Category Archives: From the Field

Keeping the standards on APFT


By MICHAEL C. SEVCIK
Special to the NCO Journal

The following is a editorial submitted to the NCO Journal. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the positions of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

“Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality heroic stuff is a bunch of crap.” — George S. Patton Jr.

I read with keen interest the NCO Journal article by Maj. Jeff Jager and Aaron Kennedy, published Oct. 26. Several important “sweeping generalizations” from Soldiers and the article, “Is Physical Fitness Overvalued in the Army?” came to light.

  1. “Acceptable fitness is possessing the physical strength, endurance and mental toughness to overcome the stress of harsh, austere environments, as well as the physically demanding tasks associated with full-spectrum combat operations.”
  2. “Well, I think the purpose should be to gauge a Soldier’s ability to perform his or her job in combat. But in reality the Army PT test is more about ease of administration, maintaining appearance — a very narrow subjective view on what it means to be physically fit.”
  3. “The APFT is a horrible metric, and there is too much stock placed in it. Neither the pushup or situp has ever helped me out in combat, and although I can run sub 13-minute 2-mile, I am certain I will never outrun any caliber of round. The APFT does not translate and cannot assess a Soldier’s ability to fight and win in combat.”
  4. “The subjectively defined ‘physical fitness’ has resulted in disproportionate focus on ensuring that Soldiers are able to pass APFTs … This disproportionate focus has created an approach to physical readiness training in which individuals and units ‘train for the test’ instead of ‘training how we fight.’”

I believe that comments such as these reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of what the APFT is for, how physical fitness fits in with overall training and how a comprehensive approach to standards-based training is part of unit readiness.

The objective of Army Physical Readiness Training is to enhance combat readiness and leadership effectiveness by developing and sustaining a high level of physical readiness in Soldiers as measured by strength, endurance, mobility, body composition standards, healthy lifestyle, warrior ethos and self-discipline. As outlined in the index G-9, AR 350-1, the objective is never listed as an individual goal; rather, all physical readiness training has as its fundamental objective to enhance combat readiness.

In this context, let me posit a sweeping generalization of my own: Any unit may rise to have a small percentage of their Soldiers get over 290, or even 300, on their PT test. We see this in the Army all the time when small unit leaders/commanders set up some arbitrary or capricious APFT standard, and we usually high-five ourselves as our PT studs finish running a sub-13-minute 2-mile run. But this exceeding the standard is meaningless to overall readiness of a platoon or company, because in many of these same units we see a significant percentage of Soldiers who cannot pass the minimum APFT standard. What we should be celebrating is the company command team that consistently gets 100 percent of its Soldiers to pass the APFT. And though accomplishing this standard is impressive, it is fundamentally part of a much bigger standard.

The higher standard is the overall readiness, which is outlined by hundreds of different “readiness” standards. Show me a platoon, company or battalion that consistently meets “every” standard, and I’ll show you the best unit in the Army. Said another way, show me a unit who is a flash-in-the-pan PT stud unit, and I’ll show you the same unit that consistently fails to meet medical readiness, vehicle/equipment readiness, property accountability readiness, crew/collective training readiness or a host of other critically identified Army readiness standards.

In a sense, this discussion, the surveys and article on APFT becomes a very shallow discussion if not taken in context with what Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, has been hammering home to our Army for more than a year. Readiness is much broader than an individual APFT; it is a part of a collective and comprehensive view toward physical, social, spiritual, emotional and family resiliency for individuals.

But more importantly, standards outlined principally in AR 350-1 are not designed for individual Soldier fitness, but rather for Army organizational readiness. Every unit commander/first sergeant team in the Army today is busy and simply must risk compromising some aspects of training standards to best meet its readiness mission.

Finally, the authors conclude the article with a superb recommendation about the misplaced focus on high APFT scores and how this has turned selection and promotion boards and process into a breeding ground that places an overemphasis on PT at the expense of leadership and intelligence. To that I say, “Spot on.” A true test of intelligence and leadership at all levels is how creative, adaptive and inspirational leaders balance getting after the top goal — readiness.

Show me the leaders at any level who can meet all of the standards rather than a handful of arbitrary standards, and I’ll show you a command team that is truly ready.

Retired Col. Michael C. Sevcik served in the Army for more than 30 years and has commanded at the company, battalion and brigade level. He teaches at the Army’s School for Command Preparation, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Cyber’s impact on military strategy


By STAFF SGT. MATHEW TINSLEY
782nd Military Intelligence Battalion

Within America’s military “cyber” has held status as a powerful buzzword for many years. At all levels of military planning and operations, leaders of units have tried to get a piece of the cyber pie and integrate its concepts into their operations. One of the central questions that has persisted around cyber is how and to what extent will cyber conflict require a reconsideration of strategy. The military exists largely in two broad areas: the strategic level of long-term and large-scale planning, and the tactical level of smaller-scale, short-term operations. Cyber will undoubtedly have an effect on both of these operational domains.

When examining both domains, cyber’s effect on strategy can be examined from a short-term and long-term perspective. The military’s strategic level deals with long-term plans crafted at high levels of leadership. Strategic plans tend to address questions dealing with conducting entire war campaigns. From this perspective, in the short term, new cyber capabilities will require little reconsideration of the basic strategies the military employs. The Department of Defense’s mission is overall national defense, primarily from foreign adversaries. That has not and will not change. Even in the 2015 release of the DOD’s cyber strategy, Defense Secretary Ash Carter compared challenges posed by cyber to old Cold War challenges. The reason for this is that, initially, new technology is viewed from the perspective of what is familiar to the user. The military as a whole simply took cyber and used it to optimize its existing strategies and methods. Cyber has been used in new avenues of foreign intelligence, it gives commanders new ways to view battlefields and it has been integrated into weapons systems. But the base strategies the military employs have yet to really change. The most notable short-term change comes from the military’s job to defend the United States. In the past, attacks on U.S. soil and U.S. infrastructure the military needed to respond to were few and far between, with 9/11 and Pearl Harbor being prominent instances. But with the ever-increasing worldwide connectivity in the digital age, American infrastructure, government and industry are constantly open to attack from foreign entities and governments. The result is that for some military components, actively defending the United States is a full-time job.

Long-term changes, on the other hand, have the possibility of prompting a massive change to military strategy. The world has already seen hints of possible cyber strategy for the future. Between 2011 and 2013, Iran initiated cyber attacks on U.S. infrastructure, including banks, dams and educational institutions. Although the attacks were minimized, they showed the potential for damage to the nation. One bank, Zions Bancoporation, lost more than $400,000 while its website was down for only two hours. If larger institutions or a large number of financial institutions were targeted for long periods of time, the financial damage could be upward of millions or billions of dollars. Iran targeted infrastructure that could cause physical damage as well. The Bowman Avenue Dam in New York was breached by Iran hackers to the point where they could have controlled sluice gates that hold back water. Luckily, the controls had been manually disconnected for maintenance around the same time, which prevented the Iranian hackers from actually having control over the dam. More devastating cyber attacks were seen in 2008 during the Russo-Georgian War. Russian cyber attacks were coordinated with the Russian invasion of Georgia. As the Russians advanced into the country and fighting ramped up, so did the cyber campaign. Given that it was 2008 and Georgia had a relatively basic technology infrastructure, the Russian attacks were mainly designed to cause confusion during their ground campaign. But given the current situation in the Ukraine, the Russo-Georgian War seems to provide warnings when examined in hindsight. The question for the future is how advanced and efficient these techniques can become. Will we see the capability to shut down entire power grids, communication structures, water systems or dams? If so, and if we do not maintain the ability to defend them, the devastation from such cyber attacks could start and end wars before any ground troops are deployed or kinetic weapons are fired. At the very least, cyber capabilities will become more integrated into strategic plans as the world continues to become more reliant on technology and digital communications.

The tactical side of the equation is relatively stable. In the short term, the strategies employed by ground troops in their operations will remain the same, while new cyber-based capabilities are employed to support those operations. One of the most visible integrations we see today is the ability to quickly and accurately locate targets. Especially given the often chaotic state of urban warfare — where a mix of friendly, hostile and neutral elements are all intermixed — the ability to quickly and accurately characterize all three groups is vital. In reality, the military has been integrating these capabilities into ground operations for a while, but incorporating them into the everyday unit on a large scale is the new challenge. In October of 2015, the Army tested these capabilities on a large scale with a cyber validation exercise that occurred at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. The 780th Military Intelligence Brigade provided cyber capability support to the 2-2 Infantry Division and the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade. Traditional military units were able to provide adequate support and protection to the cyber elements that aided in target identification and verification. This type of cyber support is used in many other instances, such as drone targeting, and has been used not only for identification of high-value targets but has also aided in identifying and tracking hostages. None of these ideas or strategies are really new, but cyber is accomplishing them in new ways and, at times, accomplishes them more accurately, making ground troops’ job easier and safer.

Long-term changes are dependent on the type of technological changes that occur in the future. The drone program has become one of the most visible — and for some, the most concerning — use of modern technology in military operations. Currently, the drones are just planes with no physical cockpit, and the actual act of targeting and firing upon targets is controlled by humans. But many are already talking about the possibility of letting drones be fully controlled by computers. These drones would draw on intelligence sources, verify targets, make decisions about risk and decide whether to fire, all without a human’s direct input. These weapons are actually pretty easy to make and have been made already. The questions about implementing these into normal everyday operations come down more to ethics than capability. Should computers be deciding who dies? Are computer databases of laws and treaties good enough for a computer to cross-reference and then decide if international law can be breached? Who is accountable if the computer makes a mistake? At this point, the consensus is that this is a terrible idea. An open letter was presented at the opening of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in 2015 warning of the dangers of weapons under the control of artificial intelligence. This letter was endorsed by the likes of Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, and more than 40 robotics researchers from around the world.  Even the DOD decided to address this topic years ago with DOD Directive 3000.09, which stipulates that all weapons systems must be designed to have “appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.” From this, it seems that in the future, cyber will not replace or eliminate the need for human ground troops. How extensively cyber gets integrated with tactical operations has yet to be seen.

Cyber, like all new forms of technology, has affected all aspects of our lives, and the military is not immune from its influence. Computer technology has been integrated into the lives of everyone from the commander in chief all the way down to the enlisted Soldier on a patrol. How far this integration goes in the future is really up to the imagination of technology inventors and innovators. For now, cyber seeks to make the lives of Soldiers easier, more efficient and safer.

U.S. Army Pvt. Christian Garcia, a radar operator (foreground), and Spc. James Craig (background), a Field Artillery surveyor, both from the Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stationed out of Vilseck, Germany, weave cords through the camouflage net in order to keep their radar and area of operation concealed during Saber Strike 16 at Tapa Training Area, Estonia, June 19, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steven M. Colvin)
U.S. Army Pvt. Christian Garcia, a radar operator (foreground), and Spc. James Craig (background), a Field Artillery surveyor, both from the Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stationed out of Vilseck, Germany, weave cords through the camouflage net in order to keep their radar and area of operation concealed during Saber Strike 16 at Tapa Training Area, Estonia, June 19, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steven M. Colvin)

Toward a Leaner, More Agile Force: The Army in a Time of Fiscal Austerity


By Staff Sgt. Brian C. Darling

Winner, NCO Writing Excellence Program (October 2016)

As the Department of Defense seeks to cut its budget, the overall force structure of the Army will continue to shrink.  The United States military has already attempted to shift its operational focus from the Middle East to the Pacific, to deal with the rising military and economic ambitions of China.  Further, forces have been committed to rotational deployments in Europe in order to dissuade a resurgent Russia from further military aggression against its neighbors.  However, with the rise of the Islamic State and the persistent threat of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the pivot to the Asia-Pacific has been delayed.  Meanwhile, it is still necessary to reduce the size of the Army. This reduction in force could have a detrimental effect on the nation’s ability to project power and to conduct long-term overseas contingency operations.  However, there are several ways that the force may be reduced without affecting mission accomplishment.  Civilian leaders have recommended further augmenting the Active Component with Soldiers from the Army Reserve and National Guard; they have also recommended strategies of offshore balancing and a greater reliance on allies within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in order to further compensate for smaller budgets and reduced manpower.

In 2012, then-Army Chief of Staff General Odierno predicted that the wars of the future would be fought on the hybrid battlefield; Soldiers would engage enemies, state and non-state actors, on land and in cyberspace.1  While the Army would need to continue to be able to fight against the armies of enemy states, Soldiers would need to maintain the counterinsurgency skills honed during the course of the current conflict.  David Kilcullen made a similar argument in his book “Out of the Mountains;” terrorists organizations would no longer be headquartered in rugged rural areas, instead taking over urban terrain.  Odierno also suggested that Soldiers would have to continue to respond to domestic and international disasters and humanitarian crises.  These predictions pre-dated the rise of the Islamic State; ISIS has attempted to reestablish a caliphate in territory formerly held by Iraq and Syria.  They exist as a pseudo-state, funded through oil sales and through currency confiscated as the cities in their territories have fallen.

A major problem regarding manpower becomes evident when one considers basic counterinsurgency theory: the recommended ratio of troops to civilians in counterinsurgency operations is 1:20.  In Baghdad, at the height of the “surge,” the actual ratio was closer to 1:200.  Fundamentally speaking, counterinsurgency warfare is a long-term commitment involving large numbers of forces.  Consideration must also be given to the Army’s missions other than war fighting; in recent years, Soldiers have been called upon to respond to humanitarian crises in Haiti and in Africa.

In order to maintain America’s global strength, the Army will have to continue to incorporate the Reserve Components, the Army Reserve and the National Guard; these teams “have stood shoulder to shoulder with active-duty troops around the globe.”2  Though both components have been battle-tested during the last decade of overseas contingency operations, the Regular Army is already recommending the Reserve Components integrate their training with active units, increase their number of training days, and begin rotational deployments to areas traditionally manned by active duty Soldiers.  This issue has been addressed to some extent by the return of overseas duty for training missions; however, there is a constant need for the Active Component to be backfilled by the Reserve Components.  This higher operational tempo is in addition to placing heavier educational requirements on Soldiers for promotion and continued service; Soldiers will still need to complete their required structured self-development and professional military education in order to be considered for retention and promotion.  Further, the National Guard continues to respond to domestic emergencies and to staff counterdrug operations, even while supporting the active component. The interaction of the National Guard with federal, state, and local police and emergency services necessitates their training in the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System, placing greater time commitments on Soldiers.  National Guard units also maintain strategic partnerships with allied nations in Europe and in Africa; citizen Soldiers train alongside their counterparts at home and abroad, facilitating the leader development of American allies.

Defense experts have suggested offshore balancing as a possible means of maintaining the power projection capability of the Army, while simultaneously contracting the overall size of the force.  Under this theory, the Army would be withdrawn from any area where there was not an immediate threat, and remain deployed to check rising powers in other areas.  Offshore balancing would require the commitment of the allies of the United States; from the individual Soldier, it would require adaptability, as the mission shifted from operations in the Middle East to areas with a greater potential threat, such as Asia and Eastern Europe.  The first unit to operate would not be the armed forces of the United States, but those of our allies in the region.

Another partial solution to this problem is for the United States to rely more heavily on alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  The Army, in turn, must be able to function in a joint, multinational environment.  This means having clear rules of engagement for all parties involved, creating an equal partnership between American Soldiers and those of our allies.  Budget woes and the pivot to the Asia-Pacific are making it clear that other NATO partners need to be more involved in providing security in the European theater of operations. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt wrote to advocate for the adoption of offshore balancing; this grand strategy requires partners and allies to be the first line in their own defense.  The authors address the smaller commitments of resources of America’s NATO allies.
Within NATO, for example, the United States accounts for 46 percent of the alliance’s aggregate GDP yet contributes about 75 percent of its military spending.3

Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, is a former Army officer, historian, and counterinsurgency expert; he also writes of an increasing reliance on our NATO allies.  However, Krepinevich notes that “Each spends on defense less than half of what the United States does as a percentage of their GDPs, and in real dollars, they spend only one-quarter as much combined.”4

As the Army continues to downsize, a greater amount of stress will be placed upon the Soldiers serving in the ranks.  However, the Army has always maintained a degree of flexibility during previous instances of fiscal austerity, and that flexibility has not been lost. The Army is a learning organization as well, taking into consideration the lessons of its past; Krepinevich, quoting British physicist Ernest Rutherford, wrote in a recent article regarding military austerity, “We haven’t got the money, so we’ve got to think.”5  Where the Active Component will have to rely more heavily on the Reserve Components in order to accomplish the Army’s mission, this reliance presents an opportunity for the Reserve Components to further hone the strategic edge developed through years of rotations in support of overseas contingency operations. As Soldiers are required to become parts of joint elements, they also develop valuable skills and may, on occasion, be able to attend joint leadership training.  A recent article in Army Times detailed the graduation of the first Air Force Chief Master Sergeant from the Army’s Ranger School; it is not hard to imagine an environment where an Army Medic would be able to train with colleagues who are Navy Corpsmen or Air Force Pararescue Noncommissioned Officers. Finally, where Soldiers have been training with allied forces for years on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, as the Army becomes more reliant on strategic partnerships, Soldiers will have occasion to work closely with their international colleagues.

A smaller Army will mean that more operations will have to be conducted in a joint environment.  Airmen, Marines, and Sailors – members of services facing their own drawdowns – will have to take the place of Soldiers in formations and on the battlefield.  This will mean more joint leadership billets for Noncommissioned Officers; a Sergeant will have to be competent enough to lead a team that might consist of a Marine Corporal, an Airman, a Petty Officer, or any combination of the three.  A Command Sergeant Major will need to be able to interact with his peers from the sister services as well; the Noncommissioned Officer Support Channel in such an environment might include a Senior Chief Petty Officer or a Chief Master Sergeant.  The joint education system has recently included professional military education for senior noncommissioned officers in anticipation of joint leadership billets.

As the size of the force continues to contract, the importance of the role of the Noncommissioned Officer will continue to expand.  The corps will need to adapt, maintaining the status of recognized subject matter expert, trainer, mentor, and coach, while further including the overall role of leader of Soldiers. In some cases, Noncommissioned Officers will need to assume the responsibilities of those billets formerly staffed by Commissioned Officers.  The Noncommissioned Officer Education System is already incorporating changes at the strategic level to align senior NCO professional education with Field Grade Officer leader development.  The NCO must continue to be the example the junior enlisted Soldier strives to emulate.

Junior enlisted Soldiers will have opportunities to lead and to advance as well.  Much has been written in recent years about the “strategic corporal” who leads complex operations on a hybrid battlefield during the “three block war”.  Whether the Department of Defense chooses to pursue a strategy of offshore balancing or of relying more heavily on the allies of the United States, the individual Soldier will be expected to become proficient in the skills associated with their military occupational specialty and with the tasks common to every Soldier.  In a joint environment, the Soldier will be expected to be able to teach these tasks to members of the sister services; in an international environment, the Soldier will need to demonstrate proficiency to Soldiers of allied forces.

During this period of fiscal constraint, the Army will continue to reduce its force accordingly.  It is possible that the reduction could be a detriment to readiness; however, by continuing to augment the forces of the Active Component with Soldiers from the Reserve components, the readiness of the Army may be maintained.  Rotational deployments and strategic partnership programs will contribute to the experience and tactical capability of the individual Soldier.  Further, by developing the joint force and relying more on the efforts of allied forces, it is possible that the Army of the future will be a leaner, more agile force, led by seasoned, experienced stewards of the profession of arms.

Endnotes:

1 Odierno, Raymond T. “The US Army in a Time of Transition: Building a Flexible Force.” Foreign Affairs (2012): 7-11.
2 Ibid, 7.
3 Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen M. Walt. “The Case for Offshore Balancing.” Foreign Affairs 95.4 (2016): 22.
4 Krepinevich Jr, Andrew F. “Strategy in a time of austerity: Why the pentagon should focus on assuring access.” Foreign Aff. 91 (2012): 58.
5 Ibid, 58.

Staff Sgt. Brian Darling is a Paralegal Noncommissioned Officer currently assigned to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, New Jersey Army National Guard. Darling has recently completed the requirements for a Master’s Degree in Public Service Leadership and has a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies.  He is a recent graduate of the 27D3O Advanced Leader Course at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. While writing his thesis, Darling studied the work of Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., and became familiar with the budget cuts that were pending for the Army as it withdrew from its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This article considers some of the strategies proposed by civilian leaders in the defense sector, then seeks to answer the questions of how the drawdown will effect readiness and the challenges reduced manning will place upon the Noncommissioned Officers and junior enlisted Soldiers serving during this time of tightened purse strings. The author hopes to make the readers aware of the importance of good fiscal stewardship while stressing that the agile, all volunteer Army is fully capable of overcoming these challenges.

Is physical fitness overvalued in the Army?


By MAJ. JEFF JAGER AND AARON KENNEDY

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the positions of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

Anyone who has spent even the shortest amount of time with the U.S. Army recognizes immediately the importance that is placed on physical fitness. Every weekday morning, at U.S. Army facilities around the world, Soldiers do Physical Training; this might be the one of the few universal truths in the Army. As Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey explained to the Army Times, “PT might not be the most important thing you do that day, but it is the most important thing you do every day in the United States Army. The bottom line is, wars are won during normally scheduled physical training hours of 6:30 to 9 a.m.”

The U.S. Army is a profession of arms, and physical capability is necessary to achieve the mission. U.S. Army Field Manual 7-22 explains that:

Military leaders have always recognized that the effectiveness of Soldiers depends largely on their physical condition. Full spectrum operations place a premium on the Soldier’s strength, stamina, agility, resiliency and coordination. Victory — and even the Soldier’s life — so often depend upon these factors. To march long distances in fighting load through rugged country and to fight effectively upon arriving at the area of combat … to lift and carry heavy objects; to keep going for many hours without sleep or rest — all these activities of warfare and many others require superb physical conditioning.

According to a survey we conducted in June and July 2016, 80 percent of respondents agreed with FM 7-22’s view on PT. According to the same survey, though, a large portion of the force misunderstands the reasons the Army does PT, asserts that Army PT is not done in accordance with doctrine, and believes that both the ways physical fitness is measured and how physical fitness test scores are used in administrative processes is misguided. NCOs can lead the charge in correcting each of these issues.

The value of physical fitness

We asked survey respondents to define acceptable physical fitness standards. Answer trends, as shown in the word cloud below, indicate that “able,” “job,” “physical” and “combat” were prominently used words in these descriptions.1stCapture

On the other hand, many survey respondents stated something close to “being able to do your job” was the acceptable physical standard; many others said something close to passing the Army Physical Fitness Test was the acceptable standard. The following is representative of many given responses: “Acceptable fitness is possessing the physical strength, endurance and mental toughness to overcome the stress of harsh, austere environments as well as the physically demanding tasks associated with full-spectrum combat operations.”

We also asked respondents to explain their views of the APFT. In summary, the APFT is not very popular or viewed as effective: 53 percent of respondents were not satisfied with the APFT; 69 percent said the APFT does not accurately measure fitness; and 59 percent said the situp should be replaced. Unfortunately, however, 47 percent of the survey respondents serve in units that focus physical fitness training on ensuring Soldiers can pass the APFT.

The word cloud below highlights the thoughts of survey respondents about the purpose of the APFT.2ndCapture

Some of the key concepts regarding fitness (for example, physical fitness, physical readiness, combat, overall fitness) are represented in this word cloud, perhaps best captured by the response that APFTs are meant as “a tool to give commanders and other leaders a general idea of individuals’ and units’ physical readiness. With results, leaders can adjust routines to prepare Soldiers and formations for future efforts.”

However, other ideas, such as “check the box,” “look” and “appearance” also take places of prominence. The following assessments represent the more negative perceptions of the force on the purpose of the APFT:

APFTs are “supposed to physically prepare Soldiers for combat but in my opinion it’s more of a ‘check the box’ feature and not capable of adequately training Soldiers for deployment.”

“What it is: A base line objective way to measure a very specific set of physical tasks. What it should be: It should prepare Soldiers for the physical and mental strain of war.”

“Well, I think the purpose should be to gauge a Soldier’s ability to perform his or her job in combat. But in reality the Army PT test is more about ease of administration, maintaining appearance — a very narrow subjective view on what it means to be physically fit.”

Or, as Sgt. 1st Class Zach Krapfl of the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group put it, “The APFT is a horrible metric, and there is too much stock placed in it. Neither the pushup or situp has ever helped me out in combat, and although I can run sub 13:00 two-mile, I am certain I will never outrun any caliber of round. The APFT does not translate and cannot assess a Soldier’s ability to fight and win in combat.”

The subjectively defined “physical fitness” has resulted in disproportionate focus on ensuring that Soldiers are able to pass APFTs, even though the guidance and directives in Army doctrine are worded to avoid such practices. This disproportionate focus has created an approach to physical readiness training in which individuals and units “train for the test” instead of “training how we fight.”

U.S. Army Pvt. Sean Hussey, assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, performs sit-ups during the Army Physical Fitness Test at Joint Multinational Training Command Best Warrior Competition at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, May 8, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach)
U.S. Army Pvt. Sean Hussey, assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, performs sit-ups during the Army Physical Fitness Test at Joint Multinational Training Command Best Warrior Competition at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, May 8, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach)

 

We also asked survey respondents about perceived or actual links between PT and leadership. A majority of the respondents, 78 percent, believe that leaders should exceed minimum APFT standards. Almost half (49 percent) of the respondents view those who achieve low APFT scores more negatively, although a low APFT score results in no change in impression according to 41 percent of the respondents. This mindset carries over to 43 percent of the respondents who think that those who fail an APFT are “unfit to lead” and the 31 percent who believes that an APFT failure should equate to reassignment to a nonleadership position. Based on these views, it is not surprising that 63 percent find that a link exists between physical fitness and leadership. On the other hand, based on the views above, it is surprising that 55 percent of the survey respondents did not believe that one must be physically fit to be a good leader, and that 83 percent think someone who is not physically fit can be a good leader.

These results suggest that a problem exists in the way in which physical fitness, as measured by the APFT, impacts administrative processes such as assignments, selections and promotions.

APFT incentivization

APFT scores impact these processes in a variety of ways. For example, by deriving a large percentage of points in enlisted promotion processes from APFT scores, the Army overly incentivizes the importance of a high APFT score (noting, meanwhile, that a high APFT score does not directly correlate to high physical fitness). At the junior enlisted level, this reinforces the idea that a high APFT score is of the utmost importance, above concepts such as military professionalism, education or accomplishments. This condition exists even though survey respondents ranked duty performance and potential as more important than physical fitness for junior enlisted personnel. 42 percent of the respondents believe that physical fitness is given excessive consideration in promotion, selection, assignment, schooling and retention decisions. The promotion points process for sergeants and staff sergeants similarly assigns undue importance to APFT scores. For promotion points, APFT scores are worth almost half of the military training points. Points for APFT scores are comparable to the maximum points given for awards, and exceed the value for completion of the Basic Leader Course or the Advanced Leader Course, which are both mandatory professional military education courses. Finally, it has become routine for leaders to screen a Soldier’s APFT score before recommending promotion, education or future assignments.

As the over-emphasis on APFT scores begins with administrative processes for junior enlisted Soldiers, a “trickle up” impact exists, where Soldiers who reap the benefits of the system (i.e., those with high APFT scores) exacerbate the issues as they rise through the ranks. This is not to say that physical fitness standards should not be part of evaluation for promotion, selection for educational opportunities and consideration for future assignments. The Army needs to promote, select and assign those who are qualified and not promote, select, assign or retain those who are not qualified. However, performance on the APFT has become too incentivized, leading to a tendency to prioritize the “fit but dumb” over others in administrative processes. This incentivization occurs in the sense that good behavior (i.e., high scores on the APFT) is rewarded, while perceived bad behavior (i.e., lower but not failing scores on the APFT) is punished.

 

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ash runs during the Oregon National Guard Best Warrior Competition in August 2016. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ash runs during the Oregon National Guard Best Warrior Competition in August 2016. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

 

Because of this disproportionate focus on APFT scores, leaders often ignore other important leadership characteristics. Many serving in the military would rather have leaders, peers and subordinates who can achieve high APFT scores, look good in uniform, and conform to certain expectations than ones who are physically capable of doing their jobs and healthy from a physical/medical standpoint. Or, as suggested by the survey, excellent personnel leadership skills are thought by only 25 percent of the respondents to be the most important leadership trait; almost 60 percent believe that leadership skills are equally important as a high APFT score and job competence or that job competence and physical fitness are simply components of leadership skills. Many subordinates are likely to dismiss a leader if the leader does not meet ideal physical expectations.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, physical fitness in the Army has become more of an uncontrolled experiment where the exaggeration of specific traits (how high one can score on the APFT) results in the unintentional culling of the traits that are actually desired and important: actual physical fitness, leadership, competence, potential and intelligence. This misplaced focus on high APFT scores has accidently turned promotion, selection and assignment processes into something akin to a breeding program that selects primarily for high APFT scores instead of more important physical fitness, intelligence and leadership traits. This unintentional breeding program creates a systemic issue in which previous generations in the military are affecting the newer generations.

Although physical fitness has many direct and indirect benefits to leadership, it is a poor way of measuring leadership itself. Worse yet, because protecting the homeland, closing with and destroying the enemy, and winning the nation’s wars (the major functions of the military) are heavily reliant on Soldiers capable of performing tasks requiring high physical prowess, an indirect correlation has been applied to the major philosophy of the military — leadership.

Though the array of new Army physical fitness initiatives are positive developments, they are unlikely to break the false connection perceived between leadership and physical fitness.

Breaking this false linkage between fitness and leadership, or the “strong but dumb” mindset, is imperative. The NCO Corps can assist in this process by helping to dethrone high APFT scores from their dominate position in administrative processes; focusing physical readiness training on actual physical readiness versus the APFT; and rethinking the relative importance of physical fitness as compared to intellect, potential, duty performance and education level when conducting administrative processes for enlisted and more junior NCOs.

Maj. Jeff Jager is a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer with an area of concentration in Europe. He commissioned as an infantry officer from the U.S. Military Academy in 2000; commanded two infantry companies during “the surge” in Baghdad in 2007-2008; and was selected as a Foreign Area Officer in 2008. As an FAO, he served as the Assistant Army Attaché in Cyprus from 2012-2015 and has served as the Training and Doctrine Command Liaison Officer to Turkey since June 2015. He is also a certified Master Fitness Trainer.

Aaron Kennedy is a former sergeant of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served as an intelligence analyst from 1994-2002, deploying twice to the Middle East with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. He later served as the Intelligence Systems Instructor at the MAGTF Staff Training Program in Quantico, Virginia. After leaving service, he became interested in endurance running and the science of fitness.

Survey details

The survey cited in this article ran from June 24, 2016, to July 24, 2016 on SurveyMonkey and collected 272 responses from across a defined population of 16,638,288 active-duty, former and retired servicemembers. Limiting the survey to those currently serving in the Army, 172 responses were received. As of July 2016, there were 473,844 Army active-duty, 345,679 in the Army National Guard, and 198,971 in the Army Reserve. This adds to a total of 1,018,494 Soldiers. With 172 responses and a studied population of 1,018,494, the margin of error for the survey is about 8 percent, with a confidence level of 95 percent.

PAO reset is opportunity to get vital role right


By MASTER SGT. GARY L. QUALLS JR.
NCO Journal

As the Army continues to downsize, the public affairs branch is losing positions. This is evidence it is also losing favor in the Army, despite its impact on public opinion through media relations. How the branch arrived at this state and how it can return to its “Be All You Can Be” glory days are subjects that may be the difference between winning and losing our future wars.

When this writer was coming up in the Army, public affairs was considered a significant force multiplier for Army commanders. The “Be All You Can Be” recruiting campaign was one of the most successful in the history of the military. The Defense Information School was an inspiring place where the best public affairs practitioners gave young Soldiers a vision of what they could accomplish and how they could make a difference in the defense of the nation by telling the Army story. Dynamic Soldier-journalists such as Fritz Homan, Rich Glynn and Pam Smith wrote and broadcasted powerful stories about gritty training exercises, 100-mile ruck marches, cutting-edge Army innovations, incredible feats, compelling relationships, and the grief and triumph of war. Public affairs pioneers such as Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Gary Beylickjian, were changing the Army’s perspective on difficult issues, such as suicide by advocating the subject not be considered taboo so it could be openly discussed and its resolution encouraged. Other U.S. Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame inductees advocated transparency, pointing to the merits of emphasizing the positive steps units were taking to correct problems rather than sweeping unsavory facts under the carpet. They recognized eventual disclosure was inevitable and hiding stories that were detrimental to the Army’s image would eventually make it look worse. Still, other Army public affairs practitioners, former Vice President Al Gore, for example, rose to fame outside of the branch and the Army. Soldiers and civilians were happy to be in a job they loved and proud to be a link in a mission that mattered.

Somewhere along the line, however, the public affairs job descended from professionally and passionately telling a story that mattered to superficially summarizing events and mindlessly filing stories somewhere where they would never see the light of day – not doing the Army nor anybody else any good. Moreover, the branch did not live up to its Joint Publication 3-61 (Public Affairs) doctrine of “maximum disclosure, minimum delay,” regarding providing information to external media. At a recent worldwide public affairs symposium, ABC Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz opined that this and other frustrations put the republic’s crucial cog of a free press aside to the point where many media representatives are near or at their limit as far as dealing with the branch.

Further worsening the situation has been an Army leadership that, in many instances, thinks of public affairs as an extension of protocol rather than professional communicators who could be used to shape the operational environment the way the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is. The United States Marine Corps has always understood the importance of public affairs. Its recruiting campaigns are legendary and, more importantly, public affairs personnel have always been in Marine leadership’s circles. Marines are savvy enough to know to “never argue with a man who buys his ink by the barrel,” or with someone whose website is followed by millions of people worldwide.

Regardless of the reason, the pertinent question about public affairs is: Where do we go from here? The coming shakeup of public affairs, due to heavy cuts, could be a good development. Public affairs could use this trial as an opportunity to get back to the basics of passionate, relevant and timely communication, writing and photographing events that matter and marketing information in a manner that has a positive effect for the Army. The branch can be renewed and strengthened if Army leaders follow the vision of the U.S. Marine Corps and use public affairs for its doctrinally intended purpose rather than for covering trivial events that are of no interest or concern to the general public.

This is a crucial time for the Army and public affairs. History has shown public opinion begins and ends wars, and the conventional media – and, even more so now, social media – remains a huge factor in influencing the masses. The Army and public affairs leaders would do well to be vigilant about the next move they make regarding a branch deemed necessary since 1775. It could largely affect the future of the Army – and the nation.