Best Defense

How transgender integration is likely to change Army physical fitness standards

The DOD announced this week that it will evaluate the integration of transgender service members.

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By Donald Maye
Best Defense guest columnist

In March, I made a case on this blog for why military fitness policy needs updating. I also suggested reasons for why fitness policy changes are not happening (of which is the integration of women in combat MOS’s). While I did not propose detailed solutions (a new training protocol or testing events), I did state the policy change should start through updating DOD Directive 1308.1 and DOD Instruction 1308.3. The reason for the top-down approach to change is that the Services are happy to rearrange deck chairs and ignore icebergs. Three main factors play into the Services’ decision to not change:

  1. Changing fitness policy is not mandated by the DOD.
  2. This change is hard: first, second, and third-order effect analysis paralyzes decision-makers.
  3. Everyone (in and out of uniform) has an opinion, and they preach it like religion, while ignoring the experts.

The DOD announced this week that it will evaluate the integration of transgender service members. Undoubtedly, this will include working groups across each of the Services consisting of FGOs and SNCOs who will discuss the issues. One of the elephants in the room will be how fitness testing policy will account for transitioned-gender/transitioning-gender Soldiers and recruits. And, of course, the working groups will conclude that criterion physical testing standards will need to be implemented.

There will be pushback on this conclusion from the Services, but I foresee the following actions taking place (only WRT the Army- as I am not as familiar with the other Services):

Prediction 1: Transgender integration will happen.

Prediction 2: The working group of FGOs and SNCOs will recommend implementing criterion fitness standards across all the Services.

Prediction 3: At first, the Army will conclude that it costs too much money and will take years (not months) to implement.

Prediction 4: Soon to be CJCS, GEN Dunford, will helpfully suggest to the Army to implement something similar to the Marine’s Combat Readiness Test (CRT). “Here, I just saved you millions of dollars and thousands of man hours.” 

Prediction 5:  The Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) will either change, be phased out, or reduced in how it impacts careers/evaluations.

Prediction 6: The Army will implement a criterion fitness standard similar to the Marine’s CRT.

As someone who no longer wears the uniform, I can only sit back in amazement as all the “company men” steal the lunch money from the foolhardy who plant their flag poles. The Army has had countless opportunities to change their fitness policies on their own. However, now the Army will be force-fed by whatever the DOD mandates. Iceberg, straight ahead!

For the record: The Army Physical Fitness School, at the direction of LTG Hertling and then CSA GEN Casey, developed and piloted an Army Combat Readiness Test (ACRT) in 2011 with over 10,000 Soldiers. The ACRT is a criterion-based, gender and age neutral obstacle course that costs about $300 to make and is completely portable. The test was quietly nixed for various, unspecific reasons after GEN Odierno assumed CSA duties.

Lastly, to further highlight how transgender integration will impact testing and policy, please read about this Soldier.

Don Maye is a former Army Field Artillery officer. He served as the operations officer of the United States Army Physical Fitness School from 2010 to 2013.

Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod/U.S. Army/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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