By Capt. Derek B. WamsleyJune 6, 2013
"Sergeant, I don't want to ship anymore."
The reasons that a Future Soldier may have that prevent them from going to Basic Combat Training are varied, but the impact is always the same. Each Future Soldier that refuses to join the Army represents hours of work from recruiters down the drain. In this constrained recruiting environment, every minute spent in our recruiting efforts is invaluable. Every recruiter knows the basic preventative techniques to use to re-engender commitment in a less-than-motivated Future Soldier. But the question remains: what can we do to prevent cold feet?
The simplest answer is to provide more engaging Future Soldier Training. Most programs center on the Basic Training Task List, but Future Soldiers who are waiting for a year to ship will quickly become bored. No matter how much effort a Future Soldier Leader puts forth to make a phonetic alphabet class engaging, it is still a class on the phonetic alphabet. Instead, creating competitive events that will encourage Future Soldiers to take ownership of the training ensures Future Soldiers come to training because they want to come, not because they have to come. Some of my more creative Future Soldier leaders have created engaging events that include all aspects of the Basic Training Task List, and creates a spirit of competition in the group. One such event was a "Run to the Grand Canyon." Two teams of Future Soldiers logged their combined miles ran during each PT event, and the miles would only be added to their total after passing a series of Task List-related quizzes. The winning team won a pizza party.
Restructuring the Future Soldier roster is another effective method of maintaining accountability of Future Soldiers. We have used the Basic Training format successfully, with Future Soldier squad leaders, and a Future Soldier platoon guide. Future Soldiers selected for these leadership positions should have already been promoted for referral, APFT, and BCTTL to be an example to their peers. The squad leaders and platoon guide are in charge of accountability (with recruiter oversight), and arranging rides for everyone to attend training, and can assist with other tasks that the Future Soldier Leader needs accomplished.
Another effective mitigating tool is to address concerns before they come up. This may seem like an obvious solution, but it comes up so often that it definitely bears scrutiny. Most of us have been in these Future Soldiers' shoes, getting ready to ship to Basic Training and not knowing what to expect was a nervous time for me personally. The most prevalent concern that arises while speaking with Future Soldiers is that they don't know what to expect, other than what is depicted in the Basic Training video. As a former Infantry One Station Unit Training Commander, I have found that sharing the Basic Training experience from my viewpoint has been useful in reducing their nervousness. I usually reiterate the importance of physical fitness, and these briefings can also help lower the amount of overweight Future Soldiers in our rosters.
Some remote areas (like some in my company footprint) cover thousands of square miles, and recruiting efforts are focused in several dispersed population centers. My recruiters have a difficult time making it to the high schools in those areas weekly. Imagine how a young Future Soldier feels about making the same weekly eighty-mile trip to the recruiting center. It is easy to understand that such Future Soldiers can't make it every week. But it's also easy for one week to turn into one month, and the next thing we know, the Future Soldier is on the phone telling the center commander that they have lost interest in the Army. A possible solution in these difficult situations is to conduct multiple Future Soldier events: one in the recruiting center, and one in a centralized location where outlying Future Soldiers don't face as much difficulty in attending training.
Rewarding Future Soldier achievement remains the most powerful retention tool at our disposal. Promotions are effective, and every center that I'm aware of conducts promotion ceremonies during Future Soldier training. However, since physical fitness is a struggle for these young Soldiers, Future Soldier Leaders have mandated that the black Army Strong shirt is the required uniform for PT- unless they have passed their APFT. Those elite Future Soldiers are authorized to wear the tan Army Strong shirt. It might not seem like much to a recruiter, but the Future Soldiers covet the tan shirt, and will work harder to pass.
The Future Soldier Leader is a challenging position, especially while operating under Small Unit Recruiting. It's not uncommon to see a Future Soldier Leader with over ninety Soldiers in his or her care. Using some of these tools may seem like additional work for an already overworked Soldier, but as Future Soldiers begin to gain motivation to train and lead their peers, the job becomes much easier. The key to success is communication with the chain of command, innovation, and as always, leadership. Using these techniques will ensure that recruiters are not wasting hours of their time to help a young Soldier to enlist, only to have them quit out of apathy.