WASHINGTON – A remedial course designed to prepare potential Army recruits for basic training will become a permanent part of the service’s strategy in overcoming its sagging enlistment numbers, officials said.
The Army’s Future Soldier Preparatory Course was launched at Fort Jackson, S.C., in August 2022 as an experiment to help young Americans qualify physically and academically for military service. With higher obesity rates in America and fewer young people qualified to meet the Army’s entry standards, the service hoped the course would give those who don’t qualify much-needed time and training to get in shape. Service leaders said the yearlong test has worked.
The Army said it has had a 95% graduation rate from the prep course since the program started, a figure that service leaders called “an overwhelming level of success.” The results led the service to open the course at a second base — Fort Moore, Ga. — earlier this year. Officials said further expansion is possible.
“If one wants to serve, we have a way to fight through the individual obstacles that may have prevented their service in the past,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Kelly, the commander at Fort Jackson. “Every day these young men and women show that when provided the right resources and training, they are able to perform and meet or exceed the standards expected of every soldier.”
The Army confirmed the course will transition in October from a pilot program to a permanent part of its training operation. The formal switch makes more funding available.
The success of the course comes at a time when the Army has faced substantial obstacles in recruiting. The service is aiming to sign 65,000 new recruits in fiscal 2023, which ends Sept. 30, but officials have already said they will come up a few thousand soldiers short. All branches of the military have encountered recruiting challenges, largely because fewer than 25% of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 can meet the requirements to join the military, according to Pentagon data.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said recently that the service will bring in more soldiers in 2023 than it did in 2022, when it enlisted about 45,000 new recruits against a goal of 60,000. Wormuth said the total for 2023 will be between 50,000 and 55,000 recruits.
Since the Future Soldier Preparatory Course was launched, officials said more than 10,000 recruits have graduated and moved on to basic combat training. The course has two tracks: an academic one and another for fitness. At first, potential recruits could take only one track, but the Army changed the rules in the summer to allow candidates to take both tracks, if needed.
“Twenty-three percent of available awards in basic combat training are earned by Future Soldier Prep Course graduates,” the Army said in a statement. “And more than 15% have scored 500 or above on the Army Combat Fitness Test, where the maximum score is 600.”
The prep course is one of several efforts that the Army has introduced to boost recruiting in recent years. It’s also offering financial bonuses, official decorations and duty station flexibility for soldiers who successfully refer new recruits.
“The Army will continue to find innovative ways to invest in individuals who have the desire and passion to serve but may need help in meeting the Army’s enlistment standards, which we have not and will not lower,” said Gen. Gary Brito, who leads U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. “Every day we have new examples of someone overcoming their personal obstacles, realizing their full potential, and fulfilling their dream of serving our great Army.”
The Navy and Air Force have said they also expect to be several thousand recruits short of their 2023 goals. The Marine Corps and Space Force, however, have said they are on track to meet their smaller recruiting targets before Oct. 1. The success of the Army’s prep course inspired the Navy earlier this year to try a similar physical fitness program called the Future Sailor Preparatory Course.