By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 02, 2008) -- The Army is nearing capacity on it's basic training preparatory school at Fort Jackson, S.C.
The Army Preparatory School, which opened Aug.4, will reach its operating capacity of 240 students within the next two weeks, officials projected. The APS helps young Americans prepare for and earn a Certificate of General Educational Development, commonly referred to as a GED, so they may move on to basic combat training.
Entry into the Army depends on enlistees having earned a GED, or a high school-level or higher diploma. Students without these credentials -- categorized as "Tier III" -- cannot enlist. In an effort to improve recruitment numbers, the Army has been authorized to enlist some of those Tier III students.
"The Department of Defense has allowed us to contract these Soldiers in as Tier III enlistees," said Lt. Col. Val Siegfried, Army branch chief for enlisted accessions. "After four weeks of school, if they earn their GED, DOD is letting us recode them as a Tier II so they may move on to basic training."
Students at APS are actually Soldiers, either E-1 or E-2 depending on their enlistment contract. They may spend as many as four weeks at the school studying and preparing to take the GED tests. In order to move on from the school and into basic combat training, they must test for and earn the GED certificate in two tries.
For students, the school is simply an extra step between the military entrance processing station where they swear in and the first day of actual training at basic combat training.
"We give them a detour here; instead of sending them to basic training, they come to my school," said Capt. Brian Gaddis, company commander, Army Preparatory School. "We educate them during our four-week program and at the end they test and get their GED."
Soldiers enrolled at the APS wear uniforms, get up early, do physical training, and go to class. They spend their evenings studying. Preparing for their GED test is the main focus of the school, said Gaddis.
"Our focus here is to hurry up and get them to basic training," Gaddis said. "All these Soldiers have a desire to get there -- to begin life in the Army as everybody knows it."
In the schoolhouse, students are not so much instructed, but lead in self instruction. Students work mostly on their own and at their own pace.
"Our program is more of an independent adult education study," Gaddis said. "For the majority of the class, the teacher is not standing up giving instructions. Everybody is working at their own pace. The instructors are giving Soldiers assignments and going around to answer questions or offer assistance."
Soldiers that enter the APS take the Test of Adult Basic Education so school officials may have a better understanding of their abilities. Then students focus on those areas they are weakest in. Students who demonstrate that they would be ready to take their GED test immediately are offered that option so they may get to BCT even faster.
"Theoretically, they could spend less than a week in class here -- if they come to us ready to test out already," Gaddis said. "Of our very first students that graduated here -- one graduated in his second week, and two graduated in their first week. We don't keep them any longer than we have to."
In addition to the education curriculum, students at APS are taught some military education as well. Those classes, said Gaddis, helps better prepare them for their eventual entry into the Army.
"We do throw in a one-hour military class every day," he said. "We include everything from drilling ceremony to first aid to basic map reading. We do the military class for a couple reasons. One is to get them out of the classroom and clear their head -- let them take a break. Eight hours a day in the classroom is tough.
"We also do the military class as part of the Soldierization process. Those who join the Army don't envision themselves in a classroom doing math, they see themselves learning the skills every Soldier needs for combat. We want to give them a taste of that to remind them they are still Soldiers, and to also instill that discipline."
But Gaddis said the real focus of APS is to get Soldiers ready to take the GED so they may move on to BCT. And thus far, he said, the school has been successful.
"We've got a 100-percent success rate right now," he said. "We've had 18 Soldiers test, and 18 Soldiers pass. So I think we're on track to have a real high success rate here."
Soldiers spend their first three days of APS going through a sort of in-processing for the Army. They get identification cards, an initial uniform issue and a haircut. It's the same kind of in-processing Soldiers go through before the real training begins at BCT.
When Soldiers leave APS, they are mixed with other Soldiers with whom they will endure BCT -- right after those Soldiers complete their in-processing. The transition is seamless, Gaddis said. But for some, it won't be entirely transparent. Soldiers from APS have already spent a month in the Army, learning the ways of the service, getting up early, standing at attention, and learning rank and protocol.
"When these guys finally get to BCT, they are going to benefit from being here for a month -- I truly believe that," Gaddis said. "If nothing else, they have learned to stand at parade rest and at attention. And with the physical training, while we don't focus on them being PT studs, we do focus on them learning really proper form."
The Army's APS is about getting more quality recruits into the service, said Siegfried. Those enrolled in APS have no issues -- save for lack of a high school diploma or GED -- that would prevent them from joining the Army. The recruits have no criminal background or medical issues. They also score adequate numbers on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The only thing missing, said Siegfried, is the GED that will allow them to join.
"Last year, only about three out of 10 young Americans were qualified to come in the Army," said Siegfried. "And it's weight, health, lack of education or character issues that are causing the problems. And the problem is going to get worse. But we're doing something about it -- we're going out and getting people, bringing them up to the standard, and putting them in the Army."