By Franklin Fisher (Benning)October 29, 2019
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- More than 100 young adults who've declared their intent to join the Army got a close-up look at what may await them during an Oct. 26 visit to a basic training unit here, hosted by Fort Benning and area Army recruiters.
The group of 110, which included high school and college students among others of military age, were what the Army calls Future Soldiers, those who have enrolled in the Army's "Delayed Entry Program."
It allows those thinking of joining the Army to get the administrative process started while still having time to finish school or otherwise get ready for Army service, said Staff Sgt. Bryce Fazenbaker of U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion-Atlanta. The battalion handles recruiting in an area that stretches from southeast Tennessee to southwest Georgia.
In the course of a gray, windy Saturday the group got to see a basic training barracks, climb into tanks and other armored vehicles, eat lunch in an Army dining hall, and talk with drill sergeants and other Soldiers about basic training and Army life overall.
Future Soldiers are those who have met with Army recruiters, discussed possible military jobs they might qualify for, and who have declared their intent to enter service. They're then allowed to continue school or other activities for a period of up to one year, after which they would enter training, Fazenbaker said.
James Mashburn, 17, of Warren Robbins, Georgia, is a Future Soldier in his senior year at Northside High School, set to graduate next May. He's in the Delayed Entry Program and has signed up for training as an Infantry Soldier at Fort Benning, something he said he's eagerly awaiting.
He made the visit to Fort Benning "to learn more about basic training before I came in, and, since I'm coming here for basic, I guess to get a lay of the land."
The visit -- the first of what officials said will be more in the future -- aimed at two main things, according to Atlanta recruiting battalion officials: that while the Future Soldiers are in their period of delayed entry the visits will help stoke their eagerness to enter the Army; and that by answering their questions and letting them see an Army training area beforehand, they'll be better able to withstand the rigors of military training once they're in.
The battalion is required to hold at least one special Future Soldiers event each year, which typically "would be something in a park or something small-scale," said 1st Lt. Justin Mangin, executive officer of the battalion's Marietta Company.
But earlier this year the battalion realized that teaming up with Fort Benning could be a good way to give Future Soldiers a head start on understanding the Army.
"The Future Soldiers always have questions as to basic training," said Mangin. "'Can I use my cellphone?' 'What's the sleeping like?' The showers always come up. So we figured, 'They always have questions. Let's show them.' With Fort Benning in our backyard, we figured, 'Let's do this,'" Mangin said.
First stop was a large tan building with red brick trim, the barracks of Charlie Troop, 2nd Squadron, 15th Cavalry Regiment, a unit that trains Soldiers to serve as cavalry scouts. The Future Soldiers climbed the stairs to a platoon bay with tan walls and blue pillars and lined with double-bunks and gray metal lockers.
There, a drill sergeant talked about barracks living and the typical daily routine of the trainees.
Then, on the ground floor of the building, they sat on gray metal bleachers and got to ask questions of drill sergeants, readily identifiable by their distinctive drill sergeant's campaign hat.
Can you have cellphones in basic training? Can you have tobacco? Is there much free time in basic training? Can you leave the training area? What about privacy? Those were among the questions asked.
But that formal session was hardly the only chance to ask questions. During a half-hour break they were free to step up and speak with the drill sergeants and other Soldiers on hand.
For lunch the group walked to the nearby Kouma Dining Facility where the menu included Santa Fe chicken, veal, spaghetti with marinara sauce, and boiled spaghetti.
Lunch was followed by a trip to MCoE's Armor School motor pool where several combat vehicles were set up for their visit. They included an M1A2 Abrams tank, a Stryker reconnaissance vehicle, and an M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Besides getting into the vehicles and having crew members explain things, it was another chance to ask Soldiers about Army service.
Future Soldier Fayja Winn, 21, of New Orleans, is in her last semester at Georgia State University, majoring in biology with a minor in psychology. After graduation next May, she's slated to sign her enlistment contract and take basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, followed by training in Texas as a medical logistical specialist.
She found the visit worthwhile.
"I came here today just to get insight on basic training," said Winn, who currently lives in Jonesboro, Georgia. "I wanted to know what it was about. So, like room set-ups, they showed you how the barracks is set up, how the bed is supposed to be properly set up, the bathrooms the showers, and just etcetera like that."
Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Buzzell is Troop Senior Drill Sergeant with Charlie Troop, 2nd Squadron, 15th Cavalry Regiment. Buzzell, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, has been in the Army 15 years and has served three combat tours, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
The Future Soldier visit can be a good way to help potential enlistees get a clearer picture of what Army training involves, he said.
"It gives them a chance to interact with an individual who does have experience in the military, and has experience dealing with civilians entering the military," said Buzzell. "It's a huge culture shock coming into the Army. It's very different for a lot of people. They have lots of questions. There's lots of things that they see on the internet or that they've been told by other individuals. But now, they're getting to come here and experience it first-hand."
The Atlanta recruiting battalion organized the day's visit in partnership with Fort Benning's 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, 316th Cavalry Brigade. The brigade is part of Fort Benning's Maneuver Center of Excellence.
Toward the end of the day the Future Soldiers took an oath of enlistment, followed by a brief signing of a proclamation in which the two partner units pledge to continue their effort to mount Future Soldier events. The ended the visit with a trip to the National Infantry Museum just outside Fort Benning.
Like Winn, Mashburn too found the visit to Fort Benning helpful, saying it gave him useful insights.
He's eager to serve, in part thanks to the influence of his grandfather, who's raised him his entire life, he said. His grandfather served with the Army during the Vietnam War as a machine gunner on an Army gunboat patrolling the Mekong Delta, said Mashburn.
"I've used him as an example of how I want to be when I grow up," said Mashburn. "He's a big reason why I picked the Army over the other branches."
Joining the Army would allow Mashburn to serve "my country" and "bring honor to my family," he said.
"Because it can get you out of your hometown, take you 'round the world, have you paid while doing it, have you learn new skills, make new family, everything that you could really wish for a career."