As the Army continues to struggle with abysmal recruitment numbers across all 50 states, the branch developed plans to roll out a “pre-basic training preparatory course” at Fort Jackson, North Carolina. The course will provide 90 days of training to Army prospects who are underqualified for military entry due to body fat percentage or mental aptitude.
If you’ve ever seen Renaissance Man, starring Danny DeVito, think the class of “Double D”s that he taught as part of his newest vocational endeavor. If you haven’t, then watch it. You’re welcome.
The Future Soldier Preparatory Course, as it’s diplomatically titled, was spun up to tackle two major trends in the worst recruiting year since the draft ended along side the Vietnam war in 1973: obesity and atrocious ASVAB scores.
What will the course look like?
According to Lt. Gen. Maria Gervais, Deputy Commanding General for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command:
“The Army is not lowering standards but instead increasing the opportunity to serve without sacrificing the quality needed across the force. Through the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, the Army will provide focused academic and fitness instructions for those who have the desire and ability to achieve the Army standard to increase the quality of individuals entering basic training.”
The program has two tracks: fitness and academic. The fitness track includes education, training, and guidance on diet, exercise and life style choices that will enable motivated individuals to meet the standards they need to complete basic training. The academic track focuses on providing education in fields that are otherwise considered to be “assumed knowledge” that otherwise qualified prospects might lack, preventing them from earning a satisfactory score on their ASVAB.
Both tracks will involve a crew of Drill Sergeants, civilian instructors, and Army skills cadre leading hopefuls in physical activity and educational training.
The course is 90 days and allows participants to attempt to “test out” every three weeks. Participants successfully pass their “height and weight” assessment or their ASVAB will then ship off to basic training before the 90 day mark.
Is it really worth it?
Yeah, it might be. Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, Commanding General of Fort Jackson points out that the current model for recruiting involves “waiting for society to show up to our recruiting stations that met all the standards.” He also adds that for many young Americans, meeting those standards can be a challenging journey and that a number of current “societal trends… have challenged that journey.”
It’s no secret why recruiting numbers are so low – if you own a social media account or go on the internet at least once a day, it’s hard to miss all the red flags being reported about the many issues within the military. But in spite of those issues, military service is still a tremendous opportunity which can yield a spectacular career within or even outside of the organization.
This program has the potential to increase recruitment numbers by not just casting a broader net or lowering the standards, but by providing the opportunity to serve to people who want it more than their peers, but may not have the knowhow to change their body or their aptitude on their own.
Who is this for?
We’ve already established that the course is designed to reduce body fat and increase mental aptitude. Body fat is pretty easy to quantify and understand, but the Army’s method for assessing mental aptitude requires just a bit more background. The ASVAB contains questions that tests the takers proficiency in math, language, reading, and reasoning. Those combined gives the takers Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score.
The Future Soldier Preparatory Course is for:
- Prospects with an AFQT score between 21 to 31 – so within 10 points of the minimum allowable score
- Applicants whose body fat percentage is 2-6% higher than allowable for entry
- Prospects with an AFQT score of 42 to 49 – while these scores are acceptable for entry, those who wish to score higher in order to qualify for a wider range of jobs may participate “voluntarily”
Questions that remain:
- Prospects who fail to complete the course will be chaptered on an entry level separation, which traditionally qualifies for VA benefits – will Future Soldier Preparatory Course washouts qualify for VA benefits?
- If so, and IF this pilot program exists with any significant longevity, what impact will that have on an already stressed VA system?
- Since conscripts in the program are given rank and pay, does this count towards their time in service? Does it count towards their time in grade?
- Are participants in this course for 90 days going to be eligible for promotion three months earlier than troops with whom they serve in basic training? If so, is that fair?