Soldiers competing in Army Medicine Central Region's Best Warrior contest had a gut-wrenching dose of reality during the competition's physical fitness testing, which incorporated the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). Their consensus: It's brutal--a battle of stamina, endurance and strength.

"It's a real physical and mental challenge, but it's also motivating," said Sgt. Aaron Angulo, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, who earned the title of Noncommissioned Officer of the Year (NCO) and will represent the Central Region during Army Medicine's Best Warrior competition that will be held May 29-June 1 at Fort Jackson, S.C.

The new 6-part ACFT incorporates functional fitness exercises such as dead lifts, pull-ups, sprinting, power throws and other exercises to mimic battlefield tasks such as extracting casualties, pulling vehicles, lifting heavy equipment boxes, jumping across and over obstacles and reacting quickly to direct and indirect fire.

According to the Army's official website for the new test, the ACFT will "better connect fitness with combat readiness for all Soldiers" and will improve Soldier and unit readiness; transform the Army's fitness culture; reduce preventable injuries and attrition; and enhance mental toughness and stamina.

"It's more about technique as opposed to just brute strength," said Sgt. Kwanisha Jones, NCO of the Year, Weed Army Community Hospital, Fort Irwin, Calif.

Jones took the test during her hospital's competition and practiced for weeks, yet the test was still a battle for her and the other competitors.

"It's nothing like the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT)," she said. "Soldiers are going to have to train months in advance if they want to pass the test and score high."

Unlike the APFT that measures only cardiovascular and muscular endurance, the ACFT evaluates a Soldier's muscular strength, explosive power, coordination, flexibility, speed, agility and reaction time.

"It's definitely going to be a gut check for a lot of people because even if you think you're prepared, you're probably not," said Staff Sgt. Kristina Sorokoa, who helped grade the 26 Solders competing for the Best Warrior title during the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center-hosted competition, held April 8-12 at Fort Hood, Texas. "It's not all about fitness, but now more about readiness."

Sorokoa, who is CRDAMC's behavior health services senior NCO, recently took the test for ACFT Level Two Certification. Athletic and physically fit, she felt conquering the individual segments would be easy. Her confidence, though, quickly melted during the sprint, drag and carry phase when she had to drag a 90-pound sled 50 meters.

"After that drag, my legs felt like a new-born baby deer trying to get up for the first time. It was that grueling," she said, adding that the difficulty of each task is compounded because athletes must do the tasks in sequence without any breaks. "It does take you by surprise."

That event, which is the fourth segment in the new fitness test, also challenged competitor, Spec. Henry Gross, who earned the competition's Soldier of the Year (SOY) honors.

"It made my legs feel like they were on fire," said Gross, adrenalin driven and undaunted by the ACFT's rigorous, fast-paced execution.

The Army specialist, who represented Brooke Army Medical Center during the 5-day competition, thought the test overall was a vast improvement over the Army's current fitness tests.

"It certainly is more realistic of our soldiering skills," he said.

The test is a true predictor of how Soldiers will do in battle readiness, according to Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Martin, a master trainer with the 136th Regional Training Institute (RTI), Texas Army National Guard, Camp Mabry, who served as a field advisor during the fitness test.

"The ACFT can predict 80 percent of what a Soldier can do on the battlefield," said Martin, adding that the current physical fitness test is only a 40 percent predictor.

The new standards also are expected to reduce injuries.

"During the war, we had a bunch of injuries, not from enemy combatants, but from basic soldiering," he said, adding that muscle overuse and lower extremities injuries caused by pounding the pavement during the required run have long been a problem. "By training on the ACFT standards, Soldiers always will be ready to go to the battlefield."

Spec. Joshua Cardwell, SOY, Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, Fort Polk, La., agreed the test was an accurate evaluator of warrior tasks.

"It helped me understand my physical performance better and what I need to do to improve my soldiering skills," he said.

The competitors' spirit and enthusiasm during the grueling battle was a demonstration of strength and endurance, according to Cardwell's senior enlisted advisor representative, 1st Sgt. Norman Pickens.

"They have to really want this," said Pickens, who also is an ACFT level 2 instructor. "This test demands Soldiers reach down and get that grit to finish."

Sorokoa's advice to Soldiers when the new ACFT replaces the current physical fitness readiness test October 2020: Prepare now and practice warrior tasking battle drills.

"The purpose of this test is turning Soldiers into tactical athletes," she said, advising Soldiers to practice the whole assessment with their unit and to get with master trainers to ensure their technique is correct. "It's the little stuff that will make things not count. If you don't train, you aren't going to pass."