Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The More Things Change . . .

The more things change, the more they stay the same
When I enter the Army (back during the Indian Fighting days of 1967), the PT test as i recall it had 5 items:  push ups, grenade throw, overhead rungs, run dodge and jump, and 1 mile run. 
Over the next several years items were added and subtracted for various reasons.  The grenade throw gave way to the low crawl, which gave way to the crab walk (who thought that one up?). The run dodge and jump was replaced by the 150 yard man carry.  (wow - big hump - especially for little guys carrying a member of the football team)  The one mile run became the two mile run.  Sometimes other events came and went -- like the standing broad jump.  Or pull ups for the airborne.  Or the 600 meter shuttle run for staff officers. (I am cramming 20 years into one paragraph here - but the overall story is correct.)
When the war was over the Army had more time to focus on physical fitness. One thing they quickly learned was that in some of the many locations scattered around the world, requiring any facilities at all (like overhead rungs, lanes for low crawl, etc.), was counter productive. If commanders did not have the facilities to do the test right, sometimes they skipped it completely. So over time, senior leaders finally reached the conclusion that a standard test anybody could administer anywhere was better than a tougher test that some people could not or would not do.  And the eventual solution was a 3 event test: push ups, sit ups, and 2 mile run.  Rejiggering the standards for age and sex has continued for years, but the events have been standardized Army wide for a long time.
Along the way the Armor School at Ft Knox (where tank and armored warfare were once taught) had the interesting idea of refocusing the physical test on tasks more related to those expected of armored crews in combat - like breaking track or carrying heavy parts. With the post-Vietnam (which means up to Desert Storm) Army more focused on instilling discipline than uniformity, junior leaders actually had quite a bit of flexibility. And in our armored cavalry unit in Germany we took the idea of combat related physical training much farther. We introduced the two man stretcher-carry, the three man machine-gun-and-ammo-carry-and- set-up, and the road wheel dash. Eventually standardization won out, of course. And it has been push ups, sit ups, and 2 mile run for decades now. 
Or perhaps "until now," since according to an AP report the Army is instituting new tests including a 180 pound drag (simulating a wounded soldier) and a combination shuttle run and broad jump, (simulating a combination shuttle run and broad jump).   See
Breaking the tradition of old soldiers, I have no complaints about this change. Hey if it works, great.  If not, change it again.  But I can't help observe that all old ideas eventually seem new again. I thought of this last week when Sec Def Gates announced that after this war, the US will not put troops on the ground in Asia or the Mideast again. So we won't really need a traditional army in the future. 
Like the shuttle run and the wounded soldier carry, seems like I have seen that one before.

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