Army adding prep course to bring in recruits not meeting its standards

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As the Army deals with some of its biggest recruiting challenges in years, the service is opening up a pilot preparatory course to help bring in potential soldiers and is implementing a handful of other measures.

Starting in August, the Army will begin its Future Soldier Preparatory Course (FSPC) in hopes of better preparing recruits for the physical and academic rigors of boot camp and the Army as a whole.

“FSPC will help prospective soldiers overcome barriers to service,” Lt. Gen. Maria Gervais, deputy commanding general of Army Training and Doctrine Command, told reporters Tuesday during a roundtable. “The course will invest in individuals so they can overcome obstacles and serve our nation. The course will allow recruits who meet all other qualifications for enlistment, a path to service. The young men and women who will personally participate in this pilot have the desire to improve themselves and want to honorably serve their country.”

The 90-day program will have two tracks, one focused on fitness and the other on academics. Every three weeks soldiers will have an opportunity to matriculate into basic training. The pilot program will be held at Ft. Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina and then expand if necessary.

Recruits taken into the course will enlisted through a delayed training code. The course will take people who are up to 6% higher in body fat than the Army standards. Current requirements state that soldiers between 21 and 27 must not exceed 22% body fat for males and 32% body fat for females.

The program will aim to reduce body fat healthfully by 1% to 2% per month.

The academic track uses remedial classes and tutors to get recruits up to the standards of the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

Each component has a training schedule that includes classroom work, fitness, study hall, meetings with dieticians and military education.

Recruits do who not make it to basic training will be given a week of training on job hunting skills and will be able to apply again in six months.

This isn’t the first time the Army has relied on prep courses. In 2008, the service implemented a prep school focused on fitness that brought in more than 2,700 soldiers and boasted a 95% graduation rate.

The Army estimates the course will cost about $4 million in 2022.

Army officials told Congress last week that in a couple of years the active duty force could atrophy by 8.5% because of the lack of recruits. As of the end of May, the Army is 4.3% below its Congressionally-authorized levels for 2022.

The service said it would cut its 2023 end strength from 485,000 to 473,000 because of issues bringing in talent. Gen. Joseph Martin, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said that number is now between 445,000 and 455,000.

“We’re going to mission ourselves for 455,000 if we can achieve it — the question is whether or not we can achieve it,” Martin told the House Armed Services Committee. “What we think is going on right now is we’ve got unprecedented challenges with both a post COVID-19 environment and labor market, but also competition with private companies that have changed their incentives over time. We’ve also seen a decreasing propensity and requisite qualifications to serve.”

Currently, only about 23% of 17- to 24-year-olds have the physical and academic qualifications to join the military without a waiver. Out of that pool a dwindling number are interested in serving.

A July 20 memo signed by the Army secretary and chief of staff outlined three areas hindering young people from serving.

Those were a knowledge gap, where the Army’s story is not reaching enough people, an identity gap where recruits can’t see themselves in Army life and culture and a trust gap, where younger Americans are losing confidence in the nation’s institutions.

The memo outlines near- and long-term initiatives the Army will take to bring in more recruits. Some of those include extending 420 of the Army’s best recruiters across the nation to increase potential recruits and increasing funding for targeted enlistment bonuses up to $50,000. The Army is also enticing recruits with quick-ship bonuses for those willing to get to work in 45 days. The service is establishing six regional marketing offices and implementing a revised tattoo policy.

In the long-term, the Army will conduct a comprehensive review of the Army accessions enterprise, better incentivize recruiter productivity and apply new technologies to recruiting operations.

The Army says it will launch a full brand refresh to connect the opportunities and benefits of service to what young people want and work with local communities to encourage service.

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