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Charles Paige / Oct. 21, 2019

Is the Army Combat Fitness Test Sexist?

Nope, but the usual suspects complain about the settled science on men and women.

Physical readiness is the ability to meet the physical demands of any combat or duty position, accomplish the mission, and continue to fight and win.“ —FM 7-22, Army Physical Readiness Training

The U.S. Army was recently reminded of something that most of us have acknowledged for some time: that men are more physically suited for ground combat than women. Leaked slides show that over 80% of females failed the new Army Combat Fitness Test during an evaluation period at one of the Army’s "premier” combat formations. Over 70% of males passed the ACFT, which is slated to replace the current Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) in October 2020. The ACFT includes six events (deadlifts, medicine ball throw, push-ups, sprint-drag-carry, leg tuck, and two-mile run) that were identified after extensive analysis and that mimic movements and capabilities that are likely to be required of soldiers in combat. In other words, this isn’t just something a few male soldiers came up with over beers at the club one night.

The Army and proponents of women in combat have been falling all over themselves trying to explain away the women’s failure rate. Besides denying that the slides captured “official results,” the Army attempted to downplay the statistical significance by explaining via a public-affairs officer, “It is premature to discuss pass/fail rates as troops are not familiar with or trained for the ACFT.” There’s no doubt that scores will improve and failure rates will decrease as soldiers train to the test, but the lack-of-familiarity justification is a truly gender-neutral factor — it impacts both sexes equally. Males’ significantly higher pass rates aren’t because they were secretly prepping for leg tucks (an event women failed at a disproportionally high rate); the failure rate is due to inherent physiological differences between men and women.

Despite the fact that the Army spent the better part of a decade meticulously developing the test — as well as evidence over the course of pretty much all of recorded history that men are better suited to engage in combat — some still aren’t ready to accept the obvious. One commentator sums up this sentiment by calling the test a “fiasco” and complaining, “Those men [editor’s note: it’s highly unlikely that developing the ACFT was an all-male effort] have found a way to wash an entire gender from the ranks. If 84% of women are failing the test, the problem is not with women soldiers; it’s the test.” In other words, Never mind the “settled science” and the hard data; we care more about social engineering than we do about winning in combat and we’re going to keep lowering the bar until a suitable number of women can get over it.

Former Secretary of the Army (now Secretary of Defense) Mark Esper got it right when he was asked about testing standards in 2018. He argued then that the military should “have both gender- and age-neutral standards, because the enemy does not specify who they’re going to shoot and not shoot. Combat is combat.”

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