Army rolls out ambitious, six-event mental fitness test

The SHART program is here

By Blondes Over Baghdad

PENTAGON — After years of clinical studies and field testing, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston has announced that the Army would begin a rigorous, six-event mental fitness test.

“For far too long, we’ve treated mental fitness as an additional duty,” Grinston said. “With this new test, we’ll be able to evaluate the mental health and intellectual competence that soldiers need to survive in combat.”

Called the Soldier’s Combat Holistic Army Readiness Test, or SHART, the test will reduce moral injuries, encourage sacrificial decision making, and prepare soldiers better for the kinds of moral and ethical challenges they’ll see in combat than the current system of assembly-line education and pencil whipped evaluations.

“I know that it will be challenging to adopt to this new test,” Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville noted. “But it’s important that we grow and change as an organization. This will never replace important warrior skills like throwing a weighted ball, but we hope it will paint a fuller picture of individual soldiers instead of physical fitness tests as a single point of failure.”

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The test will evaluate soldiers based on six areas: warrior skills and battle drills, subject matter expertise, cognitive processing, intellectual curiosity, intellectual rigor, and empathy. Officials said it would be administered twice a year for active component soldiers and once a year for reservists. Scored out of 600, the test will be used on evaluations and promotion boards to help the Army understand a soldier’s competency, drive, and leadership potential.

Many troops in the field are resisting the test, however, asserting that the training takes too much time, doesn’t effectively prepare them for their duties, and gets in the way of the daily demands of their jobs.

Sgt. James Abernathy, a team leader in the 2-224th Infantry Battalion, told Duffel Blog he doesn’t plan to train for the test, because he doesn’t believe the army will make it official for his military occupational specialty.

“I already have to pull a 90 lb sled, and shoot from the kneeling position to get promoted,” Abernathy said. “Now you expect me to have a basic knowledge of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief to help my guide my team through combat deaths and divorces? Fat chance that’ll stick. This whole thing sounds like someone’s Officer Evaluation Report bullet.”

Others have reported implicit sexism in the age and gender-neutral test. 

“We all know that women are naturally more empathic and better at building teams based on mutual trust and shared sense of purpose,” said Sgt. Maj. Kevin O’Grady, a functioning alcoholic on his third divorce who can run seven-minute miles. “It’s unfair to make that part of promotion standards since it would obviously give women a leg up. This PC bullshit will weaken our army. Standards are standards.”

However, the units in the pilot program who started to train to SHART early had a different perspective.

“We see this a lot,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Monson, whose unit was one of the pilot units to try the test. “Just the other day, I had a company commander who was reading Once an Eagle for the third time, but he hadn’t read The Body Keeps the Score once. How am I supposed to trust him to use a trauma-informed care perspective with soldiers in combat? Fuckin’ irresponsible as hell. What are they teaching them in ROTC?”

While most officers above lieutenant colonel find a way to get a profile to opt-out of taking an annual SHART, others report that the SHART changed the dynamic at the Army War College.

“We went out there on a cold October morning, ready to just knock the thing out and be done with it,” said Col. Edgar Cho.  “Then I saw one of my classmates cite Clausewitz on just war theory, which was pretty normal behavior. But then this fat body came from behind and cited Walzer and Luban. Totally blew him out of the fucking water. It was really motivational, the stuff that makes you want to stay in the Army. But anyway, the guy that thought Clausewitz was a just war theorist could do five more hand-release push-ups, so he’s definitely going to be a brigade commander.”

Commentators expect that the SHART will roll out on a delayed timeline, with a two-minute ethics briefing in lieu of preventing toxic leadership for those who need longer to train.

Blondes Over Baghdad lets someone else take the top block because it’s the selfless service thing to do. She’ll go to ranger school when there’s a 3-beer policy. Follow her on Twitter at @BlondsOvrBaghd.

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