KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper engaged with Soldiers, Army Civilians and Families during a visit here Sept. 24, 2018. Esper visited to discuss where the Army is headed with new programs and policies, and to engage with and get feedback from Soldiers and Families at all levels.
Physical fitness was among the top areas of discussion during Esper's visit. Questions included inquiries into the upcoming rollout of the Army Combat Fitness Test, which is designed to better evaluate Soldiers' capabilities and physical fitness levels. One Soldier asked about the plan for Soldiers with profiles and if there will be alternate events for the ACFT.
"We have not yet pinpointed what we are going to do about alternate events," said Esper. "But I can tell you that the Army is currently working on, and testing out, how we will handle profiles, permanent and temporary."
Soldiers who attended the town hall or other events came away with a sense that the Army is trying to answer the questions that are still out there about the new test.
"The new test is great in a sense, it will better test Soldiers physical fitness," said Sgt. Hilton Toro, 21st Theater Sustainment Command. "But I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how profiles will factor in. Also, unless people are taught properly on how to complete the exercises, it could lead to more injuries."
Soldier readiness was another big topic discussed by Esper. Physical fitness and deployability of our Soldiers is key to the Army's future, he said.
"If we have Soldiers who are non-deployable that means someone else has to go in their place," he said. "These Soldiers going in place of others who are unable to deploy is unfair."
Soldiers' deployability can greatly impact mission capabilities for a unit.
"I think the Army needs to dig into profiles, both permanent and temporary," Toro said. "As a human resources technician I see the impact it has when someone is on profile and unable to deploy. Someone has to take their spot, or that spot gets left unfilled, which hurts the readiness of the Army and the units."
One suggestion Esper said the Army was looking into is adding a sports trainer, dietitian/nutritionist, and occupational therapist to each maneuver element to help Soldiers in physical training and to reduce the number of injuries and non-deployable Soldiers.
In addition to discussing fitness and readiness needs, Esper had the opportunity to participate in physical training with Soldiers from 212th Combat Support Hospital, 30th Medical Brigade. Esper said he enjoys getting to do PT with Soldiers everywhere he goes. After the PT session Esper talked with the Soldiers and fielded questions, stressing the importance of physical fitness and readiness.
Other topics were also discussed during the visit, including the idea of longer tours and less moving around. Esper discussed the pros and cons of moving but stressed that he has talked with many Soldiers about their desire to remain at their duty stations longer. Esper said he will have to take that back with him and see if and how the Army can implement a change towards longer duty tours.