WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 4, 2016) -- "We are always seeking future leaders for our officer corps. Nearly 15 percent of each West Point class can come from prior service," said Col. Deborah McDonald, adding that she welcomes even greater numbers.

"The RACE program allows us to expedite the admissions testing and evaluation process through Soldiers' units to maximize our recruiting efforts," said McDonald, who is the director of admissions at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

RACE -- the Rapid Application Completion Exercise -- provides an edge to enlisted Soldiers for getting through the tough, arduous admissions process in a streamlined manner, said Maj. Jason Dupuis, Soldier admission officer, USMA Directorate of Admissions.

The advantage to the Army is that it retains its best and brightest enlisted Soldiers and provides competent leadership to the Army, he said.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey said he strongly encourages Soldiers to apply.

"When we have a high number of Soldiers admitted to the U.S. Military Academy, it adds to the diverse composition of the Corps of Cadets," Dailey said. "This diversity invaluably increases the overall educational and leader development opportunity for those who attend. In short, experienced Soldiers who join the Corps of Cadets help strengthen our future officer corps from within."

Dupuis, the developer of RACE, started out as an enlisted Soldier. When he discovered that he might meet the eligibility criteria to go to West Point, he said he jumped at the chance.

The biggest hurdle, he noticed, was getting through the many requirements needed for the admissions process. He said he somehow stumbled through and was accepted in in 2001.

Over the years, he said he spoke to other enlisted Soldiers and they had similar problems with the admissions process. "It was especially hard for them to focus on their mission of soldiering, while also doing paperwork," he said. "A very large percentage simply gave up."

What RACE basically does is get Soldiers together in a day-long classroom environment where they fill out paperwork, take exams, and get questions answered by coaches. In that way, a process that normally takes months to complete can be finished in just one day, he said.

Since RACE just started last year, only six installations have tried it, he said. By sometime this year, Dupuis said he hopes to take it Army-wide.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS

There are currently over 60,000 Soldiers in the Army who meet the basic eligibility requirements to get into West Point, he said. Most don't even know they are qualified, he noted. Another important part of RACE is getting the word out that "you might be qualified," he said.

Criteria for getting in includes ACT and SAT scores, recommendations from the Soldier's commander, not yet age 23 by July 1, not married, no dependents and several other requirements, he said.

Dupuis said applicants can find a lot answers on the Soldier Admissions Program Facebook page and more information on the U.S. Military Academy's site.

RESERVED SEATS

Up to 85 spots a year are reserved for enlisted Soldiers at West Point, according to Title 10 authority, Dupuis said. Soldiers' commanders can nominate them to attend, he added.

Even if more Soldiers apply to West Point than will ultimately be accepted, Dupuis said the process gets Soldiers thinking about higher education.

"Maybe I didn't get into West Point, but I tried and almost did," he said, speculating on how a Soldier might think about their application process. "But maybe I can attend some other university and use my G.I. Bill that way."

Either way, it's a win for the Soldier and for the Army.

PREPING FOR WEST POINT

There's one more step to take after RACE and being accepted to West Point. It's called preparatory school.

Prep school is a 10-month program for enlisted Soldiers who may not have a degree, but who have the aptitude and motivation. The school helps them bone up on the material they will need to know in order to be competitive with other candidates, he said.

Without prep school, "that gap in education can be absolutely detrimental to Soldiers who are coming to West Point," he said.

HISTORY OF ENLISTED AT USMA

Ever since the founding of the USMA in 1802, enlisted Soldiers have been accepted to West Point, Dupuis said.

At one time, West Point "was our main commissioning source in the United States," he said.

During the Civil War, huge numbers of enlisted found their way there and served with distinction on both sides of the war.

In 1946, a preparatory school for aspiring enlisted West Point cadets was started at Stewart Airfield, New York, and then moved to Fort Belvoir, Virginia in 1957.

In 1975, it moved to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. "That's where I went," he said.

Today, the prep school is at West Point.