Army Secretary Nominee Has Concerns About Implications of Combat Fitness Test on Women

Nominee to be Secretary of the Army Christine Elizabeth Wormuth speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Christine Wormuth, the Army secretary nominee, said Thursday at her confirmation hearing she is concerned about the implications of the Army’s test for combat fitness for retaining women.

The latest iteration of the test, officially known as the Army Combat Fitness Test, was launched earlier this year and a recent report showed nearly half of the women who take it fail.

“Internal Army figures from April show 44% of women failed the ACFT, compared to 7% of men since Oct. 1. ‘Female soldiers continue to lag male soldier scores in all events,’ according to a United States Army Forces Command briefing,” Military.com reported.

The failure rate for women is actually an improvement from previous rates, when one of the events of the test was a “legtuck” — an exercise where one hangs from a bar and touches the elbows to knees. After women failed that event at high rates, the Army offered a two-minute plank option.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, raised the issue at the hearing:

I remain very concerned about the retention issues posed by the Army fitness test. Mainly its effects on retaining women and those with specialty roles like our JAGs, medical personnel, cyber warriors, which is why I pushed for provision in the last [National Defense Authorization Act] to pause and have the test independently evaluated.

She added:

May I have your commitment that you will keep me and my staff appraised on the results of this independent study and I can also have your commitment that the Department of Army will be fully transparent in sharing any necessary data and information with me and my office regarding ACFT?

Wormuth said she shared Gillibrand’s concern:

If confirmed, I would be happy to share that information with you. I know RAND is actually, I believe, undertaking that independent assessment and again, I would want to look carefully at that myself.

I also have concerns obviously, about the implications of the test for our ability to continue to retain women, which we obviously want to do. I do think it’s important for the Army to have a physical fitness test that tests the kinds of you know, combat skills soldiers will need to have, to have a test that prevents injuries which I think the new test is designed to do much better than the old one. But we want to make sure we are not indirectly penalizing anyone.

“And I think the Army’s decision to — for example, allow women to do a plank rather than the leg tuck is a good example of adapting in a way that I think is helpful,” she added.

The Army revised its combat fitness test to become gender-neutral, after women-in-service advocacy groups and advocates pushed for a gender-neutral test during the Obama administration, arguing women could meet the same standards as men and should be afforded the same opportunities. However, now, some service members and veterans — mostly on the left — argue the test is unfair and would force women to leave the service.

Army Capt. Kristin Griest, one of the first two women to graduate from Ranger School, argued in support of a gender-neutral test.

“This is everything that all of us women in combat arms have been fighting for at least the last five years,” Griest recently told the Washington Post.

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