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Posted on Nov 3, 2019 Print this Article

New Army Combat Fitness Test: 84% of Women Fail

In December 2015, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter overturned policy and authorized women to serve in direct ground combat (infantry) units.  These are the fighting teams that attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action – missions beyond the experience of being “in harm’s way.”

Four years out, how is the military’s unprecedented social experiment working? 

Women are serving with courage as they always have.  But in two major categories – unequal physical capabilities and sexual misconduct – signs of a failing social experiment are increasingly obvious. 

During the Obama Administration, Pentagon officials bought into false promises of a “gender-free” military.  Men and women would be equally capable, immune to sexual attractions, and interchangeable in physically challenging missions.  Instead of this fantasy, the caisson’s wheels are starting to fall off. 

This is not surprising, since Defense Secretary Carter ignored abundant evidence that treating women like men in the combat arms would increase injuries and weaken mission readiness.  At least a dozen major studies warned of serious problems before the social experiment began, and in 2012, the Marine Corps initiated a three-year scientific research project to produce definitive facts. [1]

Among other things, Marine proxy tests with hundreds of volunteers confirmed significant physical differences in weight-lifting exercises simulating heavy armor or artillery rounds.  Most men could lift progressively heavy barbells above their heads, but 92% of female participants could not accomplish the “clean & press” with a 115 lb. weight. [2]

Injury rates for enlisted women in infantry training were two-to-six times higher than for men.  And on the Marines’ tough Infantry Officer Course (IOC) at Quantico, VA, only two out of more than thirty female officers passed – after adjustments were made in scoring requirements. [3]

Thirty Army women reportedly have made it through Ranger School at Fort Benning, GA, since 2015, but it is not clear whether any have qualified for the elite 75th Ranger Regiment.  Thanks to a new book titled Stand Down: How Social Justice Warriors are Sabotaging America’s Military now we know that the first two women to graduate from Ranger school received special treatment and concessions to ensure their highly publicized success. [4]

Author James Hasson, a Ranger-trained Iraq veteran, interviewed confidential first-hand sources who revealed that the female trainees were forgiven major errors that would have caused men to be dropped from the course.  Contemporaneous records published in Hasson’s book Stand Down showed that one of the women received a passing grade even though she had lost track of one of her soldiers while on patrol, forcing officials to terminate the entire mission. [5]

Army officials and liberal media nevertheless hailed the women’s graduation from Ranger School as “proof” that female soldiers were ready for the infantry.  The Army’s media event effectively trumped three years of scientific Marine Corps research and field tests proving otherwise. [6]

For nine months in 2014 and 2015, the Marines hired experts from the University of Pittsburgh to monitor definitive field exercises simulated direct ground combat infantry, armor, and artillery tasks. The unprecedented tests took place at a rugged west-coast base with several hundred average male Marines and highly qualified women who had already been through enlisted infantry training. [7]

Instead of proving gender equality, the scientific field tests showed that all-male units outperformed the gender-mixed teams 69% of the time.  This was one of many major findings that caused then-Commandant General Joseph Dunford to exercise his option to ask that infantry and some Special Operations Forces remain all-male.

But facts and empirical data did not matter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Defense Secretary Carter.  Both officials dismissively rejected Gen. Dunford’s Memorandum requesting exceptions – key parts of which are still being withheld from public view. [8]

Diversity as a Strategic Imperative

During the administration of President Barack Obama, the priority goal was demographic “gender diversity” in the combat arms, including the infantry and Special Operations Forces, regardless of the consequences.  This position followed frequently quoted recommendations of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC).

In its 2011 report, the mostly civilian academic panel admitted that percentage-based demographic metrics (meaning quotas) were not the same as non-discrimination, treating everyone the same, or recognition of individual merit. [9]

Disregarding reality-based data, Defense Secretary Carter put gender diversity first.  Reneging on the promise that justifiable exceptions would be allowed, Carter ordered all branches of the service to assign minimally qualified women to combat arms units, including the infantry, on the same involuntary basis as men. [10]

Surveys showed that most military women were opposed to this policy change, but they had no say in it.  Accountability belongs to former and current Pentagon officials who keep doubling down on policies known to hurt women and weaken our military.

New Army Combat Fitness Test Exposes Gender-Neutral Myths

Shortly after Secretary Carter issued his co-ed combat marching orders, all branches of the service promised to implement “gender neutral standards” in training.  The reasonable-sounding phrase suggests equal, identical standard – a concept that would allow only the strongest female candidates to enter the combat arms.

At the same time, however, Pentagon leaders pushed for gender quotas of 25% - 30% women and 10% in the Marine Corps. [11]  Pressures to achieve demographic, percentage-based “gender diversity metrics” make “gender neutral” standards impossible.

Due to unchanging differences in male/female physical capabilities, gender neutral standards can only be achieved if requirements and scores are made “equal” but lower than before.  This happens without public notice and everyone pretends that nothing has changed.

As the MLDC report recommended, recruiters and promotable officers face career penalties if they don’t meet gender diversity goals, which were proclaimed as “a strategic imperative,” potential failure in battle has become a more acceptable option than failure to meet the metrics. [12]

All of this was presaged in January 2013 when then-Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey suggested that standards perceived to be too high would be questioned, omitted, scored differently, or adjusted to levels that promote gender diversity as the highest priority. [13]

This concept, which CMR dubbed the “Dempsey Rule,” likely will play out as Army officials fully implement their new gender-neutral Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) in the next twelve months.

Gender Neutral Fiasco

According to unofficial Army Combat Fitness Test pass/fail records of 3,206 soldiers in 11 battalions, 84% of female trainees and 30% of male trainees failed the six-event Army test.

Physical fitness tests shouldn’t be easy enough for everyone to pass, but some experts have described the alarming gender-neutral combat fitness test results as a “fiasco” that clearly sets up women to fail. [14]

An infantry veteran of Iraq, commenting on the AFCT, said he was not surprised by the 84% female failure rate. “If the Army was trying to devise a way to chapter out almost all of its women for failing their PT test, this would be the way to go.”

He also wondered whether recently retired Command Sergeant Major Dan Dailey, who helped to design the new AFCT, was a closet “egalitarian sexist.”  The phrase refers to a significant cohort of men who were identified in surveys done for the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. [15]

Egalitarian sexists, also known as “hostile proponents,” fully support women in the infantry so that combat violence will “teach them a lesson” and make them want to leave.  Resentful egalitarian sexists still exist – their comments often appear following online polls and articles discussing women in combat.

“Diversity” and “Equality” Are Not the Same

The new Army Combat Fitness Test, designed to replace the less complicated Physical Fitness Test (PFT), was controversial from the start. [16] The six-event ACFT includes backwards power throws of a 10 lb. medicine ball, timed running, and arm-extension pushups with short breaks in between.  The ACFT also uses heavy equipment to evaluate sprint-drag-and-carry casualty simulations and hex-bar dead-lifts of weights between 120 and 340 lbs.

The toughest ACFT event, especially for women, tests upper body and core strength when participants hang from a bar and perform “leg tucks” up to their elbows.  Three-tiered scoring systems with different minimum point requirements measure physical capabilities at levels labeled “moderate” (Gold), “significant” (Gray) or “heavy” (Black). [17]

The “age-neutral” test also eliminates age-related allowances for older servicemen and women who are likely to find the test unnecessarily difficult.  One observer wondered why this is necessary: “I can’t imagine 45-50-year-old colonels at the Pentagon to wheezing their way through this test any more than overweight recruits that increasingly populate our Army.”

Another retired Army leader who had commanded at the infantry company to brigade level for more than 8 years believes that the age and sex-neutral issues of the ACFT are “huge.”  In an email to CMR, he added,

“The Army is not displaying good judgment, sound logic, or maturity in the implementation of the ACFT.  Why does the 60-year old Army Chief of Staff need to have the same standards on the ACFT as a 23-year old Staff Sergeant in a rifle squad of the 82nd Airborne Division?  He doesn't.  He has no need to be at the same level of fitness.  Even more ridiculous is the following comparison.  Why does a 22-year old male team leader in an infantry rifle squad at Ft Lewis have the same standards on the ACFT as an 18-year old female X-Ray technician at Martin Army Hospital at Ft Benning?  If we have to send her to combat, we have bigger problems than the ACFT.  The enemy is at the gates and the Republic is threatened, but if she fails the test and the Army finds it necessary to send her home, a valuable resource will be wasted.”

Officials have yet to determine how tests will be administered to new mothers six months after giving birth.  Nor have they explained whether ACFT performances will be scored according to military occupational specialty or unit type. [18]

This matters because infantrymen would fall into the “heavy” category, but so might everyone who performs support roles in infantry battalions and brigades.  Holding all personnel to infantry-grade standards in a “heavy” unit would disadvantage female soldiers or Marines who would find themselves rated low instead of high in their occupational specialty.

Then-Brig. Gen. George W. Smith, Jr., who Directed the USMC Force Innovation Office during its three-year research project, expressed concern about the loss of outstanding women Marines due to a “competitive disadvantage relative to their male peers.”  The situation, he wrote, may adversely impact the Marine Corps’ ability to retain top female talent and enable their progression into more senior ranks. . .  This would be a tremendous loss for the Corps.” [19]

“Gender-normed” standards to accommodate physical differences between men and women make sense in basic training, but not in advanced training for the combat arms.  There is no “gender-norming” on the battlefield, where women do not have an equal opportunity to survive, or to help fellow soldiers survive.

During aggressive ground combat operations, infantry soldiers, Marines, and Special Operations Forces routinely carry 100 pounds or more on their backs for many miles.  This “job description” makes gender-neutral standards unworkable when gender diversity quotas also must be met.

Army officials have downplayed the high female failure rate on the ACFT, noting that the test is still new, and results will not be recorded officially until October 2020.  This posture won’t deter the inevitable: more female injuries, less-demanding training for men, and overall standards that are “equal” but lower than before.

Instead of reconsidering beliefs about gender equality that are inconsistent with reality, the Army has dug itself into a “gender-neutral” hole and it keeps on digging.

Equality, Equipment, and the British Royal Marines

Potential adversaries of the United States, such as China, North Korea, Iran, or ISIS in the Middle East do not bother with gender diversity agendas, but one of our key allies, the United Kingdom, does.

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) used to re-assess women in combat policies every eight years, each time recognizing that physical differences between male and female soldiers would create unresolvable problems in the combat arms. [20]

This changed in 2015 after the Obama Administration accepted the pre-determined Ranger School graduation of two women as justification for changing the rules affecting all women.  The British Ministry of Defence, unfortunately, followed America’s lead.

They seem to have forgotten that in 2013, female Royal Air Force recruits were awarded 100,000£ after suffering pelvic fractures caused by marching in step with taller male colleagues during basic training.  Now the London Daily Mail has reported that female Army recruits are suffering career-threatening injuries from wearing combat gear designed for men. [21]

The high-tech $79 million Virtus battle equipment system uses man-sized rucksacks and webbing pouches for carrying ammunition around the waist.  According to British scientists, Virtus packs are causing female recruits to endure agonizing problems in their legs and hips, which are naturally wider than men’s.

A super-fit female recruit recently tried to complete the grueling 32-week course required to earn the coveted green beret of the Royal Marines.  The spirited recruit shaved her head and tried hard, but she suffered stress fractures and collapsed during a march carrying the Virtus pack and a rifle.

Given previous research and tests, no one should be surprised or critical of the British soldier or the high-tech combat equipment.  Blame belongs to Ministry of Defence officials who changed the rules against their own better judgment.

If the United States restores common sense in training programs, the British and other allies likely will follow America’s lead.  Social problems, however, won’t end there.

Escalating Sexual Assaults and Misconduct

For decades, “social justice warriors” (SJWs) and high-level Pentagon officials promised that close combat assignments for women would increase respect for women and reduce sexual assaults.  Military women are respected more than ever, but according to official Defense Department reports, rates of sexual assault and misconduct have gotten progressively worse.

The Center for Military Readiness recently analyzed over ten years of annual reports produced by the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Office (SAPRO).  These voluminous reports show that sexual assault cases have increased by 146% since 2007. [22]

In 2018, there were over 6,000 completed service member assault cases – not estimates based on surveys – a 15% increase in only one year.  The Pentagon’s failure to stop or reduce these crimes is a disgrace.

It is also worth noting that sexual assaults on male servicemembers have tripled from 6% in 2007 to more than 18% in 2018.  Unsubstantiated allegations of sexual assault, which are extremely divisive, also occur in one of four cases considered by investigative authorities. [23]

On the other end of the sexual misconduct spectrum, voluntary personal relationships, which weaken discipline and unit cohesion, occur frequently in the gender-integrated military.  On a regular basis, high-profile firings of flag or general officers and senior enlisted due to “inappropriate relationships” have caused disruptions on military bases and Navy ships sailing worldwide.

Despite millions of dollars and countless hours devoted to sensitivity training, teal-ribboned “awareness” events, and other band-aid tactics, problems of sexual misconduct keep soaring with no end in sight.

Time for A Change

The following data points and more suggest that the Department of Defense should drop gender diversity quotas and restore commonsense assignment policies that reflect reality and promote discipline, morale, and mission readiness, not “gender diversity” as the highest priority:

  • The army needs 5,000 more junior enlisted infantrymen by next Spring.  With that occupation specialty manned at roughly 79% of its goal, officials are offering recruits up to $40,000 to join and up to $72,000 to soldiers who reclassify. [24]
  • The Washington Examiner quoted preventative medicine researcher Dr. Bruce Jones, speaking at the 2019 Conference of the Association of the U. S. Army, who warned that musculoskeletal training injuries are the “number one medical threat to readiness.” [25]
  • A Marine Corps briefing for the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) reported that female recruits between 2011 and 2014 dropped out of boot camp at rates twice as high as men.  (Average 13.32 vs .6.45) [26]
  • In addition, a 2014 AP survey found that less than 8% of military women surveyed wanted to serve in combat arms units such as the infantry. [27]

It makes no sense for recruiters to devote more time and money recruiting “gender diverse” trainees who are more likely to be injured, less likely to want infantry assignments, and less likely to remain through basic training or physically-demanding combat arms assignments for twenty years or more.

Shortages in the ranks of infantry could be more easily filled by dropping percentage-based diversity quotas and looking for recruits among the people (men) who are most likely to meet standards, succeed in battle, and stay for a full career.  The Army has gotten itself into a deep hole and it ought to stop digging.

Women in Combat vs. Readiness

Four years after the grand women in the infantry experiment began, the Trump Administration should reexamine ideological goals and consider taking up the challenge stated by James Hasson in his book Stand Down:

“The time to roll back the misguided Obama-era “reforms” to the military is now . . . President Trump, as Washington pundits love to say, is a ‘disruptive’ president, one willing to buck trends, reject conventional thinking, and make controversial changes.” [28]

Constructive change will require new presidential orders to high-level officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.  Leadership is especially needed because General Milley, in his previous role as Chief of Staff of the Army, was responsible for implementation of deeply flawed social policies during the Obama Administration.

Dual-track problems with physical inequality and sexual misconduct are not getting any better.  Instead of doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results, all military officials should drop the “gender diversity” agenda and restore sound priorities that put mission readiness and combat lethality first.

[1] CMR Interim Report, Part I, U.S. Marine Corps Research Findings: Where is the Case for Co-Ed Ground Combat? October 2014, Exhibit B.

[2] Ibid, pp. 1-4.

[6] Dan Lamothe, Washington Post, These are the Army’s First Female Ranger School Graduates, Aug. 18, 2015.

[7] CMR Interim Report, Part II, U.S. Marine Corps Research Findings: Where is the Case for Co-Ed Combat? December 2015 (Note Sections A & B)

[8] Memorandum for the Secretary of the Navy from General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps, Subject: United States Marine Corps Assessment of Women in Service Assignments, Recommendations for the Secretary of the Navy, 17 Sept. 2015.  This document, which author James Hasson obtained by means of a FOIA request, omits key passages and some Enclosures referenced in the text.  CMR has filed FOIAs and requests to obtain the full, unredacted document, but governmental officials known to have the document, including the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, have refused to disclose it.

[9] Military Leadership Diversity Commission report: From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership for the 21st Century, p. 18. 

[11] Derrick Perkins, Marine Corps Times, Mabus: 1 in 4 Marine Recruits Should be Women, May 26, 2015.  The Air Force and Army called for similar quotas, Admiral Says Navy’s Goal is 25% Women in Each Ship, Squadron, Stars & Stripes, May 15, 2015, and Stephen Losey, Air Force Times, Air Force Secretary’s Diversity Plan Will Mean Quotas, Critics Say, Aug. 7, 2017.

[12] MLDC Report, supra, pp. xv thru xviii and p. 8.  Also, CNO Calls Diversity a Strategic Imperative, Jun. 30, 2006.  In October 2007 Adm. Mullen was promoted to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[15] Transcript of testimony before the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, Dr. Charles Moskos and Laura Miller, 1992 Survey of Army Women, Sept. 10, 2019.  Ms. Miller reported that male officers surveyed were the “least gung ho to have women compelled to combat roles,” but she added that the survey also found “[What] we call an egalitarian sexist.  Those are men who, in a very resentful, hostile way, say women should be in combat.  They’ll agree, but then they’ll say, ‘Well, that’s to shut those women up,’ or ‘Then they’ll get killed and we won’t have to hear from them anymore.’  Northwestern University Prof. Moskos, a member of the Presidential Commission, added, “[T]here is a significant faction, which we’re going to try to tease out through other [survey] questions, who are really what we are calling these egalitarian sexists, which ‘Let them in so they’ll fall flat on their face.’ ”

[16] Matthew Cox, Army Unveils Major Changes to New Combat Fitness Test, Sept. 27, 2019.

[17] Meghan Myers, Army Times, Here’s an Early Draft of the Army’s New Fitness Test Standards, Aug. 7, 2018.  Also See Army Scoring Tables, ACFT which are subject to change.  In 2020 the ACFT minimum requirement for the strength deadlift at the Black level will be 200 pounds (up from 180) and 180 pounds in Gray (up from 160). 

[19] Brig. Gen. George W. Smith, Jr., Memorandum for the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Subject: U.S. Marine Corps Assessment of Women in Service Assignments, Aug. 18, 2015, p. 7.  

[24] Matthew Cox, Task & Purpose: Army Now Offering Recruits Up to $40,000 to Join the Infantry, July 5, 2015, and Kyle Rempfer, Army Times, The Army Needs Thousands More Infantrymen by Spring, July 29, 2019.

[26] USMC Response to DACOWITS Request for Information (RFI A4) Dec. 4, 2014, p. 4.

[27] AP/USA Today: Few Army Women Want Combat Jobs, Feb. 25, 2014.

[28] Ibid, p. 171.

Posted on Nov 3, 2019 Print this Article