Soldiers say Army has become soft by lowering physical fitness standards

Soldiers from the 11th Theater Aviation Command, 84th Training Command, and Army Reserve Careers Division conduct an Army Physical Fitness Test during a Best Warrior Competition on Fort Knox, Ky., March 30, 2015. (U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Jessica Hurst)

U.S. Army soldiers at the first-ever Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) Solarium said Tuesday that the Army has gone soft on military members who have failed their Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) too often and have called for stricter measures in enforcing standards.

According to Army.mil, about 80 NCOs from the Army were chosen and tasked during the NCO Solarium to come up with solutions to issues like education, training, culture, mission command, physical fitness and Army branding.  Each group was asked to brief the sergeant major of the Army on their findings and suggestions.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Ruiz, the spokesperson for the physical fitness group during the Solarium at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, said that by allowing soldiers to stay in the Army after repeatedly failing their APFT demeaned the ideal that physical fitness in the military is important.

“When soldiers end up being retained, we feel it is a detriment to the unit and other units, who see the soldier being retained,” said Ruiz.  “One of our recommendations is to remove the commander’s ability to decline a separation packet for APFT failures.”

1st Sgt. Robert Craft, Jr., another member of the physical fitness group, said he felt the Army might be accepting poor performers on the APFT as a way to retain manpower numbers.

“Over the last decade or so, we have begun to accept substandard performance in order to make numbers for missions,” he said.  “By retaining those soldiers, it basically leads to a consensus that physical training isn’t important, that being in shape isn’t important.”

Craft also felt that there should be stricter APFT standards for military members in leadership positions, such as first sergeants, commanders or platoon sergeants.  He added that there should be stricter standards for those going off to any Army professional military education school.

Last month, the Star Tribune reported on the findings of a group of retired military generals who stated that Minnesota kids were too fat, ate too poorly and didn’t get enough exercise to fight in today’s modern military.

In a report released as part of a nationwide effort, the generals found that 69 percent of Minnesota’s youth could not serve in the military.  For example, one out of ten of the youth would be disqualified because they suffer from asthma.  The report also pointed out that 40 percent of the state’s ninth graders received no physical education.

The report, which was titled “Too Fat, Too Frail, and Out-of-Breath to Fight,” pointed out that even though the U.S. military was reducing its presence in war zones, the National Guard and reservists needed to remain ready and physically fit for domestic missions.

In another article by CNN, Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet predicted that in five years the military would be unable to recruit enough qualified soldiers due to the obesity epidemic in the U.S.  “Obesity is becoming a national security issue,” he said.

“The obesity issue is the most troubling because the trend is going in the wrong direction,” Batschelet said.  “We think by 2020, only 2 in 10 recruits will qualify to join the Army.  It is a sad testament to who we area as a society right now.”

At the NCO Solarium, Sgt. 1st Class Erin L. Hicks said the physical fitness group recommended the creation of a “supreme authority” on military installations, who is able to educate soldiers on issues like nutrition and physical education.

She also noted that the master fitness trainer course is unit-funded and were taken from discretionary funds.  Because of these fiscal constraints, Hicks said, “not all commanders will be able to send NCOs to that critical course, bring them back and use them in their brigade or battalion.”

Hicks pointed out that educating soldiers on the importance of physical fitness and nutrition, as well as teaching them how to achieve goals in these areas, would be huge steps towards improving the current APFT passing rates.

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