With the Marine Corps making headlines this week over pullups for female recruits, local residents had questions about the Army’s physical fitness standards for women during a visit from the commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command earlier this week.
“Most soldiers will tell you they think certain women have earned the right in the last 12 years to serve in any kind of unit in the Army, but we must maintain standards,” said Gen. Robert Cone, whose command is responsible for how the Army will approach integrating women into combat roles. Cone was at an Association of the United States Army meeting Monday in Killeen.
Right now, he said, the Army doesn’t “have very good standards.”
In the future, Cone said he wants the fitness tests to be all inclusive, but the current test is graded based on a soldier’s age and gender. The current test includes three events — pushups, situps and a two-mile run.
As a 39-year-old man, Staff Sgt. Shaheed Aziz must do 34 pushups, 38 situps and run an 18:18. A female in that age bracket would need 13 pushups, 38 situps and a 22:42 run.
“The younger you are, you really have to move your body, but the older guys really compete with these younger folks,” said Aziz, the master fitness trainer for 41st Fires Brigade at Fort Hood. “Everybody goes out there and gives it their best.”
To change that, Cone said a team identified 31 tasks required of soldiers, and is working to test physical requirements in a gender-neutral, age-neutral way. For example, he said, soldiers in the armor field should be able to carry a 52-pound tank round.
By 2017, he said he hopes to have a new physical fitness test that will test soldiers on three to four events that encompass those identified tasks. This approach is different from the Marines, he said.
“The (physical training) test has to be for everybody,” Cone said. “It’s not about the PT test, it’s about the PT you do.”
To reinvigorate the Army’s physical training program, Cone brought back the Master Fitness Trainer Program, of which Aziz is a graduate. Relaunched in April, the program trains certain soldiers of various units in a standardized way, so they can teach other soldiers to increase combat-readiness and control injuries, said Maj. David Feltwell, a physical therapist at the Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Jackson, S.C.
“Because it develops overall proficiency in movement and strength and endurance, it really allows you to be strong no matter what test you’re given,” he said. “If you think about combat being your test, you prepare for any of the physical components of that test. ... The Army physical fitness test doesn’t really test you for combat, but it tests your physical fitness level.”
About 1,500 soldiers completed the master fitness program, including 200 from Fort Hood.
Aziz said he’s seen his unit’s PT test averages increase since he began scheduling training nearly eight months ago. He also makes sure soldiers who are in an alternate physical fitness plan, due to injury or other reasons, are getting the proper training and care they need to get back to their appropriate fitness level.
“We’re trying to give them something to achieve,” he said of helping soldiers improve their test scores.