By Fonda Bock, Recruiting CommandMay 21, 2013
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Future Soldiers expect basic combat training to be tough, but not the road to get there.
So the day when applicants show up at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to enlist, the whole process should run smoothly from the first examination of the morning to the end of the day when they swear in -- it should be a pleasant one-stop-shop experience, according to Capt. April Habib, operations officer for the Louisville, Ky., MEPS.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen that way. Approximately 11 percent of Army applicants don't qualify on the first trip to the MEPS, delaying their entry into the Army by days, weeks or sometimes months.
Most times, the delay is due to the applicant not having proper documentation of their medical histories, or running into a medical issue during the processing that needs further evaluation. There have been a number of cases where applicants had excessive earwax or problems with eye refraction, according to Trish Crowe, chief of the Enlistment Eligibility Processing Division, Recruiting Command G-3.
There have also been issues with applicants being sent home because they weren't properly dressed.
On average, it costs $1,372 dollars to send an applicant to MEPS and roughly the same amount for every return trip, according to Crowe. Not only do return trips to the MEPS waste time and money, they inconvenience applicants and leave recruiters wondering why their applicants didn't make it through, said USAREC headquarters Inspector General Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Telepak.
Ensuring applicants are properly prepared and make it through the MEPS process on the first try is exactly why Telepak encourages every recruiter to attend new recruiter orientation at their respective MEPS as soon as possible after PCSing. Recruiters are required to attend the orientation within the first three months upon arriving at their new center, but according to Telepak, there are some recruiters who either delay going to the orientation for up to year or don't go at all.
"After recruiters have been out there a few months they think they don't need to go, that the orientation is not going to benefit them -- and that's not true," said Telepak. "This is a recruiter's one chance to go back into the area where all the written and physical testings are conducted -- which is normally off limits to recruiters. This experience will provide them with the knowledge of how MEPS operates and how to thoroughly prepare their applicants for the process.
"For instance, if an applicant shows up in flip flops, they will be sent home. The residual effect is, now you have a dissatisfied applicant and wasted a lot of time and money getting the applicant there. Or the physical may be the first time an applicant has stood in a room with a bunch of other people in their underwear, and was completely unprepared for that to happen, but if you explain the process, then he/she knows what to expect.
"When an applicant doesn't know what to expect, it's an uncomfortable experience and the recruiter loses credibility. When you properly prepare an applicant, chances are that he or she will be fine."
Another problem that arises from not properly preparing Future Soldiers, according to Habib, is it interrupts the red carpet treatment MEPS is trying to present applicants.
"Picture yourself having to come to the MEPS several times or having to sit there all day because you didn't discuss all potential issues beforehand or didn't have the right paperwork. Yes, as an applicant, I might be anxious to join, but I'd rather go one time and get it done," she said. "If you go into the service with a bad taste in your mouth because inprocessing was a bad experience, that actually sets up the tone for what you think your career is going to be like."
"All aspects of the MEPS experience should be transparent for the applicants and the recruiters -- no surprises," added Louisville MEPS Commander Marine Maj. Cherish Joostberns. "Part of the responsibility of the MEPS is to educate and build relationships with the services to make the process as smooth and professional as possible."
Newly assigned to the Culver City, Calif., Recruiting Center, Sgt. William Diaz attended the January orientation at the Los Angeles MEPS. He found it very helpful learning how to properly fill out forms and better relate to prospects.
"I strengthened my Army interviewing and prospecting skills. Now I have no problem approaching civilians and breaking the ice to make a good first impression. Attending the orientation also helped me build better rapport and establish trust with my applicants because the more knowledge I give an applicant about what he/she is getting himself/herself into, the better prepared they are for the MEPS experience."
Even though the processing of applicants is standard, MEPS standard operating procedures vary from location to location. For this reason, Telepak emphasizes, no matter how long recruiters have been in the command, it's important for them to become familiar with their local MEPS as soon as they PCS by attending the orientations.
Processing applicants to serve is a team effort, emphasized Joostberns.
"We want these applicants to join the military and serve, but we need to make sure they're medically, morally and physically fit. If applicants are thoroughly prescreened there's less chance of disqualification," Joostberns said.
"Before they come to MEPS we need to ensure that we've really reviewed and talked to these kids. We should have a full and clear understanding of what their medical and legal histories are and have all the documentation. We want to ensure they are fully qualified and we don't disappoint anybody by giving them a false expectation. So that when the parents show up to watch their child swear in, we're prepared to say, 'Thanks for coming.'"