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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“Come on, sergeant major, let me see those cartwheels!” reverberated through the fitness center in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month during an intense early-morning workout session led by the senior noncommissioned officer in the U.S. military.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prodded Army Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Clark about those flips, then quickly shifted his rallying cry away from the Resolute Support/U.S. Forces Afghanistan senior enlisted leader to another Soldier.
“No choking up on those sledgehammers, Clements!” Troxell yelled out to Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Clements, the senior enlisted leader at Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, who was lifting, twisting and holding the weighted tool over his head.
“You have to train hard, because our enemies are training hard,” Troxell bellowed in the training session at the Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Troxell accompanied his boss, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, to assess the mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
“The battlefield is dynamic,” Troxell said after a high-intensity, sweat-inducing circuit session that included jumps, core strengthening and weight training. These types of daily vigorous training sessions push beyond Soldiers’ comfort zones and have a singular focus: to keep troops ready for the enemy, he said.
Service members must be agile and flexible in the battlefield, where they scale walls, navigate rough terrain, work in extreme temperatures, and carry heavy loads over long distances, Troxell said, so the workouts need to mimic situations the troops could face on a mission.
“We have to have the reserve to be able to defeat the enemy when we get on the objective or we come under attack,” Troxell said. “We have to train under conditions that are harsh, brutal and extreme, so that our minds, our bodies and our souls are prepared for that kind of fight.”
Explaining his “PME Hard” philosophy, Troxell detailed the importance of a holistic focus to be “physically, mentally and emotionally hard.” Adding spiritual resilience is an important component as well, he said.
“We have to train our bodies; we have to train our minds,” he said. “Then we have to be able to train with emotion [and] with passion, and then we have to have something outside ourselves that we can rely on in adversity — some kind of spiritual fitness.”
In addition to battlefield readiness, the training builds resilience, camaraderie, confidence and trust among the troops and services, he said.
“This kind of training allows us to bounce back quicker, because combat is brutal and unforgiving — we all know that — and bad things happen,” said Troxell, who has served five combat tours of duty, including in Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In the end, when we take the fight to the enemy, it’s one team and one fight. The more we can do these shared experiences and bonding between other services, the stronger we’ll be when we have to fight.”
With more than three decades of service, Troxell said, he has no plans of easing back on his heart-pumping training, even after he hangs up his uniform.
“I’m 52 years young, and I’m going to continue to train like this until I can’t do it again,” he said. “I anticipate that Sergeant Major Dave Clark and Sergeant Major Mike Clements and I, when we’re in our ’80s, are going to be doing this same stuff. Stay tuned.”
After an Army Times article detailed the seven-day workout plan for Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, he got a lot of comments telling him, “That’s not PRT.”
Dailey has also heard Soldiers using their dislike of Army Physical Readiness Training as an excuse for not exercising. During a recent interview with the NCO Journal, Dailey made it clear that he believes in PRT, but that PRT is just the beginning of staying physically fit. Dailey said he does his workout routine in addition to PRT to maintain his fitness for the things he has needed to do throughout his career as an infantryman.
“I think PRT is actually very good, and it’s proved a success in our training environment,” Dailey said. “We’ve reduced injuries, and we’ve increased physical fitness scores coming out of basic training and AIT. What I need units to understand is PRT is not the end. … We shouldn’t be blaming PRT for our failure to have success in physical fitness. It’s a tool to use in achieving that success. … PRT is not the problem; 6:30 to 9 [a.m.] is the problem. We’ve failed the sacred hour. We need to get that back. It’s something that’s not going to take months; it’s not going to take years. Leaders can change this tomorrow morning. All they have to do is find a flag, wait for the music to go up, salute it and start getting after it.”
Dailey agrees with concerns that there should be stricter consequences for failing the Army Physical Fitness Test, and he said there will be stricter consequences as the Army continues to implement STEP (Select, Train, Educate, Promote).
“When we moved into Select, Train, Educate, Promote about two and a half years ago, we made physical fitness a critical part of succeeding in your institutional training experience,” Dailey said. “So if you go to your institutional training experience now and fail the APFT, you will get a derogatory [DA Form] 1059, which will remain in your records. Previously, that was not true. You could fail your school, and then when you passed, that 1059 would come out. It stays in there now. That’s critically important, because when we look for promotion we need to see the whole Soldier concept. So now with STEP, you have to go to your institutional training experience before you can get promoted. It’s a gate. So we’ve said that noncommissioned officers need to be promoted because they’re certified across all three leadership development domains, and now that’s going to be true with STEP. So until you’ve completed your selection, your training in your organization, your education through self-development, and your institutional experience, then and only then will you be able to be promoted. Physical fitness is a key and critical part of that.”
Recently, Dailey announced that the new Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report would be delayed until 2016. Dailey expressed complete confidence in noncommissioned officers adapting to the changes in the coming NCOER, but he said it was necessary to slow the process down to make sure the NCOER is implemented correctly.
“We have to get this right,” Dailey said. “We worked really hard on the new Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report. It is an excellent product. But how we roll it out and how we make it applicable to our noncommissioned officers is essential to the move forward. It’s OK if we slow down to take the time to make sure we train and educate the force on how to appropriately do it. We need buy-in from all the leaders here and across the Army, because this is intended to fix our Noncommissioned Officers Evaluation Report. So I’m not concerned about the Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report; it’s the right way to go. But I am concerned that we make sure that we get it right as we roll it out to the Army. And we’re going to do just that.”
Because the Army as an organization is so large, it has suffered from moving people administratively instead of really managing talent, Dailey said. Though it will be difficult, Dailey hopes leaders can begin to be more involved in some of those decisions.
“We’re a leadership organization,” Dailey said. “I want leaders involved in that. That doesn’t mean leaders will control every facet about where someone PCSes or where they’re going to stay or extending them. But I do need leadership involvement with regard to managing the knowledge, skills and attributes needed to move an individual to the appropriate position that maximizes the capabilities of the organization and strengthens the mission of the United States Army. That’s complex stuff. As big as we are, that’s very complex and very hard to do. So as we move forward, my senior enlisted counsel will work on doing that. Of course, a lot of that will occur at the senior noncommissioned officer ranks. But internal to the organization, I need talent management from the perspective of, ‘I have to give back to the Army sometimes. I have to invest in the future of the Army by sending our young men and women to school to enhance their performance.’ Sometimes that takes sacrifice from a unit. Maybe they’re going to miss a unit field training problem. But what’s more important? Is it more important to invest in that noncommissioned officer for the future or just that two-week field training exercise?”
At the NCO Solarium in May at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Dailey expressed concern about how some Soldiers are behaving on social media. “When Soldiers harass, put [damaging] things on the Internet, they are not in keeping with the honor, tradition and the stewardship of the profession,” he said.
Dailey told the NCO Journal he thinks NCOs can solve the problem without needing new rules and regulations in place. He wants NCOs to have an attitude of “Not in My Squad.”
“It sounds very simplistic, and that’s exactly what I want it to be,” Dailey said. “I want noncommissioned officers to know we trust them, because this is about trust. Trust runs both ways, up and down the chain of command. I want them to understand that we do trust you. We trust you with the lives of … the young men and women that we’ve given you. We’ve bestowed the greatest honor the American society can give to one individual and that is to lead those men and women into combat. That same trust applies when we’re back in garrison. More accurately, there’s no such thing as combat leadership. There’s no such thing as garrison leadership. There’s something called military leadership and Army leadership. It exists regardless of where we are and what we do.”
Every Soldier a billboard
Another topic of discussion that began at the NCO Solarium was the effectiveness of Army branding campaigns. Dailey said he wants Soldiers to see that what is more important than the slogans of “Army Strong” or “Army of One” is the everyday effect a Soldier has walking around his or her community. Dailey wants NCOs to know they are walking billboards for the Army.
“My billboard has and will always say Army Strong,” Dailey said. “I encourage leaders to think about how they are going to paint their own billboard for Soldiers. What is it going to say? You have so much influence on what that billboard says. It can affect whether a Soldier stays in the Army or they transition. It’s critically important that our nation clearly understands and knows that we will always be the organization that is most trusted in America. It takes a lot of billboards to maintain that. It takes a lot of hard work as well. But I always ask this: What do you want your billboard to say? What does it say today? What is it going to say tomorrow?”
Working on their personal billboards and striving to be the best will also help Soldiers have a better chance of staying in the Army as it downsizes, Dailey said. He offered his advice to Soldiers and NCOs looking to take charge of their careers.
“I’ll tell you that you can start first and foremost by listening to your noncommissioned officer every day,” Dailey said. “Do good PT and keep yourself physically fit. When you get the opportunity to go to a military school, stay in it and study hard. Strive to be in the top 10 percent of every school you go to. You should want to, if you want to maintain that edge over your peers. Those are the things you have to go after.”
It became very clear to the noncommissioned officers assembled during the first Noncommissioned Officer Solarium 2015 Outbrief session at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., which key Army topic of the seven discussed was the most critical to Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. If physical fitness benchmarks continue on the current path where 40 percent of Soldiers are overweight and body fat standards are too lenient, it will pose a severe detriment to Army readiness, and the Army and nation will suffer for it, Dailey said.
The Sergeant Major of the Army urged about 80 participating noncommissioned officers May 1 during the event at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Combined Arms Center to take accountability for their physical fitness and set the example for their Soldiers.
“You don’t get good physical fitness unless you do physical fitness,” Dailey said. “[I say] good for you if you have the guilt for not doing [physical training]. Let that run on your brain all day long. I hope it eats you apart if you did not do physical fitness this morning. Hopefully that in turn will drive you to do it tomorrow.”
Call for excellence
Dailey, Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr., TRADOC command sergeant major; Command Sgt. Maj. David O. Turnbull, Combined Arms Center command sergeant major; and Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Eger, Mission Command Center of Excellence sergeant major, heard from a focus group of NCOs who suggested that the Army needs a better tool to assess physical readiness training (PRT) instead of the “outdated” Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT).
“There are units and posts out there conducting different types of physical training such as CrossFit and P90X. … They have not bought into what the Army standard is,” said 1st Sgt. Jason M. Lambert, combat engineer 1st sergeant with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 6th Engineer Battalion.
Lambert was the speaker for the physical fitness group. For the Solarium, NCOs were divided into seven work groups. Each group was asked to present their recommendations to the Sergeant Major of the Army on the seven most problematic issues facing today’s Army. The other key topics were talent management, education, culture, training, vision/branding and practicing mission command.
“Our recommendation is to modify the APFT to be more realistic and have it revolve around PRT concepts,” Lambert said.
TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr. acknowledged that the APFT does not match the doctrine on physical fitness.
“Why is everybody doing P90X and Cross Fit? Because they’re training to max the PT test; it’s not about their unit mission,” Davenport said. “If you talk to [Soldiers] about Afghanistan, they think stamina is important. It’s not about how many push-ups you can do. We have got to figure out how we’re going to assess overall fitness. … Fitness is tied to everything we do in our Army.”
Priorities and the mission
Solarium discussions frequently crossed over into several key topics as the NCOs in focus groups presented their recommendations. First Sgt. Robert V. Craft Jr., mechanical maintenance 1st sergeant with 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, discussed consequences for Soldiers who fail the APFT.
“My group came to a consensus that we have begun to accept substandard performance in order to make numbers for mission,” Craft said. “[If Soldiers are being retained] in order to be able to accomplish our missions, it basically leads the average Soldier to believe that PT isn’t important and shape isn’t important. The only thing that matters is the mission.
“At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility as NCOs, bottom line, but the problem arises when we as NCOs do our part [to begin the separation of a Soldier], [and then a commander says] to retain that Soldier and fix it,” Craft said. “I can’t fix a Soldier if the Soldier has quit. I can do more with less if I didn’t have to worry about that bottom 10 percent.”
Noncommissioned officers in the group that focused on talent management noted that the Army needs to improve how select personnel are identified for broadening assignments, such as recruiters and drill sergeants.
“We’ve recently been embarrassed in the media by recruiters having improper relations with recruits; also a sexual assault response coordinator who embarrassed his organization by his actions in Texas,” said Master Sgt. Danny Ibarra, a secretary of general staff for 21st Theater Sustainment Command Operations and Support. “We need to screen [for those positions] a little bit better. There currently isn’t a standardized selection process, and the command sergeant major’s involvement is key.
“Having the command sergeant major vet and interview these personnel could help stop putting these people in the wrong assignments,” Ibarra and his group said.
Dailey said talent management in the Army is under review and that changes to the process are being considered.
“I think that we have to put talent management in the hands of every leader throughout every organization,” the sergeant major of the Army said. “It was once described to me as not about managing the top 10 percent [of Soldiers]. That’s real easy. The challenge is what do you do with the bottom 40 [percent of Soldiers].
“Everybody’s fighting for that quality individual, and there’s not enough [of them] to go around,” he said.
NCOs also discussed the successes and failures of Army branding campaigns and whether or not they identified personally with any of them. NCOs in the focus group on branding said the current campaign, “Army Strong,” does not resonate with them.
“We feel that we need something that speaks more as far as who we are, what we are and why we do it,” said Sgt. 1st Class Cornelius Cowart, operations NCO for 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. “We need something that’s a little more timeless. For instance, a lot of us in here can relate, even 20 years later, to ‘Be All You Can Be.’ It still speaks to our veterans, active-duty Soldiers and even some of our younger Soldiers.”
The sergeant major of the Army agreed with Cowart and his group about the timeless appeal of “Be All You Can Be”. However, Dailey urged NCOs to consider the message they convey to the public as walking “billboards” for the Army.
“Every Soldier is a billboard; we’re all billboards, and there actually are enough of us to make a difference nationally,” he said. “You can control what your own billboard says. It’s a big old billboard, and it’s going to get more attention than the one that’s on the side of the road.”
Dailey spoke of the new transition assistance program called Soldier For Life, which prepares service members for post-Army life by ensuring that he or she has all of the necessary tools, opportunities and counseling.
“Here is our problem as I see it ─ the Marine Corps is very good at what they do,” Dailey said. “You can chapter out of the Marine Corps, and you are a Marine for life. A Soldier can retire out of the Army, get paid benefits for the rest of his life and still talk bad about the Army.”
Dailey thanked the NCOs for their work during the Solarium and said the discussions generated will have a profound impact on what he will advise the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Secretary of the Army. Dailey said the Solarium was not just an exercise, but an event that must be done on a regular basis.
“We [in senior leadership] sometimes lose touch; this is our way of getting back in touch with reality,” he said. “You NCOs are the representation of just that. This is a reality of what is going on across our Army … because you are at the heart of where organizational leadership begins.”
The official magazine of noncommissioned officer professional development