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Pilot program helps thousands of future soldiers

Students of the Future Soldier Preparatory Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, work on improving their academic scores Aug. 18, 2022. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Ana-Grace Catoe

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WASHINGTON - When the Army announced the Future Soldier Preparatory Course pilot program this summer, the hope was to help eligible Americans overcome academic and physical fitness barriers to service.

A little over three months since it began at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the program is starting to bear fruit with some of the first students now graduating from basic combat training.

"The Future Soldier Preparatory Course was amazing," said Pvt. Jade Doran, FSPC and BCT graduate. "I have really bad test anxiety and I couldn't pass the ASVAB. Going there (through the course) helped with the test anxiety and my emotional strength."

The ASVAB, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, is an aptitude test that measures developed abilities and helps predict future academic and occupational success. Scores are used to determine eligibility for military occupational specialties.

The percentage of eligible Americans meeting Army enlistment standards has steadily declined over the years with only 23% currently meeting requirements.

To accommodate this issue, the service instituted the pilot program. FSPC has an academic track and a fitness track, both three weeks long. If recruits meet standards by the end of their designated program, they move to BCT, while those who don't are allowed to repeat the course for up to 90 days.

The academic track helps recruits improve their reading comprehension, word knowledge, arithmetic reasoning and test-taking skills. The fitness track helps with overall health including physical fitness, nutrition, sleep habits and mental health.

Both programs are designed to physically and mentally prepare the recruits for basic training.

While at the course, the recruits are on delayed training contracts, allowing them to concentrate on improving their scores without any distractions.

"The course meant a lot to me," said Pvt. Elysette Ortiz, FSPC and BCT graduate. "I spent a lot of time trying to get into the Army. It (FSPC) helped me make it to this point."

Friends and family have also seen firsthand how much this program has done for their loved ones in such a short amount of time.

"As someone who doesn't test well, it was hard seeing her come back time and again from taking the ASVAB test," said Carrie Speikers, aunt to Ortiz. "So, when this program came about, it opened up a world of opportunity for her so she could reach her dreams and become a soldier, which is all she's ever wanted to do."

Recruits enlisting through these programs will be offered the same bonuses and incentives as all other recruits, with those on the academic track potentially renegotiating their contract pending improved test scores.

Almost 2,000 trainees have already graduated FSPC and moved on to basic training. Students in the academic track have increased their Armed Forces Qualification Test by an average of 17 points, with 95% increasing at least one category in the first two attempts. In the fitness track, 88% graduated within the first three weeks.

"The early results of the prep course, I think, are pretty encouraging," said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth during a recent interview with the Center for a New American Security. "I think we're going to expand that program to other locations because we have more young Americans who want to do it than we can accommodate right now at Fort Jackson."

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