June 24, 2009
First Lieutenant Matthew Hoff delivers a frontline report on why military fitness tests are important and how they might be improved.
I write this from an iffy Internet connection in Iraq at Joint Security Station Loyalty. My vantage point as a U.S. Army Platoon Leader assigned to 5-73 Cavalry (Panther Recon) has caused me to wonder whether current PT tests might be improved to better measure what’s most important: the ability to perform strenuous physical tasks in combat situations.
Current tests don’t always pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. The feedback they provide to service members and their chains of command is not always as useful as it might be. It’s no secret that the basic tests are not designed to measure the fitness of the elites—or even the moderately fit. The tests are an attempt to ensure a minimum standard of fitness for all service members.
Service members must be fit enough to perform constant work for weeks on end interspersed with periods of exertion lasting from seconds to hours. But current tests don’t measure how well a soldier can perform a variety of non-standard physical tasks. These include lifting and carrying unusually shaped and unevenly distributed objects—usually under the weight of anywhere from 40 to 90 pounds of equipment.
What follows are some preliminary ideas about how the Army Physical Fitness Test might be improved. The proposal includes five tests, a 500-point base scale and the elimination of maximum scores. Elite performances could produce scores above 500. The format would also eliminate age and gender grading because gear weighs the same for everyone and the enemy doesn’t discriminate.