By Mitch MeadorJuly 19, 2018
FORT SILL, Okla., July 19, 2018 -- The newest of the new witnessed the human side of senior Army leadership when Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, visited the 95th Adjutant General (Reception) Battalion here July 11.
Milley shook hands with privates and drill sergeants alike, chatting them up about things like the Boston Red Sox or what they plan to make of their military service. Certain privates he spoke to hadn't even been at Fort Sill long enough to be assigned to their basic combat training battery.
Eighteen-year-old Pvt. Wyatt Lackman is one of a lucky few who got face time with the chief of staff. He said he will have been a firefighter in his hometown of Lyman, Neb., two years this December. Now he's signed on with the National Guard and waiting to be assigned to a basic training battery. His military occupational specialty of choice is military firefighting. Once he completes advanced individual training, he will report to a Guard unit in Guernsey, Wyo.
Two more 18-year-olds said they had no idea they would be picked to tell their stories to the four-star at the pinnacle of the Army pyramid. It was scant weeks ago that Pvt. Susan Rasband, Yakima, Wash., and Pvt. Amber Berry, Swartz Creek, Mich., were walking across a stage to accept their high school diplomas.
Rasband said she wants to be a 35N signals intelligence specialist. For that she will train at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas.
"I'll be listening to signals and turning them into reports," she said.
"I wanted to follow family tradition," said Rasband of what influenced her to join the Army. Her grandfather was a POW in World War II and served in every war up through the Gulf War in the 1990s.
Berry had a similar tale to tell: she enlisted because she wanted to make her grandfather proud.
"He was in the 1st Marine Division in World War II, and so he served for a long time, and a lot of my family served as well, in Vietnam especially, and so I wanted to carry on the tradition as well," Berry said, who wants to be a 91B wheeled vehicle mechanic.
Lt. Col. John Schimming, 95th AG commander, gave Milley the grand tour of Vessey Hall, the one-stop shop for raw recruits.
Milley hobnobbed with trainees who were having blood drawn, medics who were drawing the blood, and even asked civilian nurses about their families.
After a sweep through the facility where recruits get their first government-issued clothing, the general ducked into a side room for a heart-to-heart with a dozen drill sergeants. Col. Mike Konczey, commander of the 434th Field Artillery Brigade, said two were selected from each of Fort Sill's basic training battalions.
When Milley asked about 434th's throughput, Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, told him 37,000 trainees a year.
Milley tossed out a few tweaks for basic training that senior Army leadership is mulling: a more rigorous PT test, an extended training period, and an increase in the number of drill sergeants to achieve a lower enlistee-to-trainer ratio.
He told Fort Sill drill sergeants they won't see the changes this year, but in the coming years there will probably be modifications in the length of time that they have with trainees.
"That's a big deal," he said of the revised PT test. "That's going to impact the whole Army. It's a six-event test It's a very hard test. It is gender-neutral and age-neutral."
The proposed test is undergoing Army-wide testing this year to establish minimums/maximums and what the score standards will be.
Milley said he and the Secretary of the Army will make a decision in October 2019 how and when to implement the test. The test will include a hand-release push-up of greater difficulty than traditional push-ups. Three-quarter pull-ups, knee-up bends, and a run/drag/carry exercise are also part of it.
Milley said the current PT test is not a bad test, but the standards are very easy. The problem is that it measures general health and fitness.
"It only correlates to combat about 40 percent," he said. "If that's the task then the physical fitness test should test those who are physically fit to fight."
Milley said he asked scientists to come up with a set of tests that correlate to the physical activity required of Soldiers in combat. The NFL Scouting Combine, which has a very high correlation to what's expected of an NFL player in a football game, has a 60 percent correlation to combat, he noted.
The new PT test, which is a derivative of the Occupational Physical Assessment Test (OPAT), would have a correlation of 80-85 percent to combat-level fitness. Scoring well on such a test would pump up Soldier morale and make Soldiers better able to withstand battles like those that past generations endured in Iwo Jima or Korea, Milley predicts.
The drill sergeants present were in favor of any change that might decrease their workload. One said they normally don't get home until 2100 hours and one night in eight they overnight in the barracks. Another said seven out of 10 drill sergeants in his unit have divorced, although two have since gone.