By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsDecember 28, 2018
Editor's Note: This and preceding articles are a first-person account of one man's attempt to get back to a healthier lifestyle after retiring from the U.S. Army in 2013.
At my first visit to the Fort Knox Army Wellness Center shortly before Thanksgiving last month, the center's lead health educator, Kelley Franz, told me they were working to make inroads with the various military units here to help Soldiers prepare for the upcoming Army Combat Fitness Test.
During my last visit a couple of weeks ago, Brent Newell gave me the best news he could have when he told me I had managed to lose over two pounds in the midst of the holidays. While there, I saw several Soldiers come in for assessments.
When I stopped by yesterday, Tina McDonald, the health promotion technician, and health educator Jarrod Smith were busy testing and assessing two observer-controller/trainers from 4409th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Cavalry Multifunctional Training Brigade.
One of the Soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Hugan was filling out paperwork at the front waiting area while McDonald was running Sgt. 1st Class August Nancino through the BOD POD. Both said they had been sent by unit leaders to undergo the testing.
McDonald said they have had an increase in visits recently from units. Apparently, the center staff's support efforts have been paying off.
"Lately, with the new PT requirements coming out, the units are trying to take that first line of defense as far as getting in here, seeing where their numbers are at because once we put those in force, it's going to be an awakening," said McDonald. "Where your traditional pushups, sit-ups and two-mile run were all stationary, now with the new PT requirements, you're going to have to literally execute all body movements."
Unlike the current APFT, which tests Soldiers in three events -- pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run -- the new combat fitness test, featured at www.army.mil/acft/, will feature six: the three-repetition maximum deadlift; standing power throw; hand-release pushup; sprint-drag-carry; leg tuck; and the two-mile run.
Smith said there is practical science behind every event with the intent of ensuring Soldiers are fit for combat duty.
"It's a vastly different PT test," said Smith. "Those three [events] didn't give us a good depiction of whether or not a Soldier was ready to be in combat because most of those things you're not going to be doing in combat. Whereas with the ACFT, every single one of those are applicable to what you would be doing."
Knowing where my health was when I retired in 2013, I was thinking about how fortunate I was to have served as long as I did. I blew out my back halfway into my second deployment to Iraq and had to be medevac'd out. After returning back home, I struggled to get back on my feet because you use your back, especially your lower back, to do just about everything related to combat.
However, I totally agreed with Smith that the test needed to be changed. I remembered finally getting the opportunity to go to Air Assault School while stationed in Hawaii in 1999. I had just scored a 322 on my APFT using the extended scale, so I considered myself extremely fit. 300 is max. On Zero Day at air assault, I didn't get the obstacle course. Granted, I had gotten sick with the flu but I figured, "Surely I can get through Zero Day." That's when I realized that the APFT wasn't an accurate depiction of fitness.
McDonald said that many female Soldiers lack upper body strength under current training standards, making their combat readiness difficult. She believed the new standards that some units are preparing soon to implement will help, even beyond the Army.
"It will make them increase their strength, and they can use this in life to better take care of themselves," McDonald said.
The Army is expected to start implementing the Combat Fitness Test sometime in 2020. As a result, some of the units on post are beginning to fill fitness expert positions to help them get ready for the new fitness standards.
Nancino, who plans to retire next year at around his 20-year mark, said he has experienced something similar to the new fitness test when he participated in a Marines Corps fitness test in 2010 and applauds the changes.
"We had to throw a grenade, run 35 meters, buddy carry, perform ammo can lifts and pull-ups -- a similar concept," said Nancino. "I like the Marine test because it was challenging. We even asked our commandant back then if we could modify our APFT to that standard. I guess somebody listened."
He said the only thing he doesn't agree with concerning the new fitness test is Soldiers still wearing a sports uniform with running shoes rather than a combat uniform and boots like the Marines do.
His sergeant major had a meeting with members of the unit a few weeks before and recommended getting assessments and training at Army Wellness Center to get the unit prepared for the future.
"They say knowledge is power, which I'm a firm believer of," said Nancino. "If I know where I stand, then I know where I can improve. This will play a big impact as far as the testing. As an organization, you'll know exactly where your individual Soldiers stand at before the actual training."
If you want more information about how the Army Wellness Center can help you increase your fitness and get healthy, call (502) 626-0408.