We are facing unprecedented challenges recruiting new Soldiers. Among a myriad of causes, America’s youth are less qualified for service than ever before, many unable to meet physical and academic standards. The obesity rate surpasses 20% among kids aged 12 to 19. Test scores on the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) have dropped 9% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. All-in-all, only 23% of young Americans are fully qualified for entry into the Army.
Since the all-volunteer force was established in 1973, this is the hardest Recruiting Command has had to work to meet recruiting goals and, despite their best efforts to incentivize quality recruits to join the Army, recruiters cannot help the fact that a lot of America’s youth do not have the resources they need to be physically ready or get the education required to score well on standardized tests. The Army recognizes that the societal difficulties facing our youth are not going away, so we are going to do something about it ourselves and build the next generation of Soldiers.
On June 17th, Fort Jackson received the initial order to create what is now called the Future Soldier Preparatory Course. The Prep Course is a three-week training opportunity housed here at Fort Jackson and it is our effort to invest in America’s youth so they can unlock their true potential and meet our standards. Volunteers will get the fair chance they deserve to be able to serve the nation. Under the two components of the course – fitness and academic – recruits will train and study to meet our strict requirements.
The Fitness Training Company in the 120th Reception Battalion will lead the fitness component of the Prep Course. It addresses the problem that many kids do not grow up with the focus, investment, time, resources, or diets needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Recognizing this, the fitness component’s goal is to train and educate recruits to safely lose 1-2% body fat per month by coaching them in the Army’s Health and Holistic Fitness program. Recruits will meet with dieticians, athletic trainers, and other fitness experts on a regular basis. We will give them the chance to develop healthy habits and meet the Army body fat composition standards.
The 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, also known as Task Force Opportunity, leads the academic component of the Prep Course. The academic component addresses the problem that standardized tests are losing their value for college admission and the reality that virtual learning degraded the value of education throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Distance-learning is not easy, and some Americans do not have the consistent access to the internet needed to attend online school. In the academic program, recruits will enter an immersive learning environment modelled on the Basic Skills and Education Program (BSEP). For three weeks, instructors in Task Force Opportunity will focus on teaching word knowledge, reading comprehension, arithmetic reasoning, and test-taking skills, the abilities any person must master to score well on any standardized test. At the end of the three weeks, recruits will re-test. If they improve their scores sufficiently, they will be able to renegotiate their contracts and pick from an expanded list of career fields based on their new score. If they do not improve, they can repeat the course.
In both components, recruits have a maximum of 90 days to meet Army standards. To maintain a quality force, recruits that do not improve are not guaranteed to continue to basic combat training. Recruits in both the fitness and academic tracks who are recommended for separation may be separated for unsatisfactory performance while in an entry-level status. This type of separation allows for expeditious discharge and allows recruits to reenter the service without issue after six months.
The first Prep Course recruits will arrive at Fort Jackson sometime in the next couple of weeks. We are conducting rehearsals now to ensure the first class of recruits receives the quality instruction needed to succeed in the program. We will learn a lot over the next few months and will certainly evolve the course to make it an absolute success.
We are investing in volunteers who have a strong desire to serve. We would be doing a great disservice by turning away motivated applicants who have the noble aim to join the Army but were just not lucky enough to grow up in an environment that could help them achieve their goals. We are removing some luck from the equation and will help motivated, disciplined individuals achieve their goals and unlock their innate potential. In doing so, we will build the quality Army needed to deter potential adversaries and, if needed, fight and win our nation’s wars. #VictoryStartsHere!