FORT JACKSON, S.C. — When the Department of the Army announced that it missed it’s recruiting goal by 15,000 active-duty Soldiers, a plethora of ideas flowed throughout the Army to meet the demands needed to defend our national security.
First Lt. Alexis Gaines and 1st Lt. Kelvin Williams, from 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment, hatched a plan and presented it to their commander, Lt. Col. Jon Baker and then began coordinating with the leaders of the Columbia Recruiting Battalion.
Their idea spawned the Future Soldier for a Day.
“They approached me with wanting to support the recruiting mission,” said Cpt. Harris Disla, company commander with the Columbia Recruiting Battalion. “So, we worked together to get our future Soldiers here to where they can get a small taste of what basic combat training is like.”
Disla said one of the main reasons future Soldiers in delayed entry fail to go to basic combat training, or BCT, is the fear of the unknown. The first Future Soldier for a Day event, held July 8, gave recruits a look at what obstacles they’ll face, where they’ll sleep and shower and even what they’ll eat prior to shipping to BCT.
Baker said there were two main purposes for the event. “Number one, it’s to instill a sense of confidence in the recruits that they can do this. Number two is to expose them to the environment, so that it breaks down the scary façade of BCT.”
Potential and future Soldiers and their Family members met drill sergeants that took them to see and overcome one of the many obstacles they would face during training, the Fit to Win obstacle course and the Team Development Course.
Peter Burke Jr., a potential enlistee, said the obstacle course deepened his desires to serve his country.
“It makes me want to join more,” Burke said. “I do Spartan Races and every other type of race that you can imagine and this feels just like doing another Spartan Race.”
Burke’s desire to join the ranks knows no bounds, he said. “I’m doing summer school classes so I can graduate faster and join the Army sooner.”
Although nervous, Danielle and Peter Burke Sr. couldn’t be prouder of their son. They expected some of the events, but the enthusiasm and teamwork of recruits that didn’t know each other prior to the event was a surprise.
“I like the camaraderie,” Burke Sr. said. “I do like that. Even though they don’t know each other, they’re pulling for each other.”
Following his high school graduation this summer, Burke Jr. wants to help out his nation as much as possible by becoming a cavalry scout and go to Airborne School.
For Isaiah Escalante, the Army is a launching pad to help him propel his career in the medical field. At 18, he has already worked as volunteer firefighter and was working toward becoming an emergency medical technician when he realized that life as an Army combat medic specialist would be the perfect fit for him.
“I wanted to do something, to be something,” said Escalante, who shipped to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, two days after the event. “So, it wasn’t really a choice. It was fate that led me to this. I saw that Army combat medic specialists are basically doing the same thing I did, getting paid a little more and getting a little more adventure every week.”
During the Future Soldier for a Day event, Escalante was even able to talk to a drill sergeant whose military occupational specialty is a 68W, or combat medic specialist. The conversation just made Escalante more excited for his future career.
“Some folks look at the U.S. Army and they think of it as an anchor; this thing that’s going to drag them down and prevent them from becoming what they could be,” said Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, Fort Jackson commander. “I think it’s the exact opposite. I think it’s an accelerant. The Army is gas to whatever it is you want to be.”
The Columbia Recruiting Battalion and 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment are hopeful that these events will occur quarterly and help ease the fears of new recruits as well as their parents and other Family members.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to show what the Soldiers are getting into,” said Lt. Col. Allan Catindig, Columbia Recruiting Battalion commander. “They can see that every drill sergeant, every officer and every noncommissioned officer that’s running this is thinking about that Soldier or future Soldier’s safety.”
Catindig said it’s also an opportunity for potential Soldiers and their Families to see what the Army has to offer and what their future could look like if they were to join the Army.
“One more thing to add is that some of these parents are prior service and they have their basic training experience in mind when they think of their children joining,” Disla said. “Now they can see that the water is filtered, Soldiers have their own separate showers, the living quarters are in better condition and the food is better. It takes down those walls as well.”
The transparency and camaraderie were not lost on Kimora Hilton, a recruit with Columbia Recruiting Battalion that was undecided on her Army future. At first, Hilton didn’t want to attend, but the end result was an eye-opening and life-changing experience.
“I thought it was going to make my choice more difficult, because I was already indecisive, she said. “It helped me, though. I made my decision and I’m going to join.”