Army reshapes training to spare enlistees the boot
Updated 7/13/2006 4:58 AM ET
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The Army has slashed the rate at which young soldiers wash out, allowing it to keep more of the recruits it has struggled to find.
That's due largely to changes in how the Army treats enlistees. Gone are the days when trainees run 'til they drop. Soldiers who need counseling get extra attention, not a screaming drill sergeant.
The attrition rate within the soldier's first six months plummeted from 18.1% in May 2005 to today's rate of 7.6%. Last year the Army, which supplies most of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, missed its recruiting goal of 80,000 soldiers; it's on track to meet this year's goal, also 80,000.
It made sense to change basic training, because the Army relies more on technology skills than brute strength, said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. "If you're losing good people with those skills because of lack of physical prowess, that's not a good thing."
Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the approach began in 2003 and was re-emphasized in 2005, after the Army fell behind its recruiting goals. Soldiers who fail tests are often retrained instead of run out of the Army, he said.
"You'll get guys who have never run a mile," Hilferty said of some recruits. "Rather than throw them out, we said, 'Let's change the training so we don't injure them.' "
The Army's also made training more relevant to today's fight, said Harvey Perritt, a spokesman for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va. Young soldiers spend three weeks in the field compared with three days a few years ago. They get issued an M-16 rifle on their second day, not in the third week as in the past. And they carry it everywhere, from the chow hall to the bathroom.
James Martin, an expert on military culture at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, said the changes make sense but stressed that the Army needs to guard against graduating substandard soldiers.
"Will you have people causing you problems later on?" Martin said. "That would occur if you lowered that standard at the end of training period.