ARLINGTON, Virginia –
Amid one of the most challenging recruiting environments since the all-volunteer force’s establishment in 1973, the National Guard has taken a modern approach to engaging prospective service members.
Only 23% of Americans ages 17-24 qualify to serve without a medical waiver, down from 29% in recent years. While obesity, addiction, medical and behavioral health top the list of disqualifiers, programs like the Future Soldier Preparatory Course work to mitigate the risk of a potential recruit losing eligibility.
“This program is important to the National Guard because it focuses on turning unqualified potential warriors into qualified and ready applicants, ready to ship to basic training,” said Lt. Col. Adam Allen, the enlisted strength maintenance branch chief at the National Guard Bureau.
Since the inception of FSPC in early August, the Guard has referred over 500 potential recruits to the pre-enlistment program at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, with 301 on standby.
“The program has proven wildly successful. By referring 88% of applicants, the would-be recruits receive personalized training for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery placement exam, increasing scores and career options upon completion,” Allen said. “Additionally, FSPC instructors offer the tools for Soldiers to improve fitness and holistic health, including an exercise regimen, nutrition and good sleep habits.”
Upon completion of the three-week course, trainees leave prepared to meet Army academic and fitness entry standards and begin basic training. Because of its three-pronged focus on education, holistic health and fitness, the program is more than just a precursor to basic training.
“It’s a campus-style learning environment where it’s not so much ‘in-your-face’ yelling,” said Maj. Chris Wedge, holistic health and fitness team leader. “It’s more of, ‘Hey, how can I help you achieve this goal of (moving on to basic training) and becoming a Soldier?’ There are going to be some inherent interaction changes.”
The academic portion includes a course modeled after the Basic Skills Education Program the Army has used since 1977. The program aims to improve word knowledge, reading comprehension, arithmetic reasoning, and test-taking skills using a format proven successful for more than 40 years.
Trainees then learn the Army’s five Holistic Health and Fitness program domains — physical, mental, nutrition, sleep and spiritual — supported by dieticians, physical and occupational therapists, strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, and behavioral health specialists.
The program seeks to improve comprehensive health while physically and mentally preparing them for basic training and uniformed service.
“In the civilian world, learning how to eat clean was a big challenge,” said Jonathan Jeffers, an FSPC trainee. “Like, ‘Hey, I need to eat healthier, but that comes with a higher cost and takes some effort.’ It’s easier to get (healthy alternatives) here — everything’s laid out for you.”
The program is open for individuals seeking to enlist in the Army’s active and reserve components, including the Army National Guard.
Recruits enlisting in the Army through these programs can get the same bonuses and incentives as all other recruits, with those on the academic track potentially renegotiating their contract pending improved test scores.
“The Future Soldier Preparatory Course has created a pathway for so many young men and women who desire to serve in the Army National Guard that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do so,“ said Col. Gerard Williams, the Army National Guard chief of staff at Fort Jackson. “The training, knowledge and support offered by this program is the ultimate value added for these individuals and our force.
“This program provides an incredible opportunity for those who wish to give back to their communities and wear the uniform,“ he said. “It helps them achieve both their goals and rise to meet Army standards. It’s a win for our recruits and the Army National Guard.”