The Tape Test

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The following article is based on material by Nick Barringer, PhD.

Nothing ruins a good combat story like a reliable eye witness. Nothing ruins a mostly anecdotal argument like actual science.

Military personnel sometimes complain about the tape test, which is a measure of body composition to assess a person’s lean mass and body fat. The basis of this requirement is spelled out in Department of Defense Instruction Number 1308.3 DoD Physical Fitness and Body Fat Programs Procedures

It is DoD policy that service members shall maintain physical readiness through appropriate nutrition, health, and fitness habits. Maintaining desirable body composition is an integral part of physical fitness, general health, and military appearance. Physical fitness is an important component of the general health of the individual. Comprehensive fitness includes many aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Physical Fitness Tests assess Service-wide baseline generalized fitness levels and are not intended to represent mission or occupationally specific fitness demands.

Ensure that gender-appropriate body fat standards shall not be more stringent than 18 percent for men and 26 percent for women, and shall not be more liberal than 26 percent for men and 36 percent for women, as measured using circumference-based methods.

In 1981 the Services were directed to develop body composition standards with the three major concerns being: 1) body composition was an integral part of physical fitness 2) body composition is a determinant of appropriate military appearance and 3) body composition is a determinant of general health and well-being of military personnel.

In 1982, in response to the directive developed the following criteria:
a) no skinfold measurements
b) emphasizes circumference measurements at easily locatable anatomic sites
c) not to exceed 4 measurements(excluding height and weight)
d) able to be executed by non-technically trained personnel
e) does not require elaborate or unavailable equipment
f) common equation for all race/ethnic groups
g) measurements should be avoided that require undressing beyond the Army sport ensemble
h) selected equations must have a correlation coefficient of at least 0.80 with hydrostatically determined percent body fat, and a standard error of the estimate not greater than 4.0 % body fat
i) equations should give comparable results in the three major race/ethnic groups

Based on these criteria, a study was carried out at Fort Hood, TX and Carlisle Barracks, PA on 1,194 males and 319 females between 25 Jun and 1 Nov 1984. The Soldiers were hydrostatically weighed and circumference measurements were taken. Based on this study, the Army circumference formula for the tape test was built. When the body fat estimates from the tape test were compared to the “gold standard” of hydrostatic weighing the values provide were an R=0.817 with Standard Error of 4 for men and an R=0.820 and a Standard Error of 3.5 for women. The assessment was also cross-validated in a population of Navy personnel.

In statistics you have the R or correlation coefficient which tells you how well one test correlates to the other with 0 being no correlation and 1 being a perfect correlation. The only way you get 1 is when comparing something to itself so anything 0.80 and above is considered a strong correlation. These tests were 0.81-0.82.

For perspective, the correlation coefficient for asbestos exposure and cancer, particularly mesothelioma, is reported around 0.80, a slightly lower correlation.

Aren’t there better alternatives? In a 2013 Army Times article (“Experts: Tape test has huge margin of error”) they used hydrostatic weighing on 10 Soldiers. The irony is using ten subjects completing hydrostatic weighing in a non-research setting to claim flaws with a test that was developed using hydrostatic weighing of 1,513 Soldiers in a research setting and then
cross-validated using additional Navy personnel, and revalidated by more advanced methods such as Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.

All body composition assessments are estimates. The only way to directly measure body fat is to dissect a cadaver, cut out all the fat, and weigh it. Every assessment has its flaws.
For hydrostatic weighing, if you drink a bunch of fluid or just ate a large meal, you would be denser and therefore the extra weight would be interpreted as lean mass and a lower body fat percentage. That is why how the test was administered makes a difference. In a research setting, such as the one used to develop the tape test, the researchers control for things like subject hydration status etc. In the 10 subjects the Army Times assessed we don’t know if these things were taken into account.

Bioelectrical Impedance (BIA), as seen on some types of bathroom scales, estimates body fat based on body water. So hydration status and the quality of the machine can significantly impact the estimate. Skin-fold calipers requires a trained professional with knowledge of the appropriate anatomical sites and technique. The Army used skin-fold calipers in the past but found the tape test to have less variability, be more efficient, and according to Dr.Friedl better serve the Soldier trying to lose weight since intraabdominal fat seems to mobilize more quickly than subcutaneous fat as he reported “waist circumference based military equations are relatively sensitive to changes in criterion-measured body fat for male and female soldiers during basic training and male soldiers during Ranger training”.

The tape test acknowledges that height/weight fails to take body composition into account and was designed to determine if a Soldier is over-fat. It was designed to be an efficient and economical assessment that could be completed by non-technically trained personnel. It was designed to have a strong correlation to recognized “gold standards” in body composition assessment and work for all major ethnicities. Even in the Army Times report from 2013, they did not report that any of the 10 Soldiers failed the tape test that shouldn’t have. So the tape test still did its job. When one takes the original daunting requirements into consideration, actually reads the level of research that went into developing the tape test, and compares it to the fiscal and time costs of other body composition assessments, a tape test is the only sensible answer.

It could be argued a Waist-Hip Ratio is a better assessment as it has been correlated to mortality in formal studies. A simple waist measurement, as used by the Air Force, is simpler still and accomplishes much of the same thing. Regardless, we’d still be using a tape test. Nobody that is actually lean and has appropriate body composition will fail a tape test. If the tape is giving a result you don’t like, fix the cause instead of blaming the test.

For more information on the background of body composition assessments in the military, go to Google Scholar and enter the names of Dr. J.A. Hodgdon, Dr. J.A. Vogel, and Dr. K.E. Freidl. For the cliff notes read Dr. Freidl’s review
http://hprc-online.org/physical-fitness/files/JSCRS87BodyComposition.pdf

Read more:

The Tape Test: It is more sensible than you think!

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I’m a Responsible Gun Owner? Seriously?

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The description given in the article below is not uncommon and it often applies to military, law enforcement, and hunters as well.

While living in San Antonio, I was a TCOLE (formerly TCLEOSE) certified instructor and worked part-time at the Alamo Area Regional Law Enforcement Academy. As a Texas resident, I took the TxDPS – License to Carry course described below. While living in Wisconsin, I was certified by the state Department of Natural Resources as a Wisconsin Hunter Education instructor and taught classes. I’ve been in the U.S. Army in various capacities for a quarter century and with the US Army Reserve Marksmanship Training and Competitive Program since 2004.

I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with many skilled people in all of these experiences but that was largely due to my seeking them out and knowing what to look for. I already had higher-level shooting experience via organized competition and held Classifications from national-level organizations before doing any of this. The then-director of the DNR Hunter’s Ed program attended HunterShooter events I held. I applied for that Academy after having a fellow Shooting Team member speak well of the training director and his program. My Texas LTC course was taught by a fellow instructor and USAR Shooting Team member. I specifically took the class from him to avoid the clown show described below.

Gun owners are often their own worst enemy. The level of incompetence described here is not uncommon. Military, law enforcement, hunters, and concealed carry people are often at novice levels. Mandatory qualification levels are only useful if they’re difficult enough to assess useful skill. That means people incapable of displaying minimal useful skill must be failed. The other approach is for the program to intend to pass everyone. This means standards are adjusted down until everyone can. This article describes the results of that.
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Tactical Theater

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However, the worst training scar, bad habit, and “please don’t do this in a fight for a life” is the “unload” – “show clear” – “hammer down” – “holster”…Ugh! I have seen it countless times in shoot houses, SWAT ranges, military training, federal law enforcement and training classes. For example, they will engage a target or two and mid run will drop the magazine, lock the slide to the rear, then realize what they have done and reload the firearm and continue.

This “training scar” only occurs during poorly-designed exercises or with novice shooters. I believe the author has seen it because what he describes is known to combine poorly-designed exercises with novice shooters, though by “countless times” he really means “more than once.” It is popularly and falsely attributed to competitive shooting even though there is no evidence competitors are prone to doing it.
https://firearmusernetwork.com/myth-of-competition-training-scars/

This claimed “Unload/Show Clear scar” is an artifact of tactical theater, where trainees are told to act in a prescribed manner contradictory to what’s actually happening.

The theater script says for everyone on the line to engage a paper target in a fixed exercise on line with others doing the same, then conduct a “threat scan” (menacing scowl optional) to look for something we already know isn’t really there while pretending we might still have to engage something else, even though we really know the exercise is complete.

So, somebody failed their acting script and dropped their mag after the obvious exercise was obviously complete and didn’t perform a head wag in the school-prescribed manner… A ha! Training scar! Bad habit! Gunna gethca killt in da streetz!

I’m certain this bit of logic won’t change the minds of people that insist on imagining this imaginary problem exists. Test it for yourself.

Set up a course that doesn’t have a definite end point, where participants genuinely don’t know if, when, where, what, or how much they’re supposed to shoot. This can be arranged as force-on-force (if you have the logistics to do it right), a shoot house, surprise course, etc. The important point is to not have a predetermined end.

If there is no training scar, participants won’t run a scripted After Shooting Scan (or whatever you call it) because they’re actually looking for things that might really be there instead of acting out a scripted head wag. There won’t be a UL/SC if the situation isn’t obviously in hand. On the other hand, if someone robotically goes into UL/SC without being prompted and before the scenario is complete, you can claim a problem. But only if that happens during a properly set-up scenario.

Running surprise courses where shooters genuinely don’t know how many or where targets are in advance, where the actor isn’t required to act out a tactical theater script, will reveal if there’s a real UL/SC problem. With the exception of lower-skilled people, I doubt it will.

Combat Readiness

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Members of the U.S. Army Reserve Competitive Marksmanship Program discuss their combat experiences and how competition shooting helps with military training and readiness.


SSG Bonjour

MAJ Garcia

SSG Porter

SSG Rosene

MAJ Rosnick

MAJ Sleem

SSG Fuentes

SGM Gerner

SGT Hall

SSG Hartley

Drill Sergeant Willis

CPT Freeman

SSG Kizanis

SSG Volmer


Analysis: The Army has a range problem, but it’s not because of the 5.56 round

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[G]iving soldiers a more reliable weapon with greater range is kinda pointless if we don’t address one of the Army’s most persistent and glaring faults: its marksmanship program sucks. There’s no one part of the thing we can point to as being problematic. It’s not just the BRM taught at Basic, or the qualification tables. The whole thing, from start to finish, really, really, sucks.

What’s the point of giving soldiers a shiny, new rifle if they can’t hit the broadside of a barn with the one they’ve got?

Now, before you break out the pitchforks and your Expert qualification badges, sit down and think about what I’m saying. Unless your MOS directly involves shooting things in the face, when was the last time you went to the range during the workday for something other than qualification? When was the last time you broke out the rifles for anything other than to qualify, or to clean them for inspection?

For most of you, that answer will be either the last time you deployed, or never. And that’s a huge problem.

Over the last ten-and-a-half years in the North Carolina Army National Guard, I’ve spent more time being told not to kill myself or rape people than how to shoot. I don’t have a problem with qualification myself; I can reliably shoot high sharpshooter to low expert. But I also make a point to shoot recreationally whenever I can. Not everyone has that option, and plenty of folks who do don’t take advantage of it.

For most folks, the entirety of their marksmanship training will consist of three weeks in Basic, the few days out of the year when they go qualify, and maybe a few days or even a week or two of extra training when they mobilize. And that simply isn’t enough.

Nevermind that the Army’s qualification system is stupid and outdated. Shooting static popup targets at ranges between 50-300 meters is a good start, but to rely on that as the sole measure of a soldier’s ability to engage the enemy is insane. According to the Army Times article linked up at the top, one of the driving forces behind looking for a new round is the fact that something like half of all firefights occurred at ranges greater than 300 meters. Meanwhile, your average soldier doesn’t even bother shooting at the 300 meter targets, because they know they can’t hit the damn things.

If the Army’s quest for a new sidearm is any indication, the search for a new rifle will take at least a decade, untold millions of dollars, a half-dozen Congressional inquiries and investigations, and probably a few lawsuits before they settle on the final product. Which means there’s plenty of time to teach soldiers how to shoot before the new gear ever starts filtering its way through the system.

As a starting point, come up with a comprehensive training plan that utilizes Basic Rifle Marksmanship, then build on that foundation throughout the soldier’s career. Get soldiers to the range more often. Update the qualification tables to more accurately represent the threat they’re expected to face. Enforce qualification standards like PT standards, and offer regular remedial training for folks who fail to meet those standards.

Or just carry on before and put a shiny new rifle in the hands of a kid who barely knows which end goes bang. I watched a guy from our battalion’s Forward Support Company shoot a 6 this year. That’s good enough, right?

Full article:
http://www.wearethemighty.com/tactical/analysis-the-army-has-a-range-problem-but-its-not-because-of-the-5-56-round

You Can’t Use Your Sights in a Gunfight

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When I was still in uniformed patrol, I happened to be about a block away when another officer pulled into a restaurant parking lot just as two men were pulling masks over their face and getting ready to enter the restaurant. One had already drawn a handgun. When the suspects saw the marked car, they ran and immediately split up. The other officer chased the one who went east, and I saw the one who went north jump a fence into an apartment complex.

I gave chase and the suspect ran down into a creek, tripped in the mud on the opposite bank, and then flipped over on his back. It was night time, but the moon and a street light on a nearby bridge provided sufficient light for us to see each other clearly. The world slowed down for me as he reached into his waistband. I was approximately 30 yards behind him as I drew my pistol, brought it to eye level, and transitioned from focusing on him to focusing on the front sight. As I was pulling the trigger my subconscious screamed out to me that something wasn’t right. I focused back on the suspect and realized what he pulled out of his waistband was a cell phone. I believe you could classify being in a foot chase with an armed robbery suspect, alone, in the dark, and having to decide whether to shoot or not shoot qualifies as a stressful event. Yet, I was able to transition from target to sight to target for the simplest of reasons. I was trained to, and I had been through realistic force on force training that had made focusing on my sights instinctive.

I’ve spoken to a multitude of officers and armed citizens who have fired their weapons under stress. In one particularly relevant story, a rookie officer, still in his first few months on the street, was confronted by an armed suspect firing from behind a car door. The rookie had cover and was returning fire. In his own words, “I fired 5 to 6 shots very quickly, realized I was not being effective, and then slowed down and really concentrated on the front sight.” After the initial shock of being fired on dissipated, he was able to realize why he was being ineffective, fall back on his training, and use his sight to get good hits and survive the encounter.

Massad Ayoob relates similar conversations in this 2014 article in which he says, “I’ve lost count of how many gunfights I’ve studied where the survivor said something like, ‘I was pointing the gun and firing as best I could and nothing was happening. Then I remembered to aim with my sights, and the other guy went down and it was over.’”

John McPhee, the owner of SOB Tactical, confirms that it is not only possible to use your sights in actual gunfights, but it is key to your success. John, a retired special operations soldier with extensive combat experience from Bosnia and Iraq, has related to me that he was able to use his sights during stressful situations. In addition, when witnessing other soldiers shoot, they were obviously using their sights even if they had no conscious awareness of doing so. In his words, “Gun comes to the eye, shots are taken and gun is lowered. How does a guy bring the sight to his eye and not see it and… shoot perfect shots?” John also makes no bones that training to use your sights is imperative for success in combat shooting. “You have to train to see the sights every shot. When the time comes, you will do it so fast that the brain’s subconscious will do all this quicker than the conscious can even remember it.”

Read more:
http://www.luckygunner.com/lounge/cant-use-sights-gunfight/

Staged Shooting Environment

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staged-environment

Good point. Police, military, and CCW/defensive shooting instruction and qualification is a staged environment on a one-way range under no stress. And they don’t even require “shooting quickly.”

I understand this meme was intended as a poorly-concealed jab at those of us shooting matches. However, low-skilled personnel spending more time fooling themselves that cowering from competition is needed to preserve their self-appointed tactical acumen instead of just learning to shoot better actively fail to realize that every form of whatever instruction, training, practice, etc. they hold as sacrosanct suffers the same problems.

Qualifications are staged environments. Marine and Army qual courses have remained the same for decades with the courses published in official regulations. Police courses are just as bad. The minimal standards needed to graduate recruit/basic/academy training remain the same throughout an entire career.

Qualifications are intended to be passed by low-skill shooters and retries are offered for anyone failing. Where is the stress in that? And such low-level qualification remains the only time skills are measured and held accountable at all. Even if “advanced” tactical and force-on-force exercises are conducted, its value and interpretation is subjective. As long as we all agree we did a good-enough job and learned something when congratulating ourselves during the AAR, then we’re tactical.

Funny thing, competition has been proven by laboratory tests to create a large amount of stress hormones and continued competitive experience does not blunt this effect. However, any stress created in non-scored, non-competitive environments has been proven via laboratory tests to diminish notably by the second time a novice tries it and is diminished much further by the third try, even when done on the first day during attention-grabbing events like parachuting. A brand new parachutist experiences less stress hormones during their third jump on their first day than an experienced competitor with a decade of experience and hundreds of competitions under their belt. This makes that “under no stress” qualifier a real problem for tactical instruction but not for competitive environments.

The best answer is to blend all the useful characteristics from multiple sources. Recognize that many things are beneficial but nothing provides a complete solution. A person with a reasonable competitive track record that shoots well, is in good shape, has formal tactical training in non-staged environments, and experience in force-on-force exercises is the best combination.

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