FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Earlier this month, during a spell of gray, wet weather, big trucks rolling out of Decatur, Alabama, steered south to the red clay and pines of Fort Benning, hauling so large a quantity of fitness gear that it weighed more than a quarter-of-a-million pounds.
Pulling in here at various times on Jan. 16 and 17, the trucks brought in crateloads of weight-lifting sets, medicine balls and other fitness items Army units are required to use with the new physical fitness test the Army switches to this fall: the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT.
The ACFT becomes the Army's fitness test-of-record Oct. 1. It replaces the Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, which the Army has used since the 1980s.
The delivery totaled 355 crates, each packed with 720 pounds of ACFT equipment -- in all 255,600 pounds, or nearly 128 tons of ACFT equipment sets.
Some but not all units at Fort Benning had already received at least an initial quantity of ACFT equipment last year, officials said.
Units are eager to have their full supply so they can mount the most robust possible training effort to get Soldiers ready for the rules and rigors of the ACFT.
"Now, all units here have either their first quantity or are adding to what they already had, said Kimberly Adams, a logistics specialist with Fort Benning's G3 DPTMS Force Modernization office.
"The units can start using this equipment whenever they decide to use it," said Adams. "The sooner the better because you want to start implementing this and letting the Soldiers get on the equipment" so they'll be ready in time for the fall, she said.
Getting their Soldiers ready for ACFT is of high importance to unit leaders at Fort Benning, which is home to the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence.
MCoE is the seat of the Army's Infantry and Armor branches, and also operates the schools that train paratroopers, Rangers, snipers and others. In addition, it includes units whose drill sergeants train new recruits to become Soldiers in the Infantry and Armor, the two branches that comprise the Army's maneuver force.
The delivery to Fort Benning this month comes as the Army is in the process of fielding more than 36,000 ACFT equipment sets Army-wide to nearly 1,200 locations between now and May 15, said Adams. The gear will be used by more than 1 million Soldiers, including active duty troops and those in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.
The Army not only shipped enough to equip all active duty units at Fort Benning this month, said Adams, but it also provided sets for the Army National Guard's Warrior Training Center here, she said. And it included sets for the Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at three area universities: Auburn University in Alabama, and Columbus State University and Fort Valley State University, both in Georgia.
The six events of the ACFT are: three-repetition maximum deadlift, standing power throw, hand-release pushup, sprint-drag-carry, leg tuck, and two-mile run.
The loading list for each ACFT equipment set calls for: one 10-pound medicine ball, one 40-pound set of kettle bells, one 60-pound hexagon barbell, one pair of barbell collars, bumper plates for weight lifting: four 10-pound plates, two 15-pound plates, two 25-pound plates, two 35-pounds plates, and eight 45-pound plates, one reel of 30 mm measuring tape, and one nylon sled with pull strap. The sled is for the ACFT's sprint-drag-carry event.
"Obviously, we need to have the equipment to conduct the test -- it's a requirement," said Sgt. 1st Class Dylan Brown, senior drill sergeant with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, part of MCoE's 198th Infantry Brigade. The brigade runs the 22-week Infantry One-Station Unit Training, or OSUT, training Soldiers for service as infantrymen.
There's high demand for ACFT equipment in 2nd Battalion, where companies schedule strength training at a minimum of two or three times a week," Brown said.
"Let's say you only have one set of equipment and you've got five companies that are in the cycle," he said. "There's a lot of synchronization that needs to occur, and a lot of deconflicting."
So this month's shipment from the Army is a welcome event.
"Now," said Brown, it eases some of that stress, because now you have more resources, less friction in planning your training leading up to that test.
"But you not only have the equipment available when it's test time," he said. "Now, there's more opportunity to gain familiarization and actually train for the test."
The same holds for units within MCoE's 194th Armored Brigade, which trains Soldiers for the Armor branch.
With this month's big delivery, the brigade's 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, for example, doubled its supply of ACFT gear, said Maj. Jonah Martin, the battalion's operations officer.
Last year the battalion took delivery on one set of ACFT gear, enough to operate 16 testing lanes under the ACFT. But with five companies in the battalion, that limited them to only one ACFT event on a given morning.
That changes now that they've got a second ACFT set, Martin said.
"It will allow more companies to focus on training all the ACFT events simultaneously," he said.
"It can allow more Soldiers to train on a given event at a particular time."
Another Fort Benning unit that doubled its ACFT supply with this month's delivery is the 3rd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment, which as part of the 198th Infantry Brigade trains recruits to become Infantry Soldiers.
Like other units, the battalion's five companies will find it easier to schedule ACFT training, said its commander, Lt. Col. Patrick Flynn.
"That flexibility allows us a lot of freedom of maneuver," he said.
But that's not the only benefit.
"The other benefit is, this is the Army's newest fitness test, and we have the Army's newest Soldiers training in our organization," Flynn said.
So the additional ACFT gear gives them what they need to teach Soldiers the proper ways to perform the ACFT's required physical actions, he said.
But it also affords a chance to use the weights and other ACFT equipment to build Soldiers' strength and other physical attributes.
"Some come with a sports background, some don't come with a sports background," Flynn said of the troops the unit trains.
"So having the equipment allows us to establish a baseline with our trainee's strength training experience," Flynn said. "Because we can start them with the minimal resistance and build them up over the 22-week period that we have them."
That training for the ACFT helps the Army overall by sending well-conditioned new Soldiers to service in the maneuver force, he said.
"It all comes down to our ability to create a disciplined, physically fit and lethal Soldier for the force," Flynn said. "And with the introduction of the ACFT it focuses on that foundation of physical fitness that they can just continue to grow as they get out there and get stronger and better and faster."