The Army announced plans Tuesday to establish a “prep course” for potential recruits who fall below the Army’s minimum academic requirements and exceed weight and body fat percentage caps amidst a historic recruiting crisis.
Created in response to a “precipitous” decline in the number of young recruits who meet the Army’s enlistment requirements, the 90-day Future Soldier Preparatory Course pilot program, which begins in August, will help prospective service members lose weight and improve their academic performance, the Army said in a statement. Only 23% of young Americans are eligible to enlist based on weight and educational metrics, according to the Army.
“This course is one of many approaches the Army is taking to invest in America’s young people,” Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command, said in the statement. “We have to acknowledge that society has changed and help our youth improve so they can benefit from the training and opportunities that Army service provides.”
The Army has achieved only 50% of its overall recruitment goal of 60,000 soldiers as of July, with just three months to go before the fiscal year ends in October, The Associated Press reported. The recruiting shortfall prompted officials to reduce active and reserve force size projections by 10,000 troops in 2022 and up to an additional 21,000 in 2023.
Worsening obesity and declining scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) inspired the prep course, Army officials said Tuesday, according to Army Times.
Recruits still have to pass the gender-neutral Occupational Physical Assessment Test (OPAT) before entering the prep course, the Army said. Recruits who finish body fat composition between 2% and 6% higher than the accession standards will transfer into the prep course.
During the 90-day prep course, trainees will be tested every three weeks and, if they meet the required standards, will automatically ship to basic training afterward, the Army said.
“We’ll take a holistic health and fitness approach, exposing these trainees to diet, exercise, resilience and reflection while they’re here,” post commander Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis told Army Times.
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The program has two tracks, one for physical fitness and the other for educational assistance to boost scores on the AFQT, according to the Army. AFQT scores have declined 9% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lt. Gen. Maria Gervais said.
After exploring various explanations for the recruiting decline, including a disinterested youth market, the COVID-19 pandemic and competition with the private sector, Army leaders discovered the test score deadline was slicing off possible recruits, Gervais said. (RELATED: The Army Has Approved Just 20 Permanent Religious Vaccine Exemptions Out Of Thousands Of Requests)
Army leaders said they would not reduce standards to increase enlistment. In July, the Army scrapped an initiative allowing applicants to waive the high school diploma or GED requirements as a way to boost recruitment, just a week after announcing the plan.
Military and civilian instructors would focus on “teaching” students rather than subjecting them to the harsher treatment experienced at basic training, said Michaelis.
The program will cost $4 million in 2022, according to Federal News Network.
The Army did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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