In Brief: U.S. Army — ‘Equitable’ and Unready
The Army has exchanged its science-based, gender-neutral combat fitness test for a watered-down test, with different standards for men and women.
As we prepare to observe Memorial Day, honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our nation’s Armed Forces, it’s worth considering the state of our military today. Thomas W. Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general and director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation, does just that by evaluating U.S. Army fitness standards.
Americans are used to picturing Army combat soldiers as incredibly tough individuals, able to run faster and do more pushups than most people. In today’s Army, though, that notion is officially passé.
At a recent Senate hearing, we learned that Army physical fitness has been sacrificed on the altar of gender equity, a move that former infantryman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., noted will “get soldiers killed.”
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth admitted to Cotton that the service had abandoned efforts to ensure that soldiers’ fitness in physically demanding Army career fields — such as artillery — was being continuously assessed to ensure they met the standards. A subsequent exchange revealed that the Army’s minimum fitness standards have been dramatically compromised.
Years ago under Barack Obama, when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter allowed women into all combat positions, Carter and others assured us that readiness would not be compromised. It was a lie at the time, and we know even more now.
Because, as Spoehr notes, “not all Army career fields require the same levels of physical fitness,” the military needed standards to ensure that “soldiers have abilities necessary for their career fields.”
Enter the Army’s new combat fitness test. Designed over 10 years, it consists of six events, all chosen as a proxy for the types of strength soldiers need on the modern battlefield. The standards were gender-neutral to objectively assess who could serve in which Army positions.
The Army spent years studying the standards necessary to succeed in its 190 different career fields.
Unlike previous fitness tests, the Army combat fitness test had no categories for male and female. Color-coded scoring bands were established for each of the six Army combat fitness test events. For artillery crew members, the level of performance required were the highest, coded “black.”
The standards were intense and difficult even for many men to reach. That’s the point. But just as implementation was about to happen, “Congress and advocacy groups intervened.”
Alarmed that women were scoring lower than men were on trial tests of the Army combat fitness test, Congress passed a law delaying the test and requiring an independent assessment.
Months later, Rand, who performed the study, returned with shocking news: Males and females score differently on fitness tests. Thus, greater numbers of women than men would not be eligible to serve and remain in the Army’s most physically demanding career fields.
Under heavy pressure, the Army surrendered. It threw out the gender-neutral test, effectively abandoning any effort to link continued physical fitness to career fields and simultaneously watering down the baseline fitness standards.
The Army went further, easing requirements for men and women. Wormuth says the aim is to ensure fairness: “We didn’t want to disadvantage any subgroups.” But as Spoehr argues:
So now the entire Army is disadvantaged, its readiness degraded in the name of “fairness.” The desire to put “equitable” outcomes first is reducing elite combat units to the lowest common denominator. It is a recipe for defeat.
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