By Robyn Baer, Fort SIll CannoneerNovember 6, 2008
In January, the demographics of the 434th Field Artillery Brigade will change dramatically and the 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery's mission will change completely.
Fort Sill currently has about one-third of the mission to train prior-service and sister-service Soldiers in the Army's Warrior Transition Course, and all WTC Soldiers in-process with Sill's 95th Adjutant General battalion. Approximately two-thirds of WTC Soldiers leave here after inprocessing for their course at White Sands, N.M. In January, 1st-79th FA will assume the duty of teaching all classes of WTC.
Fort Sill is scheduled to teach 21 cycles of WTC for Fiscal Year '09. To accomadate the increased WTC mission, seven cycles of basic training are being diverted to Fort Knox and other basic training posts where there is capacity.
WTC began in 2004, and Fort Sill assumed about one-third of the mission in 2007. In Fiscal Year '08 Fort Sill began inprocessing the entire load.
"That's been around 5,000 Soldiers per year that we've inprocessed through our reception battalion," said Maj. Chad Lee, 434th FA's operations officer.
In the past 12 to 15 months, about 3,500 WTC Soldiers were sent to White Sands, and the New Mexico National Guard was training those individuals. The remaining 1,500 stayed at Fort Sill.
One of the 434th's basic training batteries was converted to teach WTC for nine cycles over the last 15 months. D Battery, 1st-79th FA taught seven. Because of the number of WTC Soldiers who required training, G Battery taught WTC twice. And that experience is not going untapped. The drill sergeants who have taught WTC are helping train drill sergeants who will teach the course, starting in January, about the daily operations in WTC.
"Recently, the TRADOC commander ... decided to move the program completely to the active Army," said Lee. "It was a natural decision to choose Fort Sill because we had already been inprocessing everyone and training about a third of the workload, so he said, 'we're going to move this whole program up to Fort Sill.' We have the ranges to support it."
After completing a mission analysis and negotiation with TRADOC staff, the 434th decided it needed to convert six batteries to WTC batteries in January.
"We're going to take five batteries that were scheduled to train basic trainees, and they will start (teaching WTC) in January; it'll be staggered throughout January and the first week in February," Lee said. "It works out pretty well because it'll be two cycles of WTC for the period of time that we had allocated a 10-week basic training cycle. So it's two to one. It's a little more work for these batteries because they'll be training twice as often."
Prior-service Soldiers with breaks of service more than three years make up about 60 percent of the Soldiers who attend the five-week course; Soldiers from sister services -- the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard -- make up 40 percent of Soldiers who attend WTC. The WTC population is an older population. The average basic trainee is 20 years old, but the average WTC Soldier is 33. The average rank for WTC Soldiers is private first class, but 20 percent of the class are noncommissioned officers, to include sergeants, staff sergeants and sometimes sergeants first class.
Fort Sill can accept 256 Soldiers per WTC iteration. WTC Soldiers are considered trainees, but they are in a special category. They're not basic trainees, but they're also not permanent party Soldiers. While they have significantly greater priviledge than basic trainees, until they've completed WTC, they don't have the full privileges a permanent party Soldier would, Lee explained.
Fort Sill handles an increased number of basic trainees from May to September since most high school students who join the Army attend basic training after they graduate. Summer surge is that period where there is a large influx of basic trainees. Because of the summer surge, three batteries that are scheduled to teach WTC will convert back to teaching basic training for summer surge.
"We don't know exactly when or if any of those batteries will go back to teaching WTC; it all depends on the recruiting effort and training requirements," Lee said. TRADOC will have to manage or "meter the flow" to balance the recruiting effort to the assets available to train both basic trainees and WTC Soldiers during summer surge, he added.
When A, B and C batteries finish their last class in May, then they will convert back to teaching basic training.
"It's no magical thing, they just simply will pick up basic trainees," Lee said.
The conversion will be easy because the curriculum in basic training and WTC is very similar, though WTC is obviously condensed to five weeks versus 10.
"It's inherently similar in terms of basic rifle marksmanship and those sorts of things," Lee said. "There's less basic stuff. The first three weeks of basic training, the red phase, is very basic with a lot of classroom orientation, a lot of brand new terminology and such. We don't do that with WTC. We have to assume that they understand a lot of the terminology. Even if they're from sister services, they understand the dynamics of the military."
Lee said because the WTC population is older, they have a tendancy, because of their break in service and physical requirements, to become holdovers. They're pulled out of training because they're either hurt or they've had a hard time meeting the training requirement. That could be weapons qualification or the physical fitness requirement. That number is usually about 10 percent of the total class.
"Thirty-three is not necesarily that old, but it is if you've not been foot marching and running three to nine miles a week," Lee said.
Pfc. Jarrette Turner, a WTC Soldier, returned to the Army after nearly 18 years. He said he has had trouble with both PT and weapons qualification.
"Before, when I did (the PT test and weapons qualification), I didn't have any issues, but this time around after 17 or 18 years, it's not as easy," he said.
The requirement for Fort Sill is to have six batteries ready in January. Five will be training batteries and one will function as a holdover battery to manage the Soldiers that have historically either come in with conditions that prevent them from training, sustained minor injuries during training or required retraining.
Fort Sill is scheduled to receive female basic training Soldiers as soon as late June as the 434th FA converts to gender-integrated training. Gender-integrated training for WTC, however, has been accelerated in terms of Fort Sill preparation because WTC has male and female trainees. Females will begin training in WTC at Fort Sill Jan. 5.
"The nine cycles of WTC that Fort Sill has taught have been all-male classes," said Lee. "Since we're taking on the full load now, we'll be responsible for training females."
The brigade is making preparations now. Those preparations include sending teams of trainers, including battery commanders and drill sergeants, to Fort Leonardwood and Fort Jackson to observe a variety of things they will need to consider in, Lee said.