By John Harlow and Chris RasmussenAugust 4, 2008
FORT MONROE, Va. (TRADOC News Service, Aug. 4, 2008) - Today the Army opens the doors for a new opportunity to help young men and women who fall short on the education needed to join the Army as the Army Preparatory School at Fort Jackson, S.C., accepts students.
The four-week course is an Army pilot program to help young men and women who want to enlist in the Army to obtain their General Educational Development (GED) certificate. It will be open only to applicants who score in the top 50 percentile on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and those who aren't eligible to return to high school.
"This program is meant to give people an opportunity," said Gen. William S. Wallace, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. "This is an opportunity they can't get elsewhere and an opportunity to serve in the Army."
The prep school will also help future Soldiers prepare for the rigors of Basic Combat Training (BCT) with physical fitness training and discipline. Once fully operational, it could accommodate upwards of 60 new students each week.
Currently two young men are attending class at the prep school, and the next class is expected to have 37 students when it starts, Aug. 11.
"This is an attempt on the Army's part to get at the educational deficit that could be out there for young people who made a choice early in life to drop out of high school," said Wallace. "They now recognize the value of education and the Army is able to provide them that education."
The students are enlisted in the Army when they arrive at the Army Prep School, but according to the general there is an off-ramp.
"If they don't meet our physical standards or educational standards successfully, they go back to their hometown with no prejudices," said Wallace. "We're confident that we can capture their imagination and give them the quality of education. The drop out rate will be very small."
Soldiers enter the Army Prep School immediately after leaving the 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception). Upon completion of the course, students will then be shipped to their BCT battalions.
"They are Soldiers from the day they walk in and arrive at the reception station for in-processing," said Col. Kevin Shwedo, Fort Jackson deputy commanding officer. "They will be embraced by the cadre at the Army Prep School where they will immediately begin testing in their classes. They will go through standard physical training, are subject to UCMJ, will learn customs and traditions, but their focus will be to get their education."
Pvt. Kyle Rucker, the school's first student, decided to drop out of high school when his father passed away so he could help provide an income for his family. Desperately wanting to join the Army, Rucker was unable to because he did not have a GED.
"I am so thankful this program came around," Rucker said. "If it hadn't I would still be working a dead-end job."
Gaddis said Rucker, who will ship out to Fort Sil, Okla. in early September for BCT, is the epitome of who this new program is for.
"Pvt. Rucker went to three recruiters looking for ways to get in the Army," he said. "Lucky for him, the Army started this APS program."
The APS will help provide the Army with dedicated young men and women who until now were unable to serve their country, said Capt. Brian Gaddis the APS company commander.
"Because of education requirements, there are high quality, motivated citizens who can't join," he said. "The APS gives them an opportunity to serve their country."
Pvt. Zack Briggs, 17, who is the courses' second student, said APS has given him an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream.
"I have always wanted to join the Army and help the country," he said. "I like this course because I would rather get into the Army life rather than waiting around until I got my GED on my own."
The Army will evaluate the prep school throughout the first year and, if results are favorable, the program could expand at Fort Jackson or be opened at the other four basic training installations at Fort Benning, Fort Sill, and Fort Leonard Wood. TRADOC is also working with the South Carolina Department of Education to explore the possibilities of the state granting students with an actual high school diploma.
Wallace believes that the health and fitness of America's youth is rapidly becoming a national security issue.
"Today only 28 percent of the 17 to 24 year-old population qualifies to wear a military uniform. The other 72 percent fail to meet minimum standards on education, character and health," said Wallace. "We will not lower our training standards so we're faced with helping to raise the health and education standards for our young people who want to serve."
When the APS reaches full capacity, the school will educate 240 recruits at a time in core academic subjects over the course of four weeks, which may be expanded to 10 weeks. It is expected to yield nearly 3,000 graduates in its first year who, upon completion, will continue directly to basic combat training and advanced individual training.