Why not carry ammunition cans?

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

The US Army is moving away from the current Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) to the new and improved Army Combat Readiness Test (ACRT):

This new six-event test will keep the two-mile run from the current Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), but scraps the push-ups and sit-ups in favor of leg tucks, a medicine ball power throw, three-rep max dead lift, “T” push-ups, and a shuttle sprint-drag-carry.


The ACRT, for example, is comparatively much more time intensive than the APFT. Each set of equipment allows approximately five soldiers to complete the full six-event ACRT in seventy-five minutes. In an infantry battalion with ten sets of equipment and eight hundred soldiers, completing the ACRT will take sixteen days — three work weeks — if limited to normal morning PT hours. Since the current APFT throughput is only limited by the number of available graders, an entire battalion can easily complete the APFT in a single PT session. While there are ways a battalion could adjust to make executing the ACRT more efficient, the financial cost is more significant.

Beyond consuming more time, the ACRT transition is going to be expensive. A battalion’s set of equipment, or ten ACRT sets, is estimated at $12,000. With hundreds of battalions across the Army — combined with geographically dispersed units like the more than 1,100 ROTC campus locations, 1,600 recruiting stations, or US Army personnel stationed in embassies worldwide that need their own sets — startup costs for the ACRT could easily reach into the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher. That’s a big budget pill to swallow after almost four decades of a nearly cost-free physical fitness assessment. That also doesn’t address associated costs of equipment replacement over time, or potentially reconfiguring on-base fitness facilities to allow soldiers to train for these news tasks.

While the ACRT has been sold as a means to reduce soldier injuries, the new test introduces physical tasks that require proper training and monitoring, such as the dead lift and medicine ball power throw. According to the Army Public Health Center, musculoskeletal injuries account for 70 percent of all medically non-deployable personnel, and weight-bearing and exercise-related activities account for roughly 50 percent of all non-combat injuries. Many of those injuries result from overtraining and improper exercise.


Several ACRT tasks tie directly to physical requirements in combat — this is arguably its biggest advantage over the APFT. The shuttle sprint-drag-carry in particular includes a weighted sled pull that resembles evacuating a casualty, and the kettle bell carry simulates moving with ammunition cans. To save money and even better replicate combat conditions, the Army could replace ACRT-specific equipment with items readily available in the force.

Rather than purchasing kettle bells to simulate carrying ammunition, why not carry ammunition cans? Rather than selling all of the huge number of ammunition cans the Army goes through to the public (a very common practice), it would be easy to fill them with a set amount of weight and use them for the test. Also, rather than investing in a new type of sled to pull around a couple 45-pound plates, why not use the standard-issue SKEDCO litter system? Standardizing the weight is simple, and using the SKEDCO would reinforce an actual tactical task.


  1. Kirk says:

    Biggest and most important change to be noted here: Actual objective measurements of physical capabilities, rather than gender- and age-normed fitness “standards” based on individual body weights. This is long past due, and needs to go further.

    Little Suzy Jenkins ain’t doing the same amount of real work, in the physics sense, as good ol’ Leroy when she goes up and down on her pushups and situps. Leroy is probably producing two or three times the work on each rep, and exhibiting a lot more actual power–But, Suzy has been getting equal or greater credit for what is actually lower effort and performance. This is a state of affairs that never should have been allowed to start, let alone last as long as it has.

    Individual fitness, as measured by the old test, is important. However, the measurement of actual capability is equally important–There ain’t no “dial-a-weight” setting on any of the equipment to gender-norm the gear for smaller and less-capable soldiers. The fact that we have been saying that little girls and old fat ducks like me are the equivalent to younger and stronger men is simply indicative of our utter failure to grasp the realities of war.

  2. Kirk says:

    With a little more time to think about this, and a better keyboard to write from… Y’all are going to get a few more of my thoughts on this issue.

    The complexity and cost of the equipment needed to conduct this test is problematic, but I again have to emphasize that this direction is one we should have been following for a long time. The issue is that the APFT was inadequate; it measured individual fitness, and not against an external standard. If the individual taking the old APFT had the right body composition, they could do very well indeed on the test, while remaining totally unfit for purpose as a combat soldier.

    The number of pushups you can do is utterly irrelevant, if your body is light enough that the actual physical power and work you are doing on that event is inadequate for the performance of real-world combat tasks.

    When I was close to retirement, after 25 years of abusing the crap out of my body, I was on a permanent “no run” profile due to accumulated damage to my lower back. Even so, I did the alternate PT test events, and passed. I also remained fit and strong enough that I could do physical labor to the point that a fair number of younger and theoretically “fitter” people could not keep up with me or do what I still could.

    Case in point would be the afternoon I walked through the S-3 Operations shop, and found that there was a cluster of female officers and junior enlisted trying to move a floor safe as part of a reorganization of the shop. They’d had four females, all under thirty years of age, and probably the heaviest among them weighed 130lbs. The safe weighed in the neighborhood of 400-500lbs, and needed to move ten feet. They’d been screwing around with it for about a half-hour, and had concluded that they’d need to wait until the guy with the combo could come empty it, and then move it with more manpower.

    By myself, I moved that safe in about five minutes of what I considered moderate effort. They watched me do it, and then tried to copy the technique I’d used, which was to lift/slide/push simultaneously from a corner. They still couldn’t do it.

    Two of those officers regularly scored on the extended scale of the APFT, and their average scores on the test were usually in the 340 point range for their age and gender.

    I tell that anecdote not to blow my own horn, but to point out that the APFT is a crappy indicator for combat readiness and capability. None of those females I’m referencing were worth shit when it came to tasks like loading trucks, or moving things. Yeah, they could do other stuff while we “big strong men” were doing our thing, but the point is that there aren’t that many tasks that a flyweight can safely be assigned to on the battlefield, and that by substituting four out of ten “big strong men” for females that can’t do the same physical things, you’re crippling yourself for those contingencies when you need all hands to give their all. My Navy friends start hyperventilating when they start talking about what the advent of women on combat vessels has meant for damage control parties–In the Army, we have a little more leeway, but the fact is, the impact is neither minor nor easily overcome.

    Time was, the Military Occupational Specialty of Bridge Crewman(person?) was an all-male thing. The geniuses changed the coding, and authorized women to the field. Impact? Can’t say, but I can tell you this much: The Reserve and National Guard bridge units used to kick the Regular Army’s ass on construction times, and the focus of much of their annual training was assembly of things like the Medium Girder Bridge and Bailey Bridge sets they kept for disaster relief in their home states. The trophies they kept for these competitions were kept and treasured, and I’m here to tell you that the average Active Duty bridge unit couldn’t keep up with those guys, most of whom were corn-fed farm boys from the upper Midwest.

    They put women in those units, and the times for construction dropped so badly that they quit doing the competitions, and those trophy cases have been “de-emphasized”. Friend of mine was a full-time training NCO out in one of those units in Nebraska, and he told me that the addition of just 10% females did so much damage to the unit’s ability to conduct operations with those bridge sets that it flatly scared the hell out of him. It’s probably a really good thing that we’re moving towards a bridge park that doesn’t require a lot of physical labor, because the units flatly can’t do what they used to be able to.

    This new PT test will hopefully start to alleviate the problems created by this idiotic policy of putting women into jobs they’re inherently incapable of performing effectively in–And, before anyone starts yammering about how well their 95th percentile niece can perform physically, let me point out to you that we’re not getting those sorts of people walking into recruiting offices and signing up. We’re actually getting the broad band of capabilities that hit around the female average, and I’m here to tell you that those women, no matter how well-intentioned or motivated, are simply not physically capable of doing what we can get out of even the most average couch potato young male. You can’t set your policies based on what the 95th percentile could do, if they bothered to enlist. Most of those women have far better opportunities than serving in the military. Like, y’know, the Olympics, or professional sports…

    Meanwhile, I’m stuck trying to make little Suzy Jenkins over into an effective combat medic for front-line service in a combat arms unit… And, I’m here to tell you, that ain’t easy. And, to add injury to insult, we often find out that we’re breaking PFC Jenkins and her peers at an incredibly high rate. I don’t even want to know what the hell that’s going to cost, decades from now, when most of the VA services are devoted to dealing with the fallout from this stupidity.

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