Lee Miller / April 1, 2022

‘Army Weak’ Fitness Standards for Women

Degrading fitness requirements for women degrades military readiness.

As NATO confronts the most dangerous European threat since World War II, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Army, at the behest of the current commander-in-chief, abandoned its gender- and age-neutral fitness test — one standard for all. The fourth iteration of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) will again feature gender- and age-scoring cohorts, returning to the previous Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). It’s a decision that undermines our Armed Forces readiness and capability.

The push for a gender-neutral fitness test dates back to the Obama administration’s decision to open previously all-male combat positions and courses to women. Many opponents at the time rightfully pointed out that most women couldn’t meet the same standards as men on a large scale, even if a small number could manage to meet minimum requirements and keep up with their male counterparts. Proponents of placing women in combat roles insisted that women could do anything men could do, and any claim to the contrary was sexist and misogynistic. When this belief was literally put to the test by the original ACFT, however, women failed at a rate of over 80%.

To make matters worse, the original ACFT was a low standard from the outset. The event that particularly plagued women was the leg tuck. Leg tucks are performed hanging from a bar, and the event itself was a compromise event to prevent women from having to perform pull-ups. The Marine Corps had already struggled with a flexed arm hang for women and pull-ups for men on their Physical Fitness Test. The Army didn’t want to include an upper body event where women would naturally underperform or risk proving the “misogynists” right. Despite the compromise, an Army study of the original ACFT data found that most women could pass the leg tuck if they simply trained on the events and got stronger. This finding remained unacceptable, however, because it still required women to train harder than men to achieve the same level of physical preparedness — a level most fit young men can achieve without dedicated training.

The new segmented standards themselves are an admission of how poorly women have performed on the test and a complete unwillingness by Army leadership to push women to train harder to meet combat standards. The chart below shows the difference between men and women in the 22- to 26-year-old age group. It also shows the standards for men over the age of 62. It is immediately obvious that a woman in her prime is expected to perform at the same level as a retired male. By these standards, the Army would be better served bringing men out of retirement to fill its ranks than recruiting women.

The minimum standards are also abysmally low. Previously, the APFT required 42 push-ups for men and 19 for women ages 17 to 22, which is the age of most recruits. The new test only requires 10. While the hand release and arm extension portions make these push-ups slightly more difficult than a standard push-up, it does not justify a minimum requirement one-fourth of the APFT for men and one-half for women. The deadlift minimum weights for both men and women are below the average body weights for the same age group. The minimum two-mile run times are at or over 11 minute per mile. To put this into perspective, power walking is considered five miles per hour or 12 minutes per mile. It is also routine in infantry and special operations units for men to move at an 11- to 12-minute-mile pace with equipment weighing 65 lbs. or “approach weight” on a timed 12-mile march.

So why is the Army so blatantly sacrificing standards? The answer rests with the social justice expectations of Democrat political appointees at the Department of Defense. Soldiers with high physical fitness scores are promoted faster and are eligible for additional training. Combat roles and schools are often prerequisites for the Army’s most prestigious commands. Democrats are concerned that without lowering standards, not enough women will be able to fill the upper ranks of the military. As with most social justice causes, equity in outcome matters more than equality of opportunity, and leftist social designs tends to hurt the intended beneficiaries most.

Army Captain Kristen Griest, one of the first female graduates from the U.S. Army Ranger School, even said so herself in an article last year published by the Modern War Institute. Captain Griest was re-branched to Infantry and commanded an Infantry Company in the famed 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. It seems she learned the hard way that the only way to earn credibility as a combat leader is to be able to do everything you ask your soldiers to do — and more.

Unfortunately, even Griest’s Ranger School bona fides are questionable, as is the introduction of females into the previously all-male combat schools of every other Service too. All 30 of the original female trainees, including Captain Griest, failed their initial foray into Ranger School despite being hand-picked and receiving exclusive pre-training and treatment. The school typically has a pass rate of roughly 50% for men. Some of these women eventually passed after being allowed to return to the course, which is not uncommon. However, allegations of manipulation of peer reviews and other aspects of the course brought congressional scrutiny that was met with stonewalling and apparent destruction of evidence by the Army.

More recently, the Air Force was accused of lowering standards to graduate a woman from Air Force Special Operations (AFSOC) training for the first time, and the accusations came from none other than the woman herself. Information about Army Special Forces is more secretive, but the first woman to pass Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) was allegedly dropped from the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) for fraternization with an instructor. The second woman to pass SFAS was then able to successfully complete the SFQC and earn her Green Beret, but five months later accidentally discharged a firearm in a Colorado Springs apartment.

The Navy is yet to see a woman pass Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) training. This is likely due to the fact that BUDS requires successive open water ocean swims on Coronado Beach in California, and these swimming standards are a hallmark of those selected to be frogmen. Despite the Navy’s best efforts, you simply can’t scale the ocean, and the surf at Coronado Beach doesn’t distinguish between male and female candidates the way a Ranger Instructor or Special Forces Cadre might, especially under direct pressure from the Pentagon to get a woman to pass.

It’s clear that Democrat political appointees are pushing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion before lethality and reality when it comes to our national defense. They do so at the expense of combat effectiveness, but flag-draped coffins only matter so much as they affect Democrats at the ballot box. This is never more evident than in the debate surrounding women’s exclusion from Selective Service. Despite inclusion in all combat roles and enjoying preferential fitness standards, Democrats know forcing their base of young white women to register for the draft would send them into hysterics. And recent polling following the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows how few Democrats would even defend our native soil if we were invaded.

Despite the obvious physical differences between men and women, Democrats say none should exist in the Armed Forces, but their political manipulation of the military shows otherwise and is detrimental to our ability to fight future wars.

(Lee Miller is a West Point graduate and combat veteran.)

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