CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq --
CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – He was one point from a perfect score.
Too bad one point from perfect on the Physical Fitness Test is no guarantee for near perfection on the Combat Fitness Test, and Cpl. Jose M. Morales knew before the word “go” that the CFT would be a different game.
Eight hundred and eighty yards later, the new test wasn’t disappointing the Marines of Truck Company, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, I MEF (Forward) here on the morning of Oct. 9.
The Marines found themselves huffing and puffing, yelling and grunting underneath the rising Iraqi sun for MHG’s first officially recorded CFT for a forward deployed element since the commandant directed the creation of the test in November 2006.
“I got a 299 on the PFT, and this definitely got my heart pumping more than the PFT,” said Morales, 20, from Somerton, Az. “Everything about it is challenging, especially the ammo-can run.”
That every element of the CFT is a challenge in its own right is no accident. Marines at Training and Education Command spent two years designing and testing elements of the new fitness battery. They finalized the standards early this year, although officials project that scoring will remain on a pass/fail basis until July 2009.
Scoring will reflect the PFT’s 300-point scale once TECOM gathers enough data during the initial, or phase-in, period, which lasts until March 31, 2009.
Regardless of the scoring method, Marines here still gave maximum effort, competing for and then comparing their scores.
“I like the course,” said Gunnery Sgt. Manuel Bermudez, company first sergeant. “I think Marines have a lot more fun with it.”
Shouts meant to motivate tired Marines spread through the company from the start of the test. Bermudez, 41, Los Lunas, N.M., offered continuous tidbits of high-decibel encouragement to his Marines throughout the test.
“It’s like the battlefield,” said Cpl. Jairo J. Fernandez, motor transport operator. “You never know when you’re going to have to get down, duck or weave around … it’s do or die basically, sometimes you just want to give up.”
Fernandez, 23, Watts, Calif., and Morales both said determination is key to a successful CFT. Both Marines referenced the ammo-can run as the most difficult aspect of the test. It’s also done when Marines are most winded, at the end of the test.
The test starts with a timed 880 yard sprint and a timed, two-minute overhead press with a 30 pound ammo-can. Then the CFT takes a turn toward complexity.
A 300-yard shuttle run confronts the Marines, broken into two 75-yard sections and one final muscle-busting, 150-yard section. On the first section, Marines sprint again for 25 yards, then fall to their stomachs and crawl for another 25. They spring up and run out to the 75 yard line, where they scoop up a comrade of equal weight and buddy drag him about ten yards, simulating the initial egression from a kill zone. Marines then transition into a fireman’s carry and run 70 yards, simulating the distance covered to a casualty evacuation vehicle. They dump their “casualty” and pick up two 30 pound ammo cans. These they sprint across a 150 yard expanse, pausing once in the middle to throw a dummy grenade at a 15 square foot target marked off by cones or tape.
Marines here said the maneuver under fire was by far the most difficult portion of the test, and that all three legs done in conjunction can certainly wind the fittest individual.
“It takes heart … this is not a skinny-man’s fitness test,” Fernandez said, gesturing toward Morales with a smile.
The traditional PFT focused more on Marines’ aerobic fitness with a timed run and crunches, and then on upper-body strength with maximum dead-hang pull-ups or a flexed-arm hang. The CFT events combine muscular strength, agility and endurance to measure anaerobic fitness. Anaerobic exercise reflects conditions in combat, where there are brief moments of high-intensity output, and aerobic is more about a sustained, steady pace.
Morales said it certainly pays to build a little muscle for the CFT.
“(During) the PFT, we got fast Marines who can run 18 or 19 minutes, and sometimes they can’t do all the pull-ups, here it’s about strength. Strength and endurance,” Bermudez said.
Truck Company Marines passed their first CFT by a majority of 73 to five, and the five who came up short did not fail every element of the test. Bermudez said his Marines knew about the CFT and started preparing early. Because details about the test lacked clear definition during the test phase, the company practiced a more difficult version than what TECOM later finalized.
“We knew it was coming, we didn’t know what it was going to entail, but it’s here, it’s good, and we love it,” Bermudez said.
The CFT and the PFT will not be scored on the same day. Although scoring for the CFT converts to a 300-point scale next summer, the test won’t have bearing on promotion until the next fiscal year.
Until then, Marines are encouraged to add combat conditioning to traditional weekly physical training.
“Marines should be amphibiously fit at all times, and combat ready,” Morales said, “because you never know when you’re going to have to save a life. (The CFT) prepares you for that.”
For more information, the official CFT Marine Administration Message for the CFT is MarAdmin 032/08. Also, detailed CFT instructions can be found in Marine Corps Order 6100.13, and TECOM offers CFT training tips at tecom.usmc.mil.