• The US Army will open a prep course for recruits who fail to meet initial academic and body fat standards.
  • The Army hopes the 90-day pre-boot camp training program will open the doors for new recruits who want to serve.
  • This year, the Army is set to fall significantly short of its recruitment goals.

In a move to bring in more recruits as recruitment numbers are predicted to plummet, the US Army says it will open a 90-day preparatory course for recruits who fail to meet academic or body fat standards necessary to start boot camp but would otherwise qualify for service.

The training pilot program will start next month at South Carolina's Fort Jackson, where the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry division has already started moving at least regular trainees to other installations to make room for these recruits.

Speaking at a town hall earlier this month, Col. Michael Stewart, commander of the 434th Field Artillery Brigade at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, said Army Training and Doctrine Command has already moved at least 500 basic trainees to Fort Sill to make room the preparatory course trainees. 

This is the latest effort to curb what is expected to be massive shortfall in recruitment. Echoing senior officials, the Army said in a post that this move is a "response to the most challenging recruiting environment since the start of the all-volunteer force in 1973."

Last week, the Army said the service is predicted to fall short of its 2022 recruitment goals by about 10,000 troops and could end 2023 with as few as 445,000 soldiers — 31,000 troops short of its expected 476,000 soldier end strength goal for the year. Testifying before a House Armed Services subcommittee last week, Gen. Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff for the Army, said the service has faced "unprecedented challenges" to recruitment during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Tuesday, Army officials said the Future Soldier Preparatory Course is being established in direct response to their recruiting shortfalls but added that it also may help the service overcome two specific trends affecting applicants: climbing obesity rates and declining scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. 

The course will offer two separate programs for prospective soldiers, one for improved test scores and one to help recruits meet the Army's body fat standards. 

Applicants who score between 21 to 30 on the AFQT — placing them in the upper portion of the Category IV recruits, who can only make up 4% of each recruitment cohort — can participate in the academic improvement course to improve their score to Category IIIB. Applicants in that category who score between 42 to 49 can "voluntarily participate" to move up to Category IIIA and improve their job selections. Participants will retest every three weeks. 

Potential recruits who enlist with 2% to 6% more body fat than the military standard for their gender and age can participate in the fitness course. Troops on this track will aim to lose 1 to 2% body fat per month, Fort Jackson post commander Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis told Army Times. Recruits can leave the prep course once they are within 2% of the military standard for their gender and age. 

The participants will be at the course on delayed training contracts, and those who still do not meet standards will be cut via entry level separation, allowing them to rejoin in six months if they can meet standards. Recruits can only attend the preparatory course once and can only go to one of the courses — meaning if they fail both the body fat standards and the AFQT, they cannot enlist. 

The programs are estimated to cost about $4 million over the next year, and the Army says it has already identified 2,000 recruits who may participate in one of the courses. 

Army Gen. Paul Funk II, the commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command, said those who are going to participate in the pilot program have "the desire to improve themselves and want to honorably serve their country."

"This is a great way to increase opportunities for them to serve without sacrificing the quality needed across our force," Funk said in a press release. 

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