SALINA, Kan. - Sixteen Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery Regiment, 130th Field Artillery Brigade, trained to become the Kansas Army National Guard’s newest validated graders for the Army Combat Fitness Test Aug. 4-5 at the Great Plains Joint Training Center.
In addition to educating and certifying the students on how to conduct and grade the ACFT, which will become the official Army physical fitness test of record, leaders and instructors hope the course will help to set in motion a shift in Kansas Army National Guard fitness culture.
The ACFT will become the official Army physical fitness test of record Oct. 1. Due to COVID-19, failures won’t be counted until the Army publishes further guidance.
“This is a train-the-trainer course,” said Command Sgt. Major Darrian Campbell. “The overall intent is for Soldiers to be able to go back to their units and train other people on how to grade Soldiers taking the test.”
Staff Sgt. Bronson Shipman, master fitness trainer and ACFT project noncommissioned officer for the state of Kansas, explained that to certify as graders, students have to complete all six events of the ACFT and other tasks.
“We go through each event individually and specifically so that the graders know what they’re looking for to prevent injuries and also to know what’s going to count and not count as a repetition,” Shipman said.
Students also walk through how to set up the course lanes and complete a mock ACFT, where the instructors take the test and the students grade. The two-day training concludes with a written exam.
In addition to teaching the students the technicalities of administering the test and training other graders, Campbell said he hopes the course teaches students not to be intimidated by the ACFT.
“I know there’s a lot of talk,” Campbell said. “People say, ‘That’s going to exclude me. I’m going to have to get out. It’s going to be too hard. I can’t do it.’ But I think that’s mostly people watching from the sidelines. I think once they get involved, they’ll see that they are very capable of performing these exercises.”
“I hope that students take away the idea that this test is attainable,” Shipman said. “And that they also go back to their units with a positive attitude about the test. There’s a lot of negativity around the test right now. It’s our job to change that mindset and have a more positive attitude. So if these students could go back and say, ‘Look, the test isn’t that bad. I’m going to show you how to do it.’ That’s the main thing. As well as trying to get them a little more focused on getting into shape.”
While Shipman and his team of master fitness trainers have the primary goal of setting Soldiers up for success on the fitness test, more broadly, they also hope to help shift the culture of fitness in the Kansas Army National Guard.
“As civilian Soldiers, it’s easy to get into a sedentary lifestyle because we’re not in the uniform 28 days of each month,” Shipman said. “We all have to change the mindset and be more geared toward fitness. We’re going to have to start training.”
Shipman said the current test, the Army Physical Fitness Test, could often be passed by Soldiers who only train last minute – the APFT did not require them to maintain high levels of physical readiness throughout the year. But he cautions Soldiers that that strategy will not be effective if they hope to be successful on the ACFT.
“Start training now,” Shipman said. “Go out and research what the test is and start working on those events individually. That way, you know what you have to work on to get better at. Be ready.”
Other than increasing levels of physical fitness perennially, Shipman said the ACFT has the additional benefit of improving overall Soldier readiness by reducing injuries.
“The ACFT is an 80 percent predictor of a Soldier’s ability to perform their job during combat, so if they can successfully pass the ACFT, they are going to be successful in their job, therefore helping to prevent any injuries they might sustain,” Shipman said.
While the responsibility to train properly and pass the ACFT is an individual one, unit leaders also play a role.
“As a battalion command sergeant major, I want to make sure I’m educated – that I know the test and I know the standards – because I’m the one that is going to be responsible for enforcing those standards,” Campbell said. “I’m out here because I want to experience it and become educated on it, but I also want the Soldiers to look up and see that the command is supporting it, and I want to show that it’s important to the force in order to keep our lethality.”
Shipman suggested units consider incorporating physical training into their monthly training plans.
“Those two days might not drastically change a Soldier’s level of physical fitness, but it’s going to teach that Soldier what he or she can do while they’re not at drill in order to get in better shape,” Shipman said.
Shipman, who has trained over 60 graders and administered the ACFT for over 400 Soldiers statewide, said physical fitness has played a prominent role in his life since he graduated basic training at 19 years old. Later this month, he will complete his certification as a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He plans to continue his full-time work as a master fitness trainer for the Kansas Army National Guard.
“It’s an honor to be a part of it,” Shipman said. “It’s a huge transition for the Army overall, so to be on the front lines of it is a good feeling. We are getting a good predictor of how we are as the Guard and where we’re at in the state as far as our physical fitness capabilities. It’s been an eye-opener for some of the Soldiers. But getting them to actually take the test is helping them realize that it’s not insurmountable.”