Army To Offer Prep Course To Help Recruits Lose Weight, Boost Test Scores Before Basic Training
New recruits who don’t pass the Army’s body fat standards or aptitude test may get a second chance under two new programs the service is rolling out as it confronts a dire recruiting landscape.
The Future Soldier Preparatory Course pilot program is set to start in early August at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The two-track course will offer 90 days of training to prospective active-duty Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard soldiers who need to lose weight in order to serve or who did not score high enough on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, or AFQT.
“The young men and women who will participate in this pilot have the desire to improve themselves and want to honorably serve their country,” Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general, Training and Doctrine Command, said in a press release Tuesday announcing the program. “This course is a great way to increase opportunities for them to serve without sacrificing the quality needed across our force.”
Enlistees who exceed body fat composition standards by up to 6% will be placed in the fitness track, which includes athletic training, strength and conditioning, and dietary education. Trainees will have their body fat percentage measured every three weeks and can leave the program and ship to basic training once they drop to only 2% above the Army’s accessions standard, which varies by gender, age, height, and weight.
Recruits who don’t meet the standard after 90 days will be separated.
Only about 23% of young Americans are eligible to enlist in the military without a waiver — a problem largely attributed to high rates of obesity — leading lawmakers to worry about the future of the all-volunteer force.
Recruits who need to improve their scores on the AFQT, which is part of the overall Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, will be routed to the educational program. Enlistees with an AFQT score of 21-30, placing them in the top of Category IV, can use the program to try to bump their score up into the Category III range. The Army allows only 4% of each recruiting cohort to score in Category IV, so a score of at least 31 is essentially required for service.
Enlistees with an AFQT score of 42-49, which falls at the lower end of Category III, can voluntarily participate in both the fitness and educational tracks, according to the Army. That would give them a chance to boost their scores and qualify for more jobs and higher pay.
The Army said Tuesday that it had already identified around 2,000 applicants who may participate in one of the program tracks. In early fiscal year 2023 the service will evaluate how effective the course was and decide whether it should become permanent.
The announcement of the Future Soldier Preparatory Course comes on the heels of a memo from Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth that detailed the bleak state of recruiting.
“America’s military faces the most challenging recruiting environment since the All-Volunteer Force was established in 1973,” the memo, released July 20, reads.
It appears the Army will not meet its expected recruiting goals this year — in April, Army officials told lawmakers the branch expected to “meet an end strength of 476,000 in FY 2022.” But according to the new memo, the Army now anticipates end strength will be around 466,400 this year and will shrink to as few as 445,000 by the end of next year.
“The Army is making every effort to overcome these challenges, but we will not overcome them overnight,” the memo reads.
Officials military-wide say pandemic-driven constraints like virtual learning that limited recruiters’ access to students exacerbated a challenging recruiting environment. This year the Army has announced unprecedented enlistment bonuses, eased its tattoo restrictions, and allowed recruits to choose their first duty station from a list of eight states, all in an effort to attract more applicants.