told Task & Purpose in June. “I know a lot of females that were stoked about doing pull-ups because they feel like we have a lot to prove. I might only have to do nine, but I’ll still do 15.”
In 2017, 35% of female Marines, and just 5% of male Marines elected to do push-ups, but opting for the exercise comes with a catch — the max score is just 70 points, rather than the 100 possible for pull-ups, making the decision to go for the alternate exercise a bit of a wash.
“The max reps for push-ups was challenging for each of those age groups. We expected that,” McGuire said. The sentiment was mirrored by Marines who spoke with Task & Purpose in mid June.
U.S. Marine Corps Recruits with November Company, 4th Battalion, and Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, conduct the three mile run portion of a physical fitness test (PFT) on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina on, Aug. 21, 2017.(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Colby Cooper
“If you can’t do pull-ups, chances are you won’t do well in push-ups,” Staff Sgt. Charles Frangis, an infantry platoon sergeant, told Task & Purpose previously.
“Nobody does the push-ups,” Sgt. Gunnar Naughton, a 24-year-old chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist, told Task & Purpose in June. “The only reason why it would be good for you to do the push-ups would be if you did less than 15 pull-ups, but could do 70 push-ups.”
Though the dip in first-class scores is significant, it follows past trends. When the Marine Corps introduced the three-mile run for female Marines and stricter requirements for pull-ups in 1996, top scores took a similar dive. Then they rebounded, and that’s what the service thinks will happen this time.
We did see a precipitous drop in the PFT scores, but over the years they gradually went back up and we’re expecting the same sort of thing to happen here,” according to McGuire.
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.
In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.
Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.
The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.
There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.
At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism throughout the movie.
When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.
Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)
As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.
In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.
"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.
"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."
The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.
There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.
The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
The Defense Department just took a major step towards making the dream of a flying drone carrier a reality.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's air-launched and recoverable X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle finally conducted a maiden flight in November 2019, Gremlin contractor Dynetics announced on Friday.