FORT BUCHANAN, PR — A pilot program, spearheaded in Puerto Rico, called Operation Connect the Dots provided Soldiers interested in increasing their general technical (GT) scores with two weeks of training on arithmetic reasoning, vocabulary, and paragraph comprehension, July 31 – August 11.
Around 45 Army Reserve Soldiers were the first to go through the program, part of the Army's more extensive Basic Skills Education Program — generally only available for those on active duty.
Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Rice, 166th Regional Support Group's H2F System Manager, says the Basic Skills Education Program is designed to help soldiers who may have yet to obtain the ASVAB score they wanted upon entering the service.
However, with Operation Connect the Dots, Reservists now have access to the same education materials as their active duty counterparts, according to Connie Schauer, the 88th Readiness Division education services specialist.
"The Reserves Soldiers don't have the same opportunity as the active duty soldiers many times, and this gives them a chance to further their career," said Schauer.
Operation Connect the Dots was initially developed to fill crucial warrant officer slots; however, it became clear that other Soldiers could benefit from the training. The course was expanded to include Soldiers looking to become commissioned officers or reclassed to different military occupational specialties.
"It took me three years to get the program started," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taj Keeler, a property accounting technician with the 166th Regional Support Group. "Readiness is usually based on metrics such as IWQ [individual weapons qualification] and collective training, but a shortage in retention and recruiting allowed us to showcase the talents we have organically in our division."
Sgt. 1st Class Rice added that the course was established to further their education for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery throughout the BSEP and provide them education through the Holistic Health and Fitness system.
"What we saw internally is that a lot of junior enlisted soldiers who took the test were in high school and may not have established strong English language skills, and therefore, the test isn't necessarily indicative of their current capabilities," said Sgt. 1st Class Rice. "So, we wanted to align their current capabilities with future opportunities."
The program was designed to follow the Holistic Health and Fitness system, which focuses on five domains to build the overall readiness of Soldiers. These domains include physical, mental, nutritional, spiritual, and sleep readiness.
"Using all five domains to build a basic foundation assists Soldiers in their learning and study habits," said Chief Keeler. "This way, Soldiers are in the best state of mind and have ample time to study."
Of the 45 students enrolled, 37 could increase their score above 110, and seven Soldiers increased their line scores to change their military occupational specialty.
"We saw incredible results; 82% of the Soldiers ended up getting a GT score of 110 or higher, and the overwhelming feedback from the Soldiers is that it helped change their life, said Sgt. 1st Class Rice. "The H2F and BSEP made that possible."
Several students shared their thoughts after the program.
"I saw this as an opportunity to do something better and to improve my score to get more opportunities," said Private 1st Class Jenifer Restos, 420th Quartermaster Company. "I can be an officer, or I can reclass. I can do better with this higher score, and anything can come out of this."
However, improving their scores was one of the many benefits of the course.
"I feel like I can do anything; whatever I put my mind to, I will accomplish it," said Spc. Jomar Gonzales, from the 215th Military Police Detachment. "It feels great to be a part of this. I hope this happens more; this is going to help a lot of people."
While the idea is, at the end of this course, each of the Soldiers would increase their GT score, Sgt. 1st Class Rice affirmed they would leave knowing the brigade cared about them and provided a system designed to improve them and their families.
Throughout the two weeks, the participants were encouraged to wear civilian clothes. Chief Keeler said this provided a more cohesive learning space where ranks were not a factor.
"So many Soldiers have barriers going into training; I wanted to appeal to their human side," said Chief Keeler. "This way, they would be open to building better relationships with their classmates."
The most crucial factor to consider is how this program can be viewed as a retention tool for the Reserves.
"These soldiers are the future and will help fill your ranks," said Schauer. "If you don't challenge them, you'll lose them. If they're not being challenged, they're not going to stay. This is a way to help them jump-start their career."
Chief Keeler estimates that at least 40 participants will be able to fill some of the critical slots in the unit. He says that by investing in them, they can see what they can achieve.
With Lt. Gen. Jody J. Daniels' focus on shaping tomorrow. Chief Keeler offers his perspective on the initiative.
"Shaping tomorrow by focusing on current soldiers," said Chief Keeler. "These Soldiers will most likely be in front of the formation of incoming Soldiers in 2030. We need to continue to build them up so that the new Soldiers are coming into a safe environment, free of SHARP, EO incidents, and IG complaints. Giving them the tools to give back that's the overall goal of Operation Connect the Dots."