Grinston: Fitness Test, NCO Training Changes Coming

Grinston: Fitness Test, NCO Training Changes Coming

SMA Grinston speaks at AUSA Coffee Series event
Photo by: AUSA/Luc Dunn

Initiatives to sharpen soldier fitness, leadership skills and readiness continue to be top priorities for Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston as he enters the last six months of his tenure as the Army’s senior enlisted leader.

Grinston, who will be succeeded in August by Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Weimer, the senior enlisted adviser for Army Special Operations Command, continues to push for changes that will improve soldiers’ readiness. He also is encouraging soldiers to tell their stories in their communities and take advantage of new incentives aimed at helping turn around the Army’s recruiting slump.

One top initiative will allow soldiers who score 540 or higher on the Army Combat Fitness Test to be exempt from being measured for height, weight and body fat. The test’s maximum score is 600.

“What we found is most people that score that don’t need to be taped anyway,” Grinston said Feb. 14 at a Coffee Series breakfast hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army.

The Army directive for that initiative should be published by March, he said.

More changes to Army Combat Fitness Test scoring are in the works based on a requirement in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to create a gender-neutral test for combat MOSs such as infantry.

Ideas that could be considered include “baselining an ACFT score that is age- and gender-neutral for combat arms, then you have to validate that, or do you do a test that looks like … things you do in combat,” Grinston said. 

He cited as an example the physical assessment that’s part of Expert Infantryman Badge testing. “We just changed the Expert Infantryman Badge physical assessment, and we can use that as a model,” Grinston said. “That may be one of the things we look at, but that’s not been determined yet.”

Grinston also has his sights on boosting the amount of time the Army spends on its youngest NCOs by increasing the length and breadth of the Basic Leader Course. “We haven’t changed the amount of time we spend on our basic NCOs in a long time,” said Grinston, who noted that the 22-day course was once 30 days. “I want to take it back to 30.”

Land navigation, which was removed from the course a few years ago, has been the subject of several pilot programs and is making its way back into the program of instruction, he said. A field training exercise that was removed also will be put back in the course.

“What we need to do is continuously challenge our NCOs at the Basic Leader Course,” he said, explaining that he wants to “bring back a little bit more of the rigor and the field time and the tactics.”

Grinston said he expects changes to the Basic Leader Course to be in effect by the end of fiscal 2023 or the following fiscal year.

Addressing the tough recruiting environment, Grinston said recruiters are getting some extra help through the newest incentive, which offers promotions or promotion points to soldiers who refer potential recruits.

“We had this program before, this wasn’t anything new, we kind of dusted off the Soldier Referral Program. We’re looking at how we can help our recruiters, too, they’re out there alone and unafraid,” Grinston said, calling the program one of “a ton of efforts we’ve got going on.”

Meeting the Army’s end strength involves more than just recruiting new soldiers, he said, explaining that retention, which factors into the numbers, is strong.

“End strength … is a culmination of not just accessions but also retention, and the good news about that is our retention numbers have stayed steady or higher than they ever have,” Grinston said. “What that tells us is we just need to get people into the military and the Army. Once they get in, they want to stay.”