New Army fitness standards may eliminate many women, older soldiers

This is probably exactly what the military didn’t need at the moment, but controversy is once again cropping up over military physical training standards. We’ve previously covered the requirements for combat officer training, but a new set of guidelines apply to the more general physical requirements for all soldiers in the army.

The previous standards were seen to have been a bit too loose, with some trainees entering the service and not being fully physically fit for the rigors of combat. Also, standards were different for older soldiers and for women, particularly those in non-combat roles. Under the new guidelines, everyone will have to meet the same standards every year, and that has some of our troops worried. (Associated Press)

Commanders have complained in recent years that the soldiers they get out of basic training aren’t fit enough. Nearly half of the commanders surveyed last year said new troops coming into their units could not meet the physical demands of combat. Officials also say about 12 percent of soldiers at any one time cannot deploy because of injuries.

In addition, there has long been a sense among many senior officials that the existing fitness test does not adequately measure the physical attributes needed for the battlefield, said Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

The new test, “may be harder, but it is necessary,” Townsend said.

Reaching the new fitness levels will be challenging. Unlike the old fitness test, which graded soldiers differently based on age and gender, the new one will be far more physically demanding and will not adjust the passing scores for older or female soldiers.

The AP spoke with one military intelligence specialist, Sgt. Maj. Harold Sampson, who wasn’t looking forward to the testing. He’s in his forties and has what is primarily a desk job. He’s capable of doing the two minutes of situps, two minutes of pushups and 2-mile run that’s required under the old standards, so he’s not out of shape. But now he’ll have to do more repetitions faster, plus do deadlifts and other demanding tasks.

Having soldiers unready to go into combat is a valid concern and everyone with a combat assignment should be able to meet the same standards regardless of age or gender. But this seems like some serious overkill if it’s being applied to everyone. Many soldiers have non-combat jobs that don’t require the same level of physical excellence. Particularly as they get closer to retirement and hold administrative positions, this just sounds like a ticket to driving a lot of talent out of the Army.

Also, women in non-combat roles are going to have a much harder time passing these tests. If you want to encourage more women to enlist, provided they aren’t going to go into combat, it seems reasonable to make the physical training requirements a bit looser. This really doesn’t sound like an area for a one size fits all solution and the Army should consider backing off a bit on these requirments for non-combat soliders.