VNG holds ACFT challenge, names top battalion team

Spc. Zach Wilson, assigned to the Virginia Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team competes in a Battalion Army Combat Fitness Test Challenge Feb. 28, 2020, at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

RICHMOND, Va. — Approximately 45 Soldiers from 16 Virginia Army National Guard battalions participated in a Battalion Army Combat Fitness Test Challenge Feb. 28, 2020, at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. Three-man teams from 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the Recruiting and Retention Battalion took first and second place, respectively, while Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Lehmer, assigned to 1st Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, earned the highest ACFT score, at 591. Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Smith, Virginia Army Guard Command Sergeant Major, hosted the event and participated with his own team. He said the goal of the event was twofold: to bring additional focus to the new ACFT and to encourage teamwork across the force. 

“This is the Virginia Army National Guard’s inauguration to the new ACFT,” Smith said at the start of the event. “We have not changed our primary physical fitness standard in over 30 years, and I think we can see, based on our formations, we need a change. The ACFT is here, we’re going to embrace it, and we’re going to have some fun.” 

The day started with an overview and refresher of the ACFT conducted by Master Sgt. Ramon Abreu-Perez and Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Blankenbaker, master fitness trainers overseeing the implementation of the ACFT within the Virginia Army National Guard. They first briefed the graders, which included Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve’s 80th Training Command, and then the competitors. Then, the challenge started. 

Capt. John Hemby completes the two-mile run during in a Battalion Army Combat Fitness Test Challenge Feb. 28, 2020, at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. Soldiers competed in teams of three, with one officer, one noncommissioned officer and one junior enlisted Soldier. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

The ACFT begins with a 10-exercise preparatory drill, familiar to those who conduct U.S. Army Physical Readiness Training, or PRT. The prep drill includes exercises like the windmill, the squat-bender and the push-up, and is designed to warm-up Soldiers before strenuous physical activity. 

Following the prep drill, Soldiers spent ten minutes warming up for the 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift. The latest edition of the ACFT Initial Operation Capability Manual recommends Soldiers warm-up with several deadlift sets, starting first with eight receptions at 25 percent of their goal weight and building to one repetition at 80 percent of their goal weight. 

Following the warm-up, Soldiers arranged themselves in a stack behind the weight they intended to lift. While the minimum deadlift is 140 pounds, most Soldiers at the ACFT Challenge arranged themselves behind the maximum weight of 340 pounds. 

“If you actually do [the ACFT], you’ll see where your weaknesses are, and you’re going to get a gut-check, regardless of what your abilities are,” said Capt. John C. Hemby, who competed on the Recruiting and Retention Battalion team. 

Following the 3 Repetition Maximum Deadlift, the competitors moved on to the second event of the ACFT, the Standing Power Throw, a measure of explosive power. Then, Soldiers moved on to the Hand-Release Push-Up, which measures upper body muscular endurance. Lehmer, who earned the highest score of the day, said part of his preparation for the ACFT Challenge was using a heavier medicine ball to practice the Standing Power Throw and, “lots of Hand Release Push-Ups.” 

Next, Soldiers conducted the Sprint, Drag, Carry, the fourth event of the ACFT, and one commonly sited as the most challenging. The SDC is a timed, 250-meter shuttle event measuring anaerobic capacity, muscular endurance and muscular strength. Over the course of the event, Soldiers sprint, drag a 90-pound sled while moving backwards, move laterally and complete a farmer’s carry with two 40-pound kettlebells. 

“The real stopper is yourself, the Soldier,” Hemby said. “The bottom line is, how bad do you want it, how bad do you want to contribute to your state being physically ready?” 

Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Lehmer, assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training conducts leg tucks during a Battalion Army Combat Fitness Test Challenge Feb. 28, 2020, at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. Lehmer earned the highest score at 591 points. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

Following the SDC, Soldiers knocked out the Leg Tuck event, a muscular strength and endurance event that measures grip, shoulder, core and hip flexor strength. Finally, Soldiers headed out for the Two-Mile Run, a test of aerobic capacity, which the fastest competitors finished in less than 13 minutes. 

Smith announced the winners and recognized the competitors with assistance from Virginia National Guard leaders during their Green Tab Conference at the Virginia National Guard Sgt. Bob Slaughter Headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond. He said physical fitness was personally important to him because he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as a 19-year-old Soldier when they invaded Panama. 

“If it wasn’t for the rigorous training and the constant persistence of being physically fit and ready, that mission would have been horrible,” Smith said. “Because we had that dedication to physical fitness excellence, we were able to accomplish our mission.” 

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, congratulated the Soldiers on their success and thanked them for their participation in the event. 

“Thank you so much to all the teams, all the effort you put into this and to the team that put it together,” he said. “This just kind of shows you what the art of the possible is, and now we have to take this and translate it across the force.” 

Currently, the ACFT is still in the implementation period and all Soldiers are required to take one non-for-record ACFT. In October, the ACFT will become the Army physical test of record, according to the U.S. Army ACFT website. 

“The ACFT is much better test of physical fitness,” Lehmer said, explaining that it tests far more than sit-ups, push-ups and the two-mile run did on the old Army Physical Fitness Test. 

“I really hope that all personnel are getting for this test, because it’s here to stay and you just got to get ready for it,” Hemby said. He explained that there are great resources online for those looking to target their fitness training plan toward the ACFT, from Facebook groups to the U.S. Army website on the ACFT. 

Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Smith, Virginia Army Guard Command Sergeant Major recognized the winning team following a Battalion Army Combat Fitness Test Challenge Feb. 28, 2020, at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. First place was taken by 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team; second place was taken by the Recruiting and Retention Battalion; and the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute’s Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Lehmer earned the highest score at 591 points, with his teammate Staff Sgt. John Fracker close behind with a score of 589. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)