(NewsNation) — Army recruits at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, may appear to be going through the motions of most beginner soldiers, but they’re part of a slightly different crop.
This group is made up of people who want to do the job and serve their country, but are just slightly below the army’s strict standards.
“I think we’ve realized that we need to be part of the solution for society, not only from the physical fitness side but also from the academic side, in untapping someone’s true potential here,” Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis told WFXR’s sister station, NewsNation.
This comes as the U.S. is in the midst of the worst military recruiting environment since the inception of the volunteer force in 1973, with only 23% of young Americans meeting academic and physical fitness requirements.
The Army is the first branch of the service to get creative in bringing recruits up to speed, implementing the Future Soldier Preparatory Course pilot program to compensate.
It started last week with a crop of 250 potential soldiers, who have 90 days to go through two tracks in the pilot program, academic and physical.
For those who have scored below a 31 on the Army entrance exam, the goal is to bring up their score in three months. The potential soldiers can then retest every three weeks and get out early.
When it comes to those falling short of the physical fitness standard — like missing the body mass index mark — the goal is to reduce body fat to standards.
The commanding general at Fort Jackson told NewsNation he believes they can get recruits up to standards both in the classroom and when it comes to fitness.
To demonstrate, the Army ran “Banfield” senior story editor Paula Froelich through a sample of physical drills potential recruits will go through in the prep course.
In doing so, WFXR’s sister station was able to speak to a potential recruit who said the program has already given her a confidence boost.
“I thought my dream … that I wasn’t going to achieve it,” the potential recruit said. “And when I got the phone call that this program had opened, it just brought that joy that I wanted in me, and I’m like, OK, let’s do it.”
And in a pre-course rehearsal round, they’ve already seen promising results.
“It really opened up the aperture and what she can do for the Army itself, and that’s what I think is unlocking people’s true potential,” Michaelis said.
This prep course, if the pilot proves successful, is said to have the capacity to bring in 8,000 to 10,000 soldiers a year.
Froelich said it wasn’t the hardest workout she’s ever done, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
Col. Kent Solheim told Froelich the program is “no longer enough to keep unfit people out. It’s on the military to help those who are willing to get in.”
“They’ve got to meet a threshold, right?” Solheim said. “We’ll meet them more than halfway. And then they’ve got to bring their game and finish it up. But it’s an exciting thing to watch.”