Best medic winners named after grueling competition

NCO Journal report

Two medics representing the U.S. Army Special Operations Command were named the Army’s best medics after a grueling 72-hour competition at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Camp Bullis, Texas.

Staff Sgt. Noah Mitchell and Sgt. Derick Bosley from the 75th Ranger Regiment, representing the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, were named the winners of the Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Best Medic Competition during a ceremony Friday at the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston. Both Mitchell and Bosley are stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Staff Sgt. Noah Mitchell and Sgt. Derick Bosley of the 75th Ranger Regiment, representing the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, are the 2016 winners of the Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Best Medic Competition. Pictured from left are Maj. Gen. Brian Lein, commanding general for the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School, Mitchell, Bosley and Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald C. Ecker, command sergeant major for the U.S. Army Medical Command. (Photo courtesy of AMEDDC&S)
Staff Sgt. Noah Mitchell and Sgt. Derick Bosley of the 75th Ranger Regiment, representing the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, are the 2016 winners of the Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Best Medic Competition. Pictured from left are Maj. Gen. Brian Lein, commanding general for the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School, Mitchell, Bosley and Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald C. Ecker, command sergeant major for the U.S. Army Medical Command. (Photo courtesy of AMEDDC&S)

Second place went to Sgt. Matthew Evans and Sgt. Jarrod Sheets from the 10th Mountain Division, and third place went to Cpt. Jeremiah Beck and Sgt. Seyoung Lee from the 2nd Infantry Division. Awards were also presented for the top performing teams in different categories, including the best overall physical fitness score, medical skills score and marksmanship score.

The competition, hosted by Army Medical Command and conducted by AMEDDC&S, is designed to test Soldiers’ tactical medical proficiency, teamwork and leadership skills. The competing teams were graded in the areas of physical fitness – in addition to PT and combat water survival tests, they were required to walk up to 30 miles throughout the competition – tactical pistol and rifle marksmanship, land navigation and overall knowledge of medical, technical and tactical proficiencies.

Wesley P. Elliot of Army Medicine contributed to this report.
Header image courtesy of AMEDDC&S.

Retention program changes affect NCOs

By STAFF SGT. NATASHA STANNARD
U.S. Army

Career counselors are urging Army Soldiers to read the changes to the Army enlisted force retention program, re-class and initial entry requirements that took effect in 2016.

The changes not only ensure Soldiers are aligned into the fields best suited for them, but offer the most qualified Soldiers avenues for career advancement.

“The key is to re-enlist quality Soldiers to meet our purpose of fulfilling end strength to better posture the Army, maintain readiness and care for Soldiers,” said Sgt. Maj. Cielito Pascual-Jackson, Army Training and Doctrine Command career counselor.

“In order to meet that mission we need key people to understand the responsibilities in embracing and communicating this program.”

Enlisted force retention

The Army Directive, (AD 2016-19), will result in re-enlistment and career progression changes through three programs: the Bar to Continued Service Program, the Noncommissioned Officer Career Status Program and Retention Control Point System.

Bar to Continued Service Program

Formerly known as the Bar to Re-enlistment Program, all enlisted ranks in the active and Reserve components can be notified of punitive separation due to performance issues ranging from fitness ratings to professional development standards through the Bar to Continued Service Program.

According to Sgt.1st Class Pedro Leon, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Retention Operations Active component career counselor, Soldiers can now be barred to continue service at any rank even if they were indefinite or career Soldiers.

Soldiers who are under the current NCO Career Status Program will not be grandfathered into the previous program. The bar will be reviewed at periods of three and six months before separation procedures begin.

Some of the key areas Soldiers should focus on to prevent bar from continued service are (list not all-inclusive):

• Physical assessment standards.

• Staff sergeants with 36 months’ time in grade must graduate from the Advanced Leadership Course.

• Sergeant first class’ with 36 months’ time in grade must graduate from the Senior Leaders Course.

• NCOs with two or more years’ time in grade and more than 18 months until their established retention control point may be denied continued service under the Qualitative Service Program.

Career program and time in service retention changes

Under the new directive, the Indefinite Re-enlistment Program has changed to the NCO Career Status Program.

According to Leon, the program is similar in nature, but in an effort to align with the military’s new blended retirement system, the application date has been moved to a Soldier’s 12th year of service, rather than their 10th.

The directive also reduces retention control point levels, starting at the rank of staff sergeant, by reducing the number of years NCOs can continue to serve.

Every Soldier will have more than a year to plan their retirement as the implementation of the new control points will be staggered based on basic active service dates and rank:

Command sergeant major/sergeant major in nominative positions can stay past 30 years.

Re-class and initial entry changes

When Soldiers re-class or recruits enter the Army they will have to take an occupational physical assessment test that determines if they are able to handle the physical demands of various career fields.

According to Leon, the test will determine a Soldier’s or recruit’s fitness level, which will directly correlate with jobs available to them. Those who score in the highest level will have every specialty available, while those who score lower will have the jobs at or below their level available.

Soldiers or recruits preparing to take the test should practice the following exercises to ensure they meet their desired specialty requirements.

Standing long jump:

• Minimum: 120 centimeters.
• Standard: 140 centimeters.
• Maximum: 160 centimeters and above.

4.4 pound medicine ball seated power throw:

• Minimum: 350 centimeters.
• Standard: 400 centimeters.
• Maximum: 450 centimeters and above.

Interval aerobic run, similar to suicides at 20 meter timed intervals:

• Minimum: 36 shuttles.
• Standard: 40 shuttles.
• Maximum: 43 shuttles.

Deadlift:

• Minimum: 120 pounds.
• Standard: 140 pounds.
• Maximum: 160 pounds.

Another change to the re-class system is allowing female Soldiers into combat arms professions. Thus far approximately 140 female Soldiers have enlisted into combat arms.

For Leon, this means quality female NCOs must take the opportunity to step up as mentors to these new Soldiers by re-classing into a combat position.

“I tell any female Soldier that comes into my office for career counseling to re-class into a combat position,” Leon said. “It’s a huge development and promotion opportunity. When you’re in a board and they see that you have combat experience, even if it was just for four years and you went back to your original MOS, that’s huge.”

Soldiers seeking more information on these changes should contact their supervisors and unit career counselors.

“We’re a force alignment tool not a force reduction tool,” Leon said. “We’re here to re-enlist, qualify and transfer Soldiers.”

In order to best align Soldiers for their career path, supervisors and leaders must counsel their Soldiers on the new changes and professional development options and specialty paths available, Pascual-Jackson said.

“We are just facilitators, so when leaders don’t understand the purpose of the retention program for the Army or where they fit in, it’s a real problem,” Pascual-Jackson said. “It can cause confusion and unnecessary actions that could unnecessarily end a Soldier’s career.”

Pascual-Jackson stressed that the key steps in helping Soldiers are supporting, instilling, promoting, communicating and monitoring retention programs, implementing policies, evaluating personnel, providing resources and utilizing career counselors.

“Our line of effort and the mission of retention for the Army is readiness and end strength,” she said. “In order for us to meet our mission, we need leaders to understand their role, which is to embrace and communicate the retention program by instilling the importance to subordinate leaders.”

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.

TAFT NCOs take training out to sea in Panama

By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

The Panama Canal is one of the most important water channels in the world — for legitimate and illicit businesses. So even though the U.S. Army is a land force, its NCOs in Panama aren’t afraid to take their training to the water.

Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Faria Rodriguez is one of the Army’s rare 88L watercraft engineers. As a fluent Spanish speaker, he’s even more in demand to help the U.S. Southern Command fulfill its mission in Central and South America.

Faria Rodriguez left the Technical Assistance Field Team in Panama this summer, but he had been in the country almost three years.

He wouldn’t trade his time working with Panamanian security forces, he said.

Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Faria Rodriguez talks with Maj. Bernard Gardner, who led the U.S. Army Technical Assistance Field Team in Panama, during a brief tour of the Panama Canal. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Faria Rodriguez talks with Maj. Bernard Gardner, who led the U.S. Army Technical Assistance Field Team in Panama, during a brief tour of the Panama Canal. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

“I have learned a lot from these guys,” he said. “I’m a watercraft engineer so I’m an engine room guy. In the Army, we just have the logistical support vessels, LCUs (landing craft utilities). We don’t have special boat units in the Army, so I have to rely a lot on them, to learn from them.

“There are a few guys who are really experienced, and they’re really good at working on these vessels and operating them,” Faria Rodriguez continued. “The only thing I can do for them is what I know from the Army and from our vessels and running the parts rooms on our vessels — that’s what I can apply. Some things, they really take them.”

Conducting and tracking inventory is one lesson that has been a huge benefit to Panama’s Unidad Tactical de Operaciones Antidroga, which uses donated Boston Whaler vessels to patrol Panama’s coasts for narcotics and is known by its Spanish acronym, UTOA.

“They had parts that were donated to them, but an inventory was not conducted,” Faria Rodriugez said. “Everything is in English, too — all the labeling, everything. So they didn’t know. They were just opening boxes, ‘Oh, that’s not what I need.’ And then they’d open another box.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Dana Mason, the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, looks at an inventory list that Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Faria Rodriguez helped create for Panama's naval security forces. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Command Sgt. Maj. Dana Mason, the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, looks at an inventory list that Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Faria Rodriguez helped create for Panama’s naval security forces. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

That system made it difficult to keep track of what parts UTOA had and where to find them, adding significant time to routine maintenance and repairs.

Faria Rodriguez used his lessons from the Army to suggest another way.

First, he worked with an UTOA supply clerk to create a spreadsheet to track all the parts that came in and were stored.

Next, UTOA converted a large donated shipping container into a sort of warehouse. All the boxes were labeled and numbered, then stacked neatly on the shelves with the labels and numbers facing out. The shelves were also labeled “A,” “B,” “C,” etc, so the location of each part could be included on the spreadsheet.

“We opened and we touched each part,” Faria Rodriguez said. “Now they know, the next time something breaks on the boat, they know that part.”

Faria Rodriguez and the UTOA supply clerk recently showed off the inventory work to Command Sgt. Maj. Dana Mason, the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command.

TAFTs are deployed by the U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization, a subordinate organization to USASAC. USASATMO currently has 38 TAFTSs and 43 teams in more than 20 countries around the world.

Mason was so impressed with the supply clerk’s diligence and pride in his work that he presented him with a coin right after the tour of the warehouse.

Faria Rodriguez and the TAFT’s maintenance NCO, Sgt. 1st Class Leobardo Nuno, were about to build on that inventory work as they created the budget request for the new fiscal year.

“We have to compile all the lists they have and put it in the format that SOUTHCOM wants,” Faria Rodriguez said. “It has to be in English, too. Part names, part numbers, unit price, quantity and then total amount. … Things like that are what Sgt. 1st Class Nuno and I primarily do, because I cannot train them on Boston Whalers. Again, in the Army, we don’t have them. So I’m facilitating that and advising them on parts rooms and little things I try to do with them.”

Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Faria Rodriguez talks with an UTOA official as Command Sgt. Maj. Dana Mason looks on. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Faria Rodriguez talks with an UTOA official as Command Sgt. Maj. Dana Mason looks on. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

Faria Rodriguez may not be expert at using the Boston Whalers, but he does help coordinate the training UTOA does to use them. Company representatives visit the area about two weeks a year to train the security forces. Faria Rodriguez has worked to supplement those formal sessions with on-the-job training and by encouraging train-the-trainer programs.

“It is good training, but you have to consider it’s only two weeks, and we still have to deal with all the issues that come up,” Faria Rodriguez said about such challenges as personnel, scheduling, providing food, etc. “Two weeks is not enough. You get your certificate, but don’t think that you can put your hands on at these stages. Consider that to be the base.

“They have personnel who are really, really knowledgeable,” Faria Rodriguez said of UTOA, but he would like to see those experts conducting more training themselves.

Mason, who took a quick trip through the Panama Canal in one of UTOA’s Boston Whalers after checking out the new inventory system, was impressed with the work of the TAFT and the progress of the Panamanians.

“It took us 230-plus years to get where we are as an Army. We’ve been dealing with these guys maybe 20 years, if that? Not that long, …” he said. “We have to be happy with the small things that we do to help these guys get better. They’re out there doing great, and it’s an important mission down here. We want these guys to be well-trained.”

Whether on land or by sea, the NCOs of TAFT Panama are making sure they are.

 

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.

The official magazine of noncommissioned officer professional development