A trailblazing female Ranger grad has reignited the debate over the Army’s controversial new fitness test

Here we go again.

If you thought the Army was anywhere close to coming to a consensus on its new fitness test, think again. 

Capt. Kristen Griest, one of the first women to graduate from the Army’s Ranger School and the first female infantry officer, reignited the debate over the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) on Thursday with an article criticizing Army plans that would separate soldiers’ test scores by gender.

“As the ACFT is validated over the next year, there will likely be studies, phases, revisions, and alternate exercises,” Griest wrote in an article for the Modern War Institute at West Point. “However, once the Army determines the right standard to which soldiers should train, the final version of the ACFT should hold men and women in combat arms to it equally and should maintain branch-based minimum standards.

“Failing to do so will further marginalize women in these units rather than protect them, and will hurt the Army rather than prepare it.” 

In her article, Griest zeroed in on the test’s supposed gender-neutral standards and the recent news that the Army is considering scoring soldiers on a gender-specific, service-wide percentile, instead of grouping men and women’s scores together. She focused specifically on combat arms jobs like infantry and artillery, saying “gender-based scoring could drastically reduce the performance and effectiveness of combat arms units.”

Her article immediately set the online military community ablaze, with many concluding that additional changes to the ACFT are unnecessary and soldiers just needed to buckle down and train. But others took issue with the dismissal of legitimate concerns over the test’s overwhelmingly negative impact on women. Those concerns have been well established, which is why the Army was looking to tweak the test’s scoring process.

Then there were others, like Lt. Gen. Ted Martin of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, who took the opportunity to have a little fun with the ACFT discussion, which some saw as downplaying concerns over one of the hardest events of the test, the leg tuck.

Martin later tweeted that he never intended for it to come across that way.

The suggested changes to the ACFT, which were first reported by Task & Purpose, included removing special requirements for some military occupational specialties (MOS), but Griest argued that doing so would result in low standards that “will not suffice in reality.” 

Griest isn’t wrong: Most soldiers seem to agree that it makes sense that infantrymen would need more intensive physical training than, say, a chaplain or a dentist. 

But it’s not that simple, as Col. Daniel Blackmon explained. The “idea that gender neutral is equal to gender equality is a false narrative,” he wrote on Twitter. 

“We will promote, evaluate and build [Order of Merit Lists] off of the ACFT,” he continued, referencing what the Army uses to identify soldiers for promotions. “Which is biased for men.”

Ultimately, Blackmon believes the ACFT should be modified and stands by the idea of “gender neutral, by MOS standards,” he said, but that the Army needs to “be real about what that looks like.” While he agrees with Griest’s assertion that each job in the army “has objective physical standards to which all soldiers should be held,” gender-based scoring “does not change [that] premise.”

“MOSs are gender neutral so the baseline physical standards should be the same,” he said. “But as long as we are using the ACFT to determine who should get certain promotions, schools, leadership opportunities, it has to take into account certain advantages/disadvantages.”

Training for the ACFT requires time and equipment, which can also be problematic. Griest said in her article that she initially failed the overhead standing power throw portion of the test, but was able to meet the standard “after six weeks of dedicated effort.” But as some people noted on Twitter, it’s just not possible for everyone to train that intensely in spite of other obligations.

There’s also the matter of equipment — or lack thereof. As one female officer previously told Task & Purpose, soldiers don’t feel supported because “most of us can’t even get access to the equipment to train on.”

“Most, if not all women are in favor of a gender-neutral test,” another female officer said on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “However, gender neutral does not mean gender blind.”

Featured photo: Capt. Kristen Griest smiles at friends and family as she waits with her U.S. Army Ranger School Class 08-15 to graduate at Fort Benning, Ga., Aug. 21, 2015. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)

Haley Britzky
Haley Britzky

is the Army reporter for Task & Purpose, covering the daily happenings in the Army and how they impact soldiers and their families, as well as broader national security issues. Originally from Texas, Haley previously worked at Axios before joining Task & Purpose in January 2019. Contact the author here.

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