Army Secretary visits Fort Benning, says U.S. Army is in a renaissance
Standing in front of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper said Friday he has taken the Army Combat Fitness Test three times in a military that’s part of a renaissance, from training soldiers to modernizing the force.
The physical fitness test has been around since 1980, but military leaders never thought it translated well for the demands for soldiers in combat.
Esper took part in the fitness test with officers in the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course during his first visit to Fort Benning in 26 years. He also spoke to trainees in the One Station Unit Training, met with leaders in the 75th Ranger Regiment and took part in a town hall with families and soldiers.
The ACFT is set to become the physical fitness test of record by October 2020. It will help prevent injuries and make soldiers more deployable, Esper said.
“We think those are two benefits that the ACFT is the right thing to do,” he said. “Before I signed off on it, I took the test myself to make sure I understood it.”
While soldiers are ahead in functional fitness, it will take some time to learn the test.
“I think they are really eager and excited about this test,” he said. “They tell me they know it’s tough. I think they are up to the challenge.”
New soldiers will be looking at more basic training as the Army extends one-station unit training from 14 to 22 weeks. “It now makes it the longest and toughest infantry basic training in the world and it’s the first time we’ve done this as an Army,” Esper said.
The Secretary of the Army said he’s very pleased with progress after watching soldiers in training. “I had a chance to talk to trainees and drill sergeants,” he said.
In a possible conflict against near peers such as Russia or China, Esper said soldiers will be fit, mentally tough, tactically proficient and experts in the field.
Soldiers also will see a modernized infantry with precision fire, enhanced night-vision goggles and a new weapon with greater range than the M4. “We also look at advances in technical equipment for our soldiers,” he said. “I think you will see early results there.”
With the Bradley Fighting Vehicle reaching its limits, Esper said the next generation combat vehicle will have features that will allow the Army to grow for decades. The first prototype is expected in the 2026 time frame.
Esper said the Army has seen double digit gains in readiness to improve the force. Military leaders are very conscious of how those dollars are spent.
“I’m confident that if we were involved in a conflict today, we would prevail,” he said. “The budget is always a concern. Our duty is to tell our story to Congress and the American people. Make the case of why resources are important.”
Maj. Gen. Gary M. Brito, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, and other military leaders joined Esper during the visit. “I had a very good visit today with Maj. Gen. Brito and his command team,” said Esper, who was assigned twice at Benning for training after graduating in 1986 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.