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By Bill Hoagland
In 1966, I enlisted in the US Army. Viet Nam was already in full swing and it seemed as though the Army was inducting just about anyone who had a pulse. I was already a lawyer and actually older than one of my drill instructors but it was those 18 year old draftee recruits that were most concerning to me; some lacked any common sense at all and you just knew they would endanger themselves and everyone around them when they got to Viet Nam.
For example, one morning during basic training, we were on a police call around the company mess hall. This mess hall had been built during WW II. It was elevated off the ground about two feet, just high enough that you could crawl underneath it if you pulled yourself along with both arms. Our drill instructors ordered us to form a line three feet apart and to pick up everything that was not nailed down as we moved from west to east. Unfortunately, my portion of the line went right under the mess hall. As I was pulling myself along under the floor of the mess hall, the recruit next to me encountered a dead squirrel in his “area of responsibility”. Instead of putting the squirrel in one of his hands, he popped it in his mouth and carried it that way until we arrived at the other end of the mess hall. I think he expected to be praised by his drill instructors when he stood up, the squirrel still clenched in his teeth, but they just looked at him and probably made a mental note to keep an eye on this guy until they could move him on to advanced training. After all, the Army needed as many soldiers as they could muster for Viet Nam and this guy was probably going to be one of them.
Today, the Army again needs more soldiers. They are 15,000 recruits below their recruiting requirements. But the problem is more complicated than you may realize. With a volunteer army, all of your potential recruits are volunteers and according to a recent press release from the Army, only 23% of those volunteers meet the minimum academic, mental and physical requirements to begin “Basic Training”. To put it bluntly, 77% of these recruits are either too fat or too illiterate (or both) to even qualify as it stands right now. Because of this, the Army has had to initiate a pre-school to prepare these volunteers to try and meet those minimum requirements. This program is referred to as the “Army Future Soldier Preparatory Course” and lasts up to 90 days, during which time instructors try to make these volunteers academically, mentally and physically fit to go through “Basic Training”, which is an additional 70 days.
In this preparatory course, the “student” (as opposed to “recruit”) is taught how to get a good night’s sleep, how to eat nutritious food, and how to develop “mental resiliency”. The training instructors are prohibited from taking any “physical corrective action”—in other words, no “drop down and give me ten” orders and no loud and belligerent drill instructors to hurt your feelings. In fact, for those who can’t initially meet the physical requirements, they have individual exercise plans and nutritionists to assist them in meeting their goals. On the physical training side, according to an Army website, the intent is not to run these “students” into the ground but rather “to focus on movement patterns” (whatever that means) and to inspire them, not to strike the fear of God into them. Cash bonuses are apparently sometimes given to those who pass the pre-school and actually start Basic Training.
At least those students in the preparatory course are willing to serve; let’s give them that. Unfortunately, I suspect that if we again had the draft, the academic, mental and physical conditions as to the draftee recruits would be even worse than what we are dealing with now with the volunteers. Scary times, in deed!
• Bill Hoagland has practiced law in Alton for more than 50 years, but he has spent more than 70 years hunting, fishing and generally being in the great outdoors. His wife, Annie, shares his love of the outdoor life. Much of their spare time is spent on their farm in Calhoun County. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.