By Ms. Julia Bobick (USAREC)September 20, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Walking into the room I was instantly met with the agitated voice of an angry young lady with tear-filled eyes giving an earful to a sergeant first class: "Why did you all put him into the Army? You know he couldn't handle it, and now he's dead," she shouted. Further in the room, a couple of NCOs were on the phone chatting with potential leads, a few more were working together on computers, and another was having a lively discussion about basic training expectations with a young man wearing an Army Strong shirt. A man in a T-shirt and baggy shorts entered the room behind me and a sergeant quickly popped up from her chair and asked, "How can I help you?" All the while a master sergeant sat at a table off to the side, continuously scanning the room with watchful eyes and silently making notes on a clipboard. He would periodically move around the room and interrupt with guidance or an answer to a question.
I felt surrounded by chaos. Was I in a classroom or a recruiting station?
"The training environment is chaos because that's what the recruiting world is like. It reflects the dynamics of the command and still ensures students learn the critical tasks," said Lt. Col. Douglas Bunner, the former Recruiting and Retention School (RRS) deputy commandant. "We create stress in training so they can get it wrong in a 'safe' environment, learn from their mistakes and still be successful in the school."
In a move to rapidly embrace the new Army Learning Model, the U.S. Army Soldier Support Institute's Recruiting and Retention School at Fort Jackson, S.C., has completely redesigned the Army Recruiter (ARC) and Center Commander (CCC) courses - from the curriculum and facilitation, to the number of students, to the students' duty uniform, to the physical appearance and layout of the classrooms.
The first phase of the new ARC still has students in a large group classroom setting learning basic recruiting knowledge and doctrine. After that, however, the traditional dress-right-dress desks in rows have been replaced with rooms set up like recruiting centers, where students are broken down into groups of 16 and desks are pushed together facing one another in team formations. On rotating days they come to school in civilian clothes to role play for the day as an applicant, counselor, teacher or parent. In the final three weeks, they are joined by students from the Center Commander Course (formerly the Station Commander Course) and they all train together just as they would operate in a recruiting center.
The RRS launched the first redesigned ARC pilot in June 2011, six months after the Army Training and Doctrine Command published the Army Learning Concept 2015 (TRADOC Pamphlet 525-8-2). While far from perfect, the first pilot was a great success, according to Don Copley, the RRS director of training who led the four-man team that embarked on a holistic review of recruiter training. As a result, the RRS commandant approved for the team to move forward with incorporating lessons learned into a second pilot in August. Daily after action reviews led by students helped the team continue to refine the course schedule, content, and facilitation.
"We were very diligent to document every day the things that could be improved," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark More, who not only participated on the redesign team but also conducted the first ARC pilot.
The course evolved yet again before being fully implemented in October 2011. The CCC was integrated in February 2012. All of this was accomplished with no additional people or funding, Bunner said.
Recruiters now leave the schoolhouse better prepared for the complexities of recruiting, according to Copley.
In the ARC, "We used to teach about three skills in great detail: building packets, making phone calls and conducting interviews - we spent two weeks alone on the Army Interview," said Copley. "Now we cover so many more topics - not in as much detail, but in a way that gives the NCOs more opportunities to practice the skills and expose them to the synergy and realism of being a recruiter."
In addition, the courses are less instructor-directed and more learner-focused - a key component of ALM - encouraging greater collaboration among students using realistic experiences and problem-solving guided by a facilitator, who merely fosters the environment for students to learn from each other and teach themselves, Copley said.
"In the same amount of time we are doing more, because we are putting the responsibility on the students to be more actively engaged in their training," Bunner said. "Students are free to use their own techniques and explore how they best learn."
The RRS's new approach to curriculum design is considered one effective model for implementing ALM 2015 in TRADOC. During a recent training accreditation team visit to the Soldier Support Institute, of which the RRS is a part, several TRADOC evaluators went through the ARC classrooms to view how ALM is being implemented.
"What we saw, and even participated in, was real student immersion; new Army recruiters faced with and solving real job-related problems in a simulated but very realistic work environment," said John Harrington, a Senior Instructional Systems Specialist for the TRADOC team. "ALM 2015 is all about effective learning. This is what we saw in the new ARC."
The Army Learning Model will be "elastic" for some time, according to Bunner. "How ALM is applied will be different for every branch, center and school. This is what we think ALM is for us.. We started with what we wanted the end result to be -we had to identify what the command needs from its recruiters and first line leaders, and then we built the courses to meet those needs within the established time constraints."
To truly evolve, the team had to throw the old training schedule and curriculum completely out the window and start from scratch. More said one of things that helped them succeed was the sharing of ideas and listening to instructor feedback.
"We looked at every idea - nothing was off the table. We empowered our facilitators to try things and then we'd all discuss why they did or didn't work, and get a consensus on the direction to take," he said.
"While many other schools are still wrestling with what ALM means for them, we are already trying to anticipate how we should next be evolving to ensure we continue providing students with a relevant, challenging and transformational experience," Bunner said.
While there was some initial resistance from long-time recruiters and instructors, nearly a year later the changes are overwhelmingly celebrated as a much-needed and long-overdue overhaul of recruiter training. Neither the curriculum nor the method of teaching recruiters had changed much in several decades; yet recruiting has changed a great deal through the years.
"We've been taught a certain way in Army schools throughout our careers - it's tough to make the switch to a different style of teaching and learning," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Reifsnyder, who - like many instructors - was at first skeptical of the changes.
"We felt like it was so much information, we didn't see how students were going to be able to teach themselves all the material," said Reifsnyder, who became a recruiter in 2004 and started teaching at the schoolhouse about six months before the course changes were implemented. He added that as instructors they really had to change their mindset about what Army institutional training looks like.
Bottom line: change is hard to accept, said Sgt. 1st Class Cian Bouchard, facilitator for the second ARC pilot.
It will likely be years before the RRS has total buy-in on the direction they are heading with ALM implementation in recruiter training, according to Bouchard. As more and more students move through the schoolhouse and succeed in the field, though, the more attitudes will change. Reactions, however, have been mostly positive.
Reifsnyder said he now feels he makes a greater impact on the students. "At the end of the day, I want to make them better; I feel like I give them the wisdom to be successful when they leave here."
When ARC and CCC students walk into their 'recruiting station' at the schoolhouse and learn together as a team, they gain such an invaluable experience, said ARC instructor Sgt. 1st Class Todd Alexander. Students thrive in the chaos of the redesigned classroom setting, Copley said, because it simulates what the real recruiting environment is like - it could all go as planned, or it could be total chaos.