A wider range of hopeful soldiers can now enlist into the Army’s basic training preparatory course, service officials announced Friday.
The move expands eligibility for the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, the Army’s ambitious experiment to improve recruit fitness and test scores before they go to basic training. Now applicants who need to improve in both areas may enroll, and a new pilot program will admit a limited number of applicants with lower test scores than those previously required for the course.
But the changes may not stop the service from missing recruiting targets for the second fiscal year in a row.
Since its inception in August 2022, the course has had two separate 90-day tracks: a fitness program designed to help recruits lower their body fat, and an academic program to help them improve on their Armed Forces Qualification Test scores.
Currently, all fitness program recruits and academic program troops with failing Category IV AFQT scores — between 21 and 30 — must go to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on open enlistment contracts that they can renegotiate at the end of the course. New soldiers with low, but passing Category IIIB AFQT scores — between 31 and 49 — who volunteer for the academic course attend at Fort Moore, Georgia.
Army Times first reported the service’s plan to establish the programs, and an Army Times reporter embedded there for two days in August.
Both the fitness and academic programs have succeeded, according to Army data, with more than 6,100 recruits graduating and moving on to basic training. The service expanded the academic track’s capacity in January when it opened a branch at Fort Moore.
Now prospective troops who need to improve in both areas can opt for a new “dual enrollment” track, according to documents obtained by Army Times. Such applicants will complete the academic course first, and then they will attend the fitness course at Fort Jackson, the documents said. The service also hopes that healthy diet and exercise during the academic track may keep some dual enrollees from needing the subsequent fitness track.
In order to qualify for the dual enrollment option, applicants must also score highly on a personality battery intended to assess their motivation, among other traits.
The Army is also allowing a pilot cohort of 100 soldiers with AFQT scores between 16 and 20, five points lower than the current course eligibility standard, enroll in the academic track. According to Army documents, officials designed the pilot in response to early data from the course — academic track applicants improve their AFQT score by an average of 18 points within their first two retakes.
But the expanded eligibility doesn’t mean that the program itself is expanding, the documents said. The prep course currently has fewer troops than it’s designed to have, and the eligibility changes are intended to fill the remaining existing seats.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard’s border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.