Inside the Army’s new boot camp prep course
A new Army program that gives “lower-performing” recruits 90 days of fitness and academic instruction before boot camp has been whipping soldiers into shape and shoring up the military’s ranks.
More than 5,400 soldiers have graduated from the program since being implemented in August at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, boosting the Army’s recruitment goals, which had fallen short due to low unemployment and wariness of military service.
Pvt. 2nd Class Daysia Holiday described the program as “basic training without the yelling.”
Before taking the course, Holiday had tried in vain for two years to pass the Army’s academic test. After 90 days of instruction, she raised her score by 20 points.
Holiday, 23, is now finishing her advanced instruction at Fort Lee, Virginia, to become a power generation specialist tasked with maintaining engines and other equipment.
The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native said the course helped her set an example to her younger siblings and help them avoid the fate of her peers, many of whom never graduated high school, some of them winding up “dead or in jail.”
“We helped each other out throughout basic training, so it was easy,” Holiday said of her fellow struggling recruits. “All of us actually passed, so it was a good experience. And we all keep in touch.”
The program — which involves classroom, fitness and discipline training, and instructions on everything from how to make a bed to wearing a uniform correctly — has helped graduates get a “leg up” in boot camp, said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth.
“During basic training, certain young individuals who show a little bit more leadership skills than others get selected to have leadership positions,” she said. “And what we’re seeing is the kids coming out of the prep course are often the ones who are being chosen for that.”
Almost 8,400 recruits had been admitted to the program as of March 17. Sixty-four percent of them had graduated to basic training, where their retention level of six percent was about the same as those who had not been prepped.
About 4,000 of the graduates were focused on academic work while the other 1,400 needed help getting into physical shape. Graduates had increased their test scores by 19% and reduced their body fat by four to six percent on average, Army officials said.
“It has been largely very, very successful,” said Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, head of Army Recruiting Command. “It instills a level of positivity and confidence in those future soldiers.”
The program came as the Army aimed to bring in 65,000 new soldiers in 2023 after falling 15,000 short of its 60,000 goal in the last fiscal year, according to Military.com.
“We’re really giving them discipline,” Gen. James McConville, Army chief of staff, told a House committee on Tuesday. “They’re getting in shape. We’re giving them a head start. So when going into initial military training, where they were at the lowest category, they’re actually excelling and in some ways exceeding the standards — becoming the student leaders.”
The results have been so encouraging that the Navy is setting up a similar program for up to 80 recruits next month at the Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois. Air Force officials said they are deploying other recruitment tools, but haven’t ruled out implementing a prep program.
“We are focusing our efforts on eliminating unnecessary or outdated policy barriers to recruiting, adapting our outreach strategy, and adjusting our recruiting approach” to better reach potential recruits, said Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service.
The coddling of the new military hopefuls came as the NYPD lowered physical standards for its new recruits. No longer will future cops be required to log a timed 1.5-mile run, a move that former training Chief Juanita Holmes said would encourage more women to join the force.
Holmes was ousted from her training post in the wake of the controversial move, which she implemented without the approval of NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell.
With AP wires