FORT BENNING, Ga. — Walking into his local Newark, New Jersey, Military Entrance Processing Station, Army hopeful Adam Vega was running on no sleep and little preparation as he sat down to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
The ASVAB is an exam that helps predict future academic and occupational success. The military uses it to determine whether an individual qualifies for service, if they can receive any monetary incentive and what jobs are available based on their score.
Vega struggled to stay awake during the test, and the exam proved to be a difficult task under those circumstances.
“Everything just didn’t go my way,” he recalled. “I was struggling with everything.”
After dropping out of college, he was trying figure out where he was going in life and thought the Army was a great opportunity. His plan would hit a snag after seeing his test results.
“It almost brought a tear to my eye because I knew I was capable of reaching a higher score,” he said.
His score of 38 allowed him to enlist in the Army with a waiver, but it didn’t offer him the job opportunities in the medical field he hoped for.
Vega spoke to his recruiter, who told him about a new academic program that could possibly help him improve his scores and keep his dream job a reality if he was interested.
He jumped at the chance.
Last year, the Army launched the Future Soldier Preparatory Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, with the hope of helping eligible Americans overcome academic and physical fitness barriers to service.
The three-week-long course allows perspective recruits, with an ASVAB score between 21-30 or those who cannot meet physical standards, the opportunity to improve and retest. If they meet standards by the end of the course, they move on to basic training, while those who don’t are allowed to repeat the course for up to 90 days.
The initial results of the program were very encouraging with students on average increasing their academic scores by 17 points. This success led the Army to expand the academic portion of the program to Fort Benning in early February.
There, volunteer recruits already under contract, who have an ASVAB score of 31-49, participate in the Academic Skills Development Program. They work with drill instructors, civilian teachers, as well as their fellow students to improve their arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension and mathematics.
“Being surrounded by the instructors and students helped me better understand things,” Vega said. “We worked so well together. It was a team effort.”
While going through the course, the students learned militarization to prepare them for basic training. Every day they wear the uniform, march to class and have an hour-long Army-focused lesson. They also work on their physical fitness and learn proper nutrition.
“We do all of this so they can be a step ahead when they get to basic training,” said 1st Lt. Randall Dunlap, Delta Company commander for the Academic Skills Development Program. “We want them to be as prepared as possible.”
At the end of the course, the students take the Armed Forces Classification Test to see if they improved. If they make the jump over 50 and into the higher classification category, they have the chance to renegotiate their contract. That opens the possibility of a new job, potential bonus, student loan forgiveness and duty location preference.
“[The course] is definitely a benefit to the individual if they want to better themselves,” Dunlap said. “It just depends on what effort they put in and how much they want it.”
The program has only pushed a few classes through, but they are already seeing encouraging results with the last two classes having 43% and 50% of the students reaching a higher classification category.
After retaking the test, Pfc. Vega was able to increase his score from 38 all the way up to 72. This allowed him to renegotiate his contract and fulfil his dream of entering the medical field as a combat medic. He also received a bonus of $7,500.
“I qualify for so much more now,” he said. “[This course] just expanded my opportunities, and I’m grateful for that.”
Other recent students also received expanded benefits including bonuses up to $20,000, student loan forgiveness up to $50,000, career field changes and duty station changes.
These benefits have the potential to make a significant impact in the recruit’s careers and lives. It certainly did for Vega, who said others interested in signing up for the program should not hesitate.
“Do it,” he said emphatically. “You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The opportunities are endless when you take that route.”
Improved scores also allow Soldiers to qualify for schools in the future as well as possible commissioning programs. The program continues to refine the curriculum and can tailor the instruction for each classes’ needs. Soldiers unable to improve their scores keep their existing contract and head to basic training or One Station Unit Training upon completion.