Army new fitness test, uniforms ranked top stories of 2018

by Sean Kimmons
U.S. Army

FORT MEADE, Md. -- This past year, the Army rolled out several programs and policies to boost the readiness of its Soldiers as well as prepare them for life after the military. A pair of combat veterans also received the military's highest honor and a new World War II-style uniform was brought back.

Below is a list of some of the biggest stories that impacted the force in 2018.

ARMY COMBAT FITNESS TEST

Army senior leaders approved in July a new strenuous fitness test designed to better prepare Soldiers for combat tasks, reduce injuries and lead to ample cost savings across the service.

The six-event readiness assessment, called the Army Combat Fitness Test, is intended to replace the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test, which has been around since 1980.

Beginning October 2020, all Soldiers will be required to take the new gender- and age-neutral test. Field testing is currently underway that will allow the Army to further refine the test.

At least six years of significant research has already went into the test's development as researchers looked at what Soldiers must do fitness-wise for combat.

Soldiers can visit the Army's ACFT site (www.army.mil/acft) for more information.

MEDALS OF HONOR

Two Army veterans were bestowed the nation's highest military honor for their actions in combat during White House ceremonies.

Former Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II, who was a Special Forces combat medic, received the Medal of Honor in October. Former 1st Lt. Garlin M. Conner was posthumously awarded the medal in June by President Donald Trump, who presented it to Conner's widow, Pauline.

While deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, Shurer heroically fought his way up a mountain to render aid to his Special Forces teammates and their Afghan commando counterparts.

In 1945, during World War II, Conner voluntarily left his position of relative safety to place himself in a better position to direct artillery fire onto the assaulting enemy infantry and armor.

ONE-STATION UNIT TRAINING

Training for new infantry Soldiers was expanded from 14 to 22 weeks as part of a push to improve one-station unit training.

Changes to the program are meant to enhance Soldier readiness, making them more lethal and proficient before they depart for their first duty assignment.

The new program includes expanded weapons training, increased vehicle-platform familiarization, extensive combatives training and a 40-hour combat-lifesaver certification course, Army leaders said after the announcement in June.

NON-DEPLOYABLE DIRECTIVE

To support ongoing efforts to reduce the number of non-deployable Soldiers, Army leaders released a new directive in October to encourage Soldiers to reach deployable standards.

If standards are not met within six months, the directive states that a Soldier could face separation. The Army effort follows a Department of Defense directive to raise standards for deployable troops across the four military branches, improving readiness and lethality.

The directive highlights two distinctions: for the first time, the Army defines deployability plainly in written form. And the directive marks a culture change that encourages greater accountability among Soldiers to maintain readiness and empower commanders.

SECURITY FORCE ASSISTANCE BRIGADES

The first of six planned specialized brigades was activated earlier this year, as part of the Army's re-energized train, advise and assist mission.

The 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade then deployed to Afghanistan and placed advisor teams across the country to better enable Afghan security forces. It redeployed in November.

New brown berets, shoulder sleeve insignia and distinctive unit insignia were also presented to SFAB Soldiers during the brigade's activation to recognize their unique mission assisting allied and partner nations.

In late November, the Security Force Assistance Command and the 2nd SFAB officially stood up at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The 1st SFAB is headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia.

CREDENTIALING

A new Army Credentialing Assistance Program began a one-year limited user test in Texas before a projected rollout to the entire service in fiscal year 2020.

The program, which has similar rates and eligibility as tuition assistance, will provide Soldiers up to $4,000 each year to pay for credentials that will prepare them for life after the military.

When fully implemented, the program will allow Soldiers to choose from more than 1,600 credentials currently offered on the Army's Credentialing Opportunities Online website.

Many of those credentials offer promotion points and are recognized by civilian industry, including jobs in healthcare, plumbing, information technology and aviation repair.

ARMY GREENS

A new World War II-style uniform will be issued to Soldiers starting the summer of 2020 after senior leaders announced the move in November to sharpen the professional appearance of Soldiers and inspire others to join them.

The Army Greens uniform, a version of the uniform once worn by the Greatest Generation, will now be worn by today's generation as they lead the service into the future.

The Army Service Uniform will revert to a dress uniform for more formal events, while the Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform will still be used as a duty uniform.

The new uniform will be cost-neutral for enlisted Soldiers, who will be able to purchase it with their clothing allowance.

In the summer of 2020, fielding is expected to start with Soldiers arriving to their first duty assignments. The uniform will also be available for Soldiers to purchase at that time. The mandatory wear date for all Soldiers is set for 2028.

CYBER GROWTH

As cyber continues to play a larger role in warfare, the Army this year looked to bolster the emerging force.

In May, the first two officers in a new Cyber Direct Commissioning Program were sworn in as part of a five-year pilot that allows qualified candidates a fast track to becoming cyber officers.

Cyber leaders also determined this year to double the size of cyber teams supporting brigade combat teams and to create a cyber warfare support battalion based on lessons learned in exercises.

A need for more emphasis on electronic warfare was also identified. The Army placed 29-series EW Soldiers into cyber's 17-series career field this year as the service zeroes in on it.

The goal is to combine EW assets along with cyber and information operations capabilities across all echelons of the Army.

RECRUITING EFFORTS

With new authority over the Army's accessions enterprise, the Army Training and Doctrine Command now plans to focus more heavily on regional campaigns and ads on streaming platforms and social media, rather than the traditional national television advertising.

There are also plans to fill the ranks of recruiters, move recruiting stations to better locations, and re-engineer the recruiting process from an industrial-era model that is no longer efficient.

The Army Recruiting Command also announced a new Army eSports team, which will be comprised of Soldiers who are savvy at video games and can relate to today's youth.

The team is being developed to compete at the local, regional and national level on behalf of the Army. Those selected to the team will be involved in constant competitive training, recruiting engagements and interaction with the public on a daily basis.

While not officially recruiters, the team members will serve as liaisons between the American public and recruiters throughout the nation.

TALENT MANAGEMENT

Army leaders have begun to move away from an outdated pay and personnel system that only sees rank and branch. They are transitioning the service to a talent-management-based approach.

Initial efforts have focused on active-duty officer assignments. In October, leaders said all officers would be enrolled in a web-based, talent-management portal known as Assignment Interactive Module version 2, or AIM 2.0, upon entering the Army beginning this year.

AIM 2.0's matrix includes the officer's knowledge, skills and preferences, which matches the officer with the needs and desires of units where he or she will be eligible to serve.

AIM 2.0 serves as a bridge to the Army's premier talent management system, known as the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, which will eventually replace it.

By 2020, the goal is to have IPPS-A at full operating capability Army-wide for both officers and enlisted Soldiers. Leaders say it will enhance readiness by maximizing the potential of the Army's greatest asset -- its people.

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