The United States Military must keep its troops in the best possible shape to fight and win America’s wars. This is made evident by the rigorous physical training schedule that many troops adhere to every single morning. Not a day goes by where an entire formation of infantrymen isn’t collectively breaking a sweat before most civilians wake up.
But the military can’t have absolute control over the lives and overall physical health of every single troop in formation. Uncle Sam can’t spend time preparing and serving your each and every meal, and he certainly can’t make sure you’re not cheating on each and every push-up. For the most part, however, things tend to work out. Sure, troops will enjoy a bit of pizza, beer, and junk food, but since they’re constantly working their asses off, a little indulgence isn’t going to hurt overall combat readiness.
To make sure that nobody slips through the cracks, the Department of Defense established and enforces height and weight standards. They’ve used the standard “tape test” for measuring these standards, but they’re finally eyeing its replacement — and that change can’t come fast enough .
Remedial PT is just like morning PT except the NCO leading it either broke weight themselves or is some salty NCO that’s been forced into leading it.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Marnie Jacobowitz)
Generally speaking, the tape test is a fine gauge of someone’s maximum allowable weight in relation to the troop’s height. If they weigh more than their height allows, senior NCOs have to bring out a tape to measure their waist size relative to their neck size. The idea here is that if you’re heavier because of muscle (and not just fat), then your neck muscles will reflect that, and you’ll be on with your day.
If the troop does weigh more than their height allows and their belly is disproportionately large for their neck size, then the hammer comes down. This means instantly flagging them for positive actions, like schools, awards, or leave, and they’re sent to do remedial PT after the duty day has ended.
Even the height test can be screwy if the person grading it decides to “wing it” or the weight is “adjusted for clothes.”
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jourdain Yardan)
Now, it’s that not the tape test is inherently a bad way to gauge the health of the troops. In some cases, it’s a perfectly fine measurement. Unfortunately, this test is the end all, be all for determining if someone is fat. It’s a highly flawed system (and everyone knows it’s flawed) that is taken as gospel.
For instance, many troops can attest to seeing soldiers who have scored 300s on their PT test “bust” tape and then get sent for remedial PT — why? Because they’re under 5’10” and didn’t focus on their traps at the gym. On the other side of that token, troops could point fingers at troops built like Shrek, but they’re tall enough that their weight doesn’t even become a factor.
Additionally, when it comes to administering the tape test, there’s just too much room for error. The heights and weights recorded may be empirical measurements, but taking those measurements isn’t a hard science. For example, whoever’s recording those measurements might turn a blind eye as their buddy sucks in their gut. Now, the guy who pulled in their belly gets a passing grade while the bodybuilder who spent too little time working on their traps won’t be able to take leave and may possibly get chaptered out of the military.
Thankfully, there are better solutions out there. Body mass index scales are getting more and more accurate and less expensive. Water displacement tests can now be found on most installations.
But, honestly, one of the most useful tools here is common sense. If you can look at a troop and their PT scores and see that they’re well beyond most other troops, don’t ruin their career with an antiquated test.