FORT JACKSON, S.C. – Could you pass the Army’s fitness tests? Most of us might have been able to when it just involved sit-ups, push-ups and a two-mile run – but the Army has just beefed up its fitness requirements for the first time in 30 years – and the new tests are challenging to say the least.
In an effort to make the physical training more like combat, the new annual “combat readiness” test will include soldiers running 400 meters — about a quarter of a mile — with a rifle, moving through an obstacle course in full combat gear, and crawling and vaulting over obstacles while aiming a rifle. Soldiers also will have to run on a balance beam while carrying 30-pound ammo boxes and do an agility sprint around a course field of cones.
And that’s just the beginning.
Soldiers also will have to drag sleds weighted with sandbags to test their ability to pull a fallen comrade from the battlefield. The combat test might be given before deployments as well as annually, but that has not been decided.
Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the general in charge of the Army's initial military training, said the current test "does not adequately measure components of strength, endurance, or mobility," or predict how well a soldier would do under fire.
Soldiers who ran the proposed "combat readiness" portion of the test Tuesday told reporters the exercises were tough, even for combat veterans.
Wearing a battle helmet and carrying a rifle, Staff Sgt. Timothy Shoenfelt teetered as he trod the balance beam, holding ammo tins in each hand. His pace slowed a bit as he dragged the green sled behind him, then held his M-4 steady as he strode sideways through the "point-move-aim" portion of the test.
"My quads are on fire!" the 31-year-old from Indiana, Pa., said afterward. "It really made me breathe hard and challenged a lot of muscle groups."
Wheeled vehicle mechanic and Sgt. 1st Class Cornelius Trammell, 33, of Eufaula, Ala., said it will be important for all soldiers to go through tests, even if their jobs are behind desks. He laughed when reporters commented on his sweaty face.
"You never know when you might need it, whether you are in the infantry or if you're a mechanic," said Trammell, who's been deployed three times.
The tests will be given to all soldiers and officers, including Army Reserves and National Guard, even those recalled soldiers who are now over 60, officials said. Specific gender and age standards are still being worked out, said Frank Palkoska, the head of the Army's Fitness School at Fort Jackson.
The shift follows other Army efforts to overhaul training, improve diets and help older soldiers keep fit. Hertling said the Army is trying to better prepare soldiers for the 40 to 70 pounds of weapons and body armor many of them need to carry in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Soldiers like to be challenged. This will definitely challenge them," Hertling said.
The Army also is hoping to reduce injuries — both in the field and from repetitive exercises.
"This is about training smarter, not just training more," Hertling said.
Besides Fort Jackson, the program will be tested at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and at the Army's military academy at West Point.
The new tests are expected to be implemented nationwide by August.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.