There is neither a standard set as high nor a consequence as grave as those imparted on a soldier’s body and soul by the physical demands of combat operations. Our enemies will never lower their bar to raise our average.
Those who support or accept the recent disarming of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) for reasons relating to its fairness, prediction of combat capability, validity, reliability, or logistical madness are completely missing the point. For example, the Leg Tuck (LTK) event does not assess a soldier’s combat effectiveness and I won’t pretend that it does. However, it DOES assess a soldier’s willingness to do the work it takes to perform a leg tuck. It also assesses the ability of that soldier’s leadership to provide the resources and reason needed to pass the event.
The arrival of the ACFT was akin to the tail wagging the dog (a backward way of doing business but this is the Army we are talking about). Some of those dogs barked and whined until people with zero understanding of combat took action to make the tail smaller and weaker to protect those dogs (much like some unions have defended law enforcement and fire & rescue professionals who are physical liabilities, in the process risking lives of other tactical professionals and the civilians they are sworn to protect). Well, any dog handler will tell you that a poorly behaved dog is less to blame than its master. The masters in this metaphor are represented by Army leadership at every level - junior and senior, officer and enlisted.
As MOPs & MOEs would say, “The ACFT didn’t create a readiness problem, it revealed a readiness problem that the APFT allowed us to ignore.” I argue that the readiness problem is really a cultural problem that stems from three primary leadership issues:
Valuing outcomes over processes
Throwing monetary solutions at cultural problems
Do not value outcomes over processes.
If leaders (at all levels) were sufficiently engaged in their soldiers’ frequency of investment in the process of physical training, periodic tests would be an unnecessary formality. In fact, they would be an inconvenience. Coaches with dedicated trainees do not need to stop training to provide general physical profiles because they’re informally assessed constantly within training.
Elite units are physically superior less because they are composed of elite physical specimens and more because they maintain pride in the preparation process. Leaders and peers hold one another accountable on a daily basis. And accountability is the lowest form of consequence.
The above video lives within the program establishment module under the Investment topic of our Tactical Initiator Certification Course, which can be previewed here: www.thestrategicinitiative.com/certification
You cannot outsource responsibility.
Coaches and technology can educate, program, and even track participation and progress. However, leaders are still responsible for everything their units do and fail to do. Perfect programming won’t achieve progress within empty weight rooms and it’s absolutely unacceptable that rankless civilian strength and conditioning coaches should have to work so hard to market their worth because so many leaders would rather remain:
*Ignorant - “What physical shortcomings?”
Ignorant leaders need awareness.
*Defensive - “My personnel’s shortcomings are not MY shortcomings!”
Defensive leaders need ownership (aka accountability).
*Helpless - “I don’t know how to advance our physicality.”
Helpless leaders need to take action.
*adopted from Dr. David Black’s presentation on Trauma Informed Leadership at the 2022 IACP Officer Safety & Wellness Symposium
Span of responsibility within the military setting often exceeds scope of practice. This means that leaders are responsible for ensuring the development of skills and abilities that exceed their area of expertise. Again, high performing units do not allow excuses - they instead apply enough tenacity and ingenuity to “FITFO” (Figure It the ____ Out). If anything, it’s their culture of self reliance that has hindered maximizing elite units’ incorporation of human health performance professionals.
These tenacious leaders have their own category:
Effective - “I don’t know exactly what to do but I’m responsible for ensuring sufficient physicality of those I lead so I will figure it out.”
Effective leaders just need some guidance.
When you’re the jack of all trades, like most effective tactical leaders are, the difference between being effective and being efficient is your willingness to outsource to a true craftsman. You are not outsourcing responsibility, you are outsourcing expertise.
Efficient - “I’m responsible for my own and my soldiers’ physicality so I will lead by example and hold us collectively accountable while entrusting a coach to guide us with his expertise.”
Efficient leaders need an expert to outsource to
In the absence of consistent access to an expert, effective coaches can at least become empowered by accessing credible educational resources.
This sentence is replacing a two paragraph rant that I erased about the shortcomings of popular education initiatives the Army has relied on in a failed attempt to empower its soldiers - Because we taught them what WE know and how we learned it as performance professionals with years of investment instead of what THEY need to know to be effective on the ground as leaders with one week of investment.
You can’t cash a check big enough to solve a culture problem.
If you don’t believe me then you should probably take a moment to compare Army H2F equipment and personnel costs to the force’s willingness to accept a physical readiness test with age and gender neutral standards and passing scores relative to job specific physicality instead of equality of outcome. A test that, it’s worth mentioning, cost an ungodly amount of time and money to develop and roll out Army wide.
If we are honest with ourselves, the marines have been doing more with less for a long time now. Like the more elite Army units, there is an almost tangible degree of pride that permeates the Marine Corps. You might not be able to put your finger on it but you can certainly taste it. And their physical assessments leave quite a bit to be desired…
As the saying goes, what we allow we promote. For too long now, the Army has allowed leaders to hold clipboards and grade periodic PT tests without holding themselves and their personnel accountable to the process of developing sufficient physicality. That same Army then continued to promote those ”lead from the back” or “lead by saying not by doing” style leaders, who often rode profiles or dishonestly scored their own and their personnel’s PT tests to avoid punitive consequences.
The watered down ACFT is not the problem. The units that would have passed a more rigorous standard will pass the lower standard and the units that struggled with a more rigorous standard will continue to struggle with a lower standard. Why? Because ACFT performance is a product of the investment in the process - a process driven by a collective Army culture that lives and dies by the sum of its leaders.
What should leaders do?
Invest frequently and intelligently in the process.
Hold yourself and your personnel accountable to the process.
Take ownership of the consequences.
If you take care of 1 and 2, then you’ll be proud to own the consequences, one of which will eventually be a culture of enhanced physicality.