New physical strength tests will effectively bar most women from 76 percent of Army jobs and limit the majority of new female recruits to jobs that traditionally have been held by women, the Army acknowledged yesterday.
Last week, recruitment goals for women were lowered and an additional 23 job categories were closed because of possible combat dangers. The two announcements reflect a major change in the breadth of opportunities available to women in the Army.
The changes ultimately will benefit both women and the Army by insuring that both male and female recruits are "programmed to succeed," said Lawrence J. Korb, assistant secretary of defense for manpower, reserve affairs and logistics.
All recruits will now be tested for physical strength, and soldiers must be able to lift 100 pounds or more to perform jobs ranging from truck driving to nuclear weapons assembly and equipment repair.
Soldiers must be able to lift more than 50 pounds to become an aviator specialist, otherwise known as airplane repairman, and must be able to lift at least 50 pounds to be a corrections specialist or guard.
Since 1977, when the Carter administration opened all of the 354 noncombatant Army jobs to women, female enlistment has increased from 12,000 to 65,000. But until a 15-month study was completed last week, the Army has never really understood their impact, Korb said.
That study shows women have had a much higher attrition rate than male soldiers, mainly because women soldiers often were assigned tasks beyond their physical capability, said Lt. Gen. Maxwell R. Thurman, deputy chief of Army personnel.
Currently, 54 percent of the 65,000 women in the military are assigned to jobs that require soldiers to lift 100 pounds or more frequently, he said. The Army study shows only 11 percent of all women who enter the service are strong enough to lift that amount, causing poor performance and unhappy soldiers, Thurman said.
The physical tests are expected to solve that, Thurman explained, by matching male and female soldiers' strength with job categories. During the last year, the Army has rated its 354 job categories according to physical demands, classifying them as being light, medium, heavy or very heavy work. The last two categories require frequent lifting of 100 pounds or more.
Starting next year, the Army will give the physical tests to all recruits when they enlist. The tests will grade soldiers according to lifting-strength, stamina, and endurance, but the deciding factor will be lifting-strength, a spokesman said. A machine will register how much "dead weight" a recruit can lift while standing up, and recruits also will be asked to lift an object and hold it at a specific height for three 15-second periods.
The Army will then predict how much the recruit's strength will improve after basic and advanced training. Those predictions will be based on formulas still under study, the Army said. Once a soldier's "predicted physical capacity" is decided, the recruit will be told what job categories may be entered after enlistment.
Since 76 percent of the Army's jobs are in the very heavy and heavy work categories, Thurman said, it is unlikely that most women will qualify. When the Army tested 493 women and 623 men last year at five Army bases, it discovered that only 11 percent of its women soldiers could lift 100 or more pounds frequently while all but 8 percent of the men tested could lift 100 or more pounds.
Thurman said women would not be penalized when the Army determines promotion, because they were excluded from some areas. The new testing program should, in fact, increase the number of women officers, because it will help female soldiers perform better at their jobs, he said.
Had the testing program been in effect this year, the Army estimates that only 1,950 of its entire 65,000-woman workforce would have qualified for heavy jobs.