By Sgt. Richard WrigleyJanuary 17, 2012
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KUNDUZ, Afghanistan - With the Army downsizing, soldiers are finding it a challenge to remain competitive in their military occupational specialties and stay in the Army.
One of the key factors used to judge whether or not a soldier is allowed to re-enlist is his or her general technical score which is obtained during the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test taken prior to enlistment.
"During the Presidential Surge, GT score requirements for certain MOSs in the Army were waiverable, but now as we draw down, the Army is only going to keep its best and most qualified soldiers, so many are finding it hard to re-enlist if they came into their job under a waiver," said Staff Sgt. Justin LeFaire, a native of Chicago, and the career counselor in charge of retaining soldiers for Task Force Guns, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
Soldiers with low GT scores are not completely out of luck though. The Army has a program called the Armed Forces Classification Test Improvement Course which is normally offered at any Army education center.
However, the soldiers of TF Guns do not have an education center at their remote location in northern Afghanistan.
This issue was brought to light when one soldier expressed interest in improving his score because he wished to stay in the Army and continue serving his country, said Capt. Ian Benson, a native of Oxford, Miss., and the company commander for the Headquarters, Headquarters Company, TF Guns, 1st ACB.
"We looked in to sending the soldier to a location out here that had an education center, but the course is over a month long," said Benson. "Mission success is the priority, and we could not afford to take a soldier out of the fight for that long."
Benson continued doing his due diligence and became certified to instruct the course after he applied for it and was accepted.
Since then, the soldiers in TF Guns have had an unprecedented amount of success improving their GT scores, said Lefaire, who assists Benson in running the class.
"We've had three iterations of soldiers go through this class," said Benson. "Of the 22 tests scores that we've seen so far, the lowest has been a 115, the highest, a 130, and we're maintaining an average of 124."
The real success is what these scores mean for the soldiers, said Lefaire.
"Scoring a 110 or higher in the GT portion of the AFCT opens the doors for soldiers for reclassification actions and also makes assignments available to soldiers that would otherwise be unavailable," said LeFaire. "Also, career wise, a lot more avenues of progression within the military are open to Soldiers with a GT score of 110 or higher," he added.
As one soldier can attest, the benefits of this course are not just higher scores and the ability to stay in the Army.
"I took the course because I had to get a higher GT score if I wanted to stay in the Army," said SPC Nuria Cardona. "Before, I thought, 'I have a language barrier, I can't go any further,' but then I passed the test," she added. "Now I know I can keep going and try to better my career. "
Cardona, a native of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and a supply clerk for Company D, TF Guns, 1st ACB, brought her GT score up from a 95 to 126.
With an improved GT score, Cardona is continuing to expand her educational horizons.
"I'm even taking college courses now that I know I can better myself," she added.
Cardona is a great example of the success of the program due to the difficulties she had to surmount in order to bring up her GT score, said Benson.
English is her second language, and she struggled with the word and paragraph comprehension sections of the material, he added.
Benson said Cardona's hard work and perseverance are the two main factors that helped her ultimately complete the course.
In the end though, the success of the course was not just seen in one soldier.
"This class gives soldiers the opportunity to better themselves, and continue their careers in the Army. From a counselor's stand point, I feel this is a win-win," said LeFaire.
"I get to help the soldiers, they get what they want, and the Army gets what it wants," he added.