Signal battalion starts pilot program for FAST classes
December 17, 2013
USAG Daegu -- As the Army continues to drawdown the force, over-strength fields will begin to ask Soldiers to reclassify to a new job or face the hard choice of having to get out of the Army.
At the 36th Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade, Soldiers are helping Soldiers to make sure they have the best opportunity to stay in the Army and remain relevant.
The way these Soldiers are helping is by being a volunteer teacher as part of the battalion's pilot program for providing the Functional Academic Skills Training class. The FAST class is a 4-week program designed to help enlisted Soldiers improve their reading, math and vocabulary skills. After completing the class, they can re-take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and raise their line scores, specifically their General Technical or GT and Skilled Technical or ST score in order to qualify for special programs, special Military Occupational Specialties or entry into officer programs that they do not qualify for with their current score.
Traditionally, this class is offered at the education center on post, but due to budgetary constraints the classes are not currently offered in Korea.
Because of her passion to help Soldiers, Staff Sgt. Monica Castillo, the 36th Signal Battalion Career Counselor, when heard that the course was not offered in Korea she decided to put together a pilot program for her battalion. She put the class together with materials from the education center and other ASVAB test preparation materials.
"I felt obligated to help some of the Soldiers in our battalion raise their aptitude scores, due to the fact that more than 60 percent of our MOS's are over-strength," said Castillo. "So that means a lot of our enlisted Soldiers are faced with either re-classing or possibly being forced to ETS."
She said many times Soldiers just entering the service don't understand the importance of scoring as high as possible on the ASVAB. But, those scores she said have a big determining factor on whether you can commission as an officer or what type of enlisted specialty you can qualify for.
Castillo explained the requirements for the scores for many MOS's were reduced during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and Soldiers were allowed to join the Army with waivers to serve in their enlisted specialty. Now she said the problem is that those Soldiers are now serving in over-strength MOS's with limited choices for reclassification.
Others, Castillo said, came into the Army with bachelor's degrees and are interested in applying for Officer Candidate School or the Army's Green-to-Gold program to become commissioned officers, but they are lacking the required GT score of 110 to apply to be considered.
What makes the FAST pilot program really different from the ones at the education centers is that it is all volunteer Soldier-led and after-hours. Both the instructors and the students are giving up their free time from 1600 to 2000, Monday through Friday for 4-weeks.
"I love it," said Pfc. Debante Powell, a logistics specialist with 36th Signal Battalion. "The way they break it down in the math the instructors show us creative ways to find the answer so it won't take as long, so we won't run out of time on the test.
Powell said he was grateful for the opportunity to take the class to improve his GT score and hopes to become a logistics warrant officer.
Spc. James G. Habue, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear specialist, who came into the Army with a bachelor's degree, has to increase his GT score by only four points to qualify for the Army's Green-to-Gold master's degree program.
"When I joined the Army, I wanted to be an officer, but at that time I was not a citizen of the United States, so that put me behind," said Habue. "But studying is one of the key things and from there everything comes."
Staff Sgt. David Y. Ko, 36th Signal Battalion information management officer and one of the FAST math instructors, said he got involved primarily due to Staff Sgt. Castillo.
"When she explained what the purpose of it was…it's for a good cause," said Ko. "Just being in the Army and having to instruct Soldiers and mentor them and teach them the stuff you know, I find myself enjoying it."
The other math instructor, Sgt. Arie W. Freeman, 36th Signal Battalion personnel non-commissioned officer-in-charge, said he has always liked to help people and felt like this program was a good way to give back.
"I feel like helping other people goes along with the Army values," said Freeman. "It isn't about just bettering myself, if I see my battle buddy needs help with something I understand, then I'm going to lean to the side and try to help them out."
The current FAST class is helping 12 Soldiers in the 36th Signal Battalion try to better their ASVAB scores, and Castillo is already planning the for next class.
The 1st Signal Brigade enables joint and combined command, control, communications, computers, and information management operations throughout Korea to support United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, United States Forces Korea, and Eighth Army's ability to lead, direct and maneuver available forces during armistice, crisis, or war.