Soldiers stateside wear their PT belts during a division run. Leaders of the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea will now get to decide whether their soldiers need to wear the PT belt. (Sgt. Jon Heinrich / Army)
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It could be an end of an era for the much-maligned PT belt.
For 2nd Infantry Division soldiers in South Korea, mandatory wear of the reflective belt is no longer the rule.
Unit leaders will nowget to decide whether their soldiers need to wear the PT belt for the day’s physical training.
The guidance, issued to 2nd ID soldiers Aug. 26, applies only to PT on post, Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew J. Spano, 2nd ID CSM, told Army Times.
The top enlisted officer for Eighth Army, Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens, said in an emailed statement that Eighth Army “standards for the wear of the safety reflective belt with the IPFU (improved physical fitness uniform) have not changed.” But the standards give the subordinate commands, such as the 2nd ID, authority to modify the uniform, the statement said.
Although the 2nd ID guidance is not a policy change, AR 670-1— the Army’s uniform regulation — has always stated that wear of the reflective belt is required only when directed by a commander.
For soldiers, the culture change is dramatic.
For years, senior noncommissioned officers have zealously emphasized safety with the wear of the PT belt.
Even when in the chow line or when doing PT in a parade field, if soldiers did not have a PT belt on with their PT uniform, they were likely to be disciplined . So much emphasis had been put on the protective properties of the reflective belts, soldiers began mocking it among themselves and in Internet memes.
Spano said he doesn’t know when mandatory wear of the PT belt became the rule, but the new guidance is an attempt to get junior leaders out of the mentality of doing something just because it has always been done, he said.
“We want to train our leaders how to think, not just what to think,” Spano said. “It is not a default piece of equipment needed to be worn; it is up to them to make that decision.”
“Leaders in this division, when they plan their training — and part of their training is to do it in a safe environment where they don’t need to wear a safety reflective belt — then they can make that decision when not to wear it, instead of just wearing it because ‘I was told to wear it,’ or wearing it because ‘I always thought it was a mandatory part of the uniform,’” Spano said.
Spano stressed that safety is a top priority for 2nd ID and that wear of the PT belt will be decided after unit leaders sign off on a comprehensive risk assessment.
Soon after 2nd ID posted the new guidance on their Facebook page Aug. 26, U.S. Army W.T.F. Moments, a popular Facebook page for the military community, posted a screen shot of the guidance. The reaction was immediate.
Many saw the news as a triumph of common sense.
“Someone needs to check that [division command sergeant major]. Since when can the military have such a flash of sanity run thru its ranks?” one commenter posted.
Another commenter asked, “Who let common sense into the 2nd ID?”
Others greeted the news cautiously. In a post one person asks, semiseriously, if it is a “trap” by command sergeants major to trick soldiers. Another poster said “units will still force the wear of PT belts.”
While some at 2nd ID might need time to adjust to the new mindset, when asked if he thinks that regardless of the guidance, soldiers will still get harassed by senior leaders if they are not wearing their PT belts during PT, Spano said, “Not in this division.”