Soldiers from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard conduct a tactical field movement during a route clearance and reaction to an IED battle drill at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Photo: US Army National Guard / Sgt Claire A Charles

The news came across in an e-mail, but it was no less shocking.

We all know, the times are changing, and, the US Army is changing too, but …

There it was …

The mighty US Army announced it has suspended a rule requiring new enlisted soldiers and officers to pass the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) to graduate initial military training through next year, reported.

That policy also now applied to soldiers in Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, One Station Unit Training, the Warrant Officer Basic Course and the Basic Officer Leaders Course for fiscal 2021.

“The Army Combat Fitness Test will no longer be used as a graduation requirement in Initial Military Training,” Megan Reed, spokeswoman for the Army’s Center for Initial Military Training, said in a written statement, reported.

“All soldiers are challenged to pass ACFT 2.0 … however, no adverse administrative actions will be taken against a soldier for failing the ACFT and scores or comments on performance will not be used administratively during the data collection timeframe.”

Surely, one of the most powerful armies of the world, tossing fitness tests? What in god’s name drove them to it?

In a word, Covid.

The Covid-19 outbreak forced army leaders to pause all fitness testing in late March to prevent the spread of the virus, a move that also paused the ACFT graduation requirement for new soldiers, reported.

The pandemic also caused delays in fielding units with the special equipment needed to conduct the ACFT.

Soldiers were unable to practice the entire test and build fitness levels, prompting army leaders to announce in June that individual ACFT scores will not count against soldiers until March 2022, reported.

And then came the next bombshell.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said the service will need to man its units with software coding experts to be able to launch deadly-fast precision fires on enemy forces.

A large part of the US Army’s modernization effort will rely on precise algorithms to shorten the time it takes to identify enemy targets and destroy them with long-range precision fires, reported.

Algorithms … not rifles, mind you … algorithms.

To make that happen, the service will need soldiers on the battlefield who can adjust software coding in the middle of a battle, McCarthy said.

The Army has launched an effort to turn existing soldiers into software developers by creating special curricula for the university level of instruction, reported.

“We have created a series of curriculum for software engineering, data scientists … down at the University of Texas,” McCarthy told a virtual audience during an event at the Hudson Institute.

“We are going to be able to develop software developers, 50-60 at a time in a class…. We are going to need software developers at the edge; they are going to need to be in battalions or brigade headquarters working with fire direction because maybe they have to change the software code at the edge.”

In summary, troops incapable of passing fitness tests, plus turning regular soldiers into digital coders.

So instead of troops attacking the machine-gun nest or the pillbox, the US will have soldiers hitting the “SEND” button.

As one military expert told me in response, “Oh great, we already have enough obese people, this will be great for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts …”

As for the software-developer initiative, he remarked: “On a keyboard that’s already been hacked by both the Russians and the Chinese.” 

OK. Let’s just face it, the skepticism is thick. Change is often hard to come by.

But then, there is another aspect.

Fort Benning’s 22-week infantry one-station unit training has replaced the infamous shark attack – where drill sergeants harangued terrified young recruits – with “The First 100 Yards,” a new introductory training event being instituted at Basic Combat Training sites across the US Army, reported.

The new training exercise is designed to put new trainees through a series of physically and mentally challenging events that will build an initial foundation of “belief in oneself, belief in your teammates, and a belief in the leaders with whom they serve.”

Inch by inch, step by step … the US Army is changing. Soon, we won’t recognize it.

Let’s hope ballroom dancing doesn’t become part of the training as well. Not that ballroom dancing is bad, of course … heavens no.

The fact of the matter is, the Russians and the Chinese are growing stronger by the day.

My friends, that is not a flippant statement, it is true.

Russian Spetsnaz Special Forces prepare for a practise parachute drop in the high Arctic. Photo: Russian Federation

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is developing new weapons, frightening new weapons, and Russian troops recently showed their mettle in the Arctic, in a dramatic high-altitude parachute operation in mid-winter that stunned military analysts.

Meanwhile, China is expanding its military footprint on all fronts, on land, on sea and in the air. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know how to use that newfound power, so it is stepping on everyone’s toes.

Xi Jinping would be better off quitting his president’s job, and taking a job as a 24/7 convenience-store clerk, such is his expertise in world affairs.

He has made a shambles of everything, and alienated everyone except the Mormons. Maybe that’s to come, who knows.

But China’s advances in technology are breathtaking. Of that, there is no question. It is now a force to be reckoned with on all fronts.

But getting back to the US Army, what in blazes is it trying to do?

Is it about adjusting to the youth of today? Connecting with the so-called digital generation?

The changes to the world’s greatest fighting force – best trained, best equipped, best led – are unprecedented.

In a way, I blame the Russians. The annexation of Crimea was a game-changer.

The Russians successfully utilized so-called “irregular warfare” – campaigns of disinformation, deception, sabotage and economic coercion, as well as proxy, guerrilla and covert operations.

And of course, the Pentagon freaked out. It is now calling for more consistent investment in irregular warfare capabilities that are easily upgradable and cost-effective, to prepare for “gray area” conflict.

The irony is, none of this is new.

T E Lawrence’s 15 principles of guerrilla warfare, inspired by his actions at the turn of the century in the Middle East, were later widely adopted by Vietnamese generals, to considerable success, and then later by the Taliban and ISIS.

To this day, they hold true:

Lawrence of Arabia’s 15 principles of guerrilla warfare:

1. Strive above all to win hearts and minds;

2. Establish an unassailable base;

3. Remain strategically dispersed;

4. Make maximum use of mobility;

5. Operate mainly in small, local groups;

6. Remain largely detached from the enemy;

7. Do not attempt to hold ground;

8. Operate in depth rather than en face (i.e. not in lines);

9. Aim for perfect intelligence about the enemy

10. Concentrate only for momentary tactical superiority;

11. Strike only when the enemy can be taken by surprise;

12. Never engage in sustained combat;

13. Always have lines of retreat open;

14. Make war on matériel rather than on men;

15. Make a virtue of the individuality, irregularity, and unpredictability of guerrillas.

To be even more impressive, an Arab guerrilla fighter could go 1,000 miles and back in any direction, on a single camel and a sack of flour, with his weapon – striking anywhere along the way, like a ghost warrior.

Should the camel not make it, he was also riding a very good source of meat. I tried it in Cairo at a street vendor; it’s not bad, although a bit rubbery.

In light of Lawrence’s historical directives, have we now grown soft?

Will the new multi-domain digital direction of the US military pay dividends?

Will millennials – or anyone – charge the pillbox, and take heavy casualties? Or will they just leave that to robots?

Who will place the Bangalore torpedoes under the wall under heavy fire, as they did on Omaha Beach on D-Day?

As Napoleon once said: “Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”

During World War II, a secret study was conducted on US soldiers, to determine their level of courage.

A certain percentage had limitless courage (although courage is a well, it’s not endless), and would charge into anything.

Another percentage could go either way – encouraged, they would move forward, intimidated, they would drop back. They followed the leader.

And then there was another percentage that just didn’t want anything to do with the entire thing. They were not cowardly, they just didn’t want to be there.

Fast-forward to today’s new US Army. Where it lies, in that configuration, god knows. And let’s hope there is still a percentage that has no fear.

As one veteran of the South Pacific War told me, when the bullets start flying, you don’t give a damn about patriotism. You only want to survive.

In the end, that’s probably what it comes down to.

Dave Makichuk is a veteran writer and copy-editor with 35 years’ media experience who lives in Calgary and freelances for Asia Times. A dedicated Detroit Red Wings, Tigers and Lions fan, Makichuk relishes his chosen role as enemy of the state, and defender of the oppressed and downtrodden.