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Focus is on better educational benefits
Life's a challenge at the Army's basic training center at Fort Jackson, S.C. Above, soldiers pull other recruits through mud at the Endurance Obstacle Course
(Staff Photo by Vincent Z. Whaley)

By Vincent Z. Whaley
Johnson City Press Staff Writer

(Published Sunday, March 5, 2000)

FORT JACKSON, S.C. — The number of people serving in the U.S. armed forces is at an all-time low. In the Army alone, approximately 122,000 volunteers need to be recruited by the end of the year.

To help achieve that goal, the Army has focused on educational benefits to entice prospective recruits.

"There are many opportunities for young people today, and we want to be one of their choices. We consider ourselves partners in education," said Col. Wayne H. Stephens, commandant of the U.S. Army Recruiting and Retention School at Fort Jackson.

"In no way do we want someone to drop out of school, go get a GED and join the Army. That is not the game, because their job selections are very much less without a high school diploma. Not all job opportunities are great opportunities unless you have an education. You see 'Help Wanted' and 'Hiring' signs hanging up all over the fast-food places for minimum wage and no benefits. It's those individuals we want to talk to for doing something better with their lives."

In addition to the Montgomery GI Bill, under which soldiers donate $100 of their pay for 12 consecutive months and receive thousands of dollars for college tuition, and supplemental Department of Defense College Funds, the Army offers other programs to ensure its soldiers receive a quality education.

GED Plus is designed to assist high school dropouts with earning the equivalent of a high school diploma in exchange for a minimum two years of military service after the diploma is attained. College First provides the opportunity for high school graduates to attend two years of college before entering the Army.

"When an individual comes into the Army who wants to go to college, they need to know that we're also going to teach them a skill, maybe a skill that they can use when they get out of the Army," Stephens said. "And when they get out, they have learned some discipline, leadership and management skills and are ready to go through college."

If a recruit has already attended college and has a substantial loan payment, Stephens said the Army will even repay a large portion of those loans up to $65,000.

"But we are generally looking for young folks who have never been in the military services or college before," the colonel said. "We try to get to high school students while they're in high school because if they make a job selection while in high school, when they graduate, the job selections are much greater.

"That's why we have the Delayed Entry Program. We want them to make a decision up-front, and they can be in that program for up to 365 days."

Related VZW stories: Today's Army puts LDRSHIP into service, Serving country helps local man build college fund

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596th Signal Support Co., 97th Signal Battalion
47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
Stories by Vincent Z. Whaley

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