The Army is looking to the International Association of Fire Fighters as it seeks to develop fitness tests to ensure women are ready for combat positions that will become available to them in 2016, according to a report by The Associated Press.
Just one job in five in the Army is considered a combat position and only about 8 percent of women soldiers are interested in them, but last year’s decision to open those spots to women has not been met with universal approval.
Concerns range a wide gamut. Some worry that standards will be raised to unrealistic levels to prevent women’s success; others worry that standards will be lowered to force women into roles for which they aren’t fit.
The Army’s standard physical fitness test includes pushups, situps, and a 2-mile run and grades women on a different scale than men. Pushups and pullups emphasize upper body strength and are seen to favor men over women.
But the International Association of Fire Fighters, which was sued by women denied jobs in 2002, worked to develop tests that reflect the actual tasks firefighters must do instead of repetitive exercises largely unrelated to their work.
Instead of pushups and pullups, candidates now demonstrate their fitness by climbing stairs wearing a 100-pound vest and dragging a 150-pound dummy after crawling through a maze.
It’s still a tough test, but one administered on a level field.
Concentrating on real-world tasks is one way the Army is testing new fitness standards.
A two-month study is underway at Fort Stewart, Ga. Last month, men and women alike trained and then drilled on physically demanding tasks like toting 65-pound missiles while wearing 70 pounds of body armor, scaling a wall and dragging a comrade to safety. This month they will perform the same operations wearing heart-rate monitors, masks that record oxygen intake and other equipment to measure physical exertions.
Staff Sgt. Terry Kemp, who’s helping train the volunteers, told the AP that at the beginning of training women took about 12 minutes for the missile-toting drill and men took about seven minutes. But by week three men and women alike trimmed their times to about four minutes.
David Brinkley, deputy chief of staff for operations for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Va., said officials realize that women do tasks differently than men, using core strength and legs to accomplish what men do with upper body strength.
Tests focusing on tasks emphasize outcome over method.
The Army has not decided what kinds of fitness tests it ultimately will employ to measure combat readiness. But it should be commended for its willingness to look for a new solution that offers women a fair chance without degrading a unit’s readiness.
That should be something we can all applaud. The leaner military forces of the future cannot afford to bar soldiers with much to contribute, including the ability to wrangle a missile into a launcher, just because they can’t do pullups.