Army physical fitness standards reduced based on gender identity

"A servicemember who receives a fitness exemption will be expected to maintain a healthy lifestyle and participate in unit physical fitness."


The Department of Defense's fitness policy for transgender servicemembers drew scrutiny earlier this month, after it honored a trans-identified male, US Army Major Rachel Jones, on July 2. 

Journalist Jordan Schachtel claimed on Twitter, "US service members who identify as transgender can seek an indefinite fitness standards exemption." He added, "That is how this guy managed to avoid PT (Physical Training)" in regard to Jones. 

He posted a screenshot from section A5.5.2. of the DAFMAN36-2905 Air Force Physical Fitness Program which states, "Unit Fitness Program Managers (UFPM) will document the exemption in myFitness using the commander’s composite exemption. Initial FA exemptions will be for a period of six (6) months. To receive a new exemption, the Service member will provide the previously approved FA exemption memo and updated medical documentation showing proof of continued cross-sex hormone treatment to their current unit commander, who may approve or deny any additional 6-month period exemptions."

According to the Department of Defense instruction 1300.28 on transgender servicemembers, a "Service member must meet, all standards for uniforms and grooming; body composition assessment (BCA); physical readiness testing (PRT); Military Personnel Drug Abuse Testing Program (MPDATP) participation; and other military standards applied with consideration of the Service member’s gender" as noted in their personal Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) record.

It says that every transition is unique and that there is no timeline for when a servicemember is considered "fully transitioned." 

According to the Air Force manual, "a servicemember who receives a fitness exemption will be expected to maintain a healthy lifestyle, participate in unit physical fitness, and work with their unit commander to ensure they are maintaining an active fitness regimen." They also recommend that Airmen provide "their unit commander a Fitness Maintenance Plan to ensure they have a verifiable plan to remain physically fit during their gender transition."

Commanders are authorized to deny an exemption. After the denial is reviewed by a Staff Judge Advocate (unit attorney), it will go up to higher command.

According to an Army training slideshow, transgender soldiers can apply for an exception to policy to accommodate a soldier, however, it is advised that a commander try other options before processing the ETP. 

An athletic study posted by the Guardian in 2020 showed the physical performance of trans-identified males on cross-sex hormones is minimally reduced in the first year. The Air Force exemption gives an Airman the ability to fall under the male standard in performance before they are eligible to perform under the female standard. 

The Army attempted to replace its fitness test with the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) in October 2022, which as Schachtel recommended in his Tweet, created "Fitness standards for All service members. No exceptions." It recently changed the test to be gender-neutral for those in combat arms specialties such as infantry units, consequently lowering the required standards. 

*DEERS is a database that keeps and tracks Service Members' deployment readiness and acts as a permanent record. 

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