FORT KNOX, Ky. –
Taking cues from recruiters, U.S. Army Recruiting Command leaders have worked to adapt to the current situation by fast-tracking multiple new initiatives that align with the realities of recruiting in this unprecedented, 100-percent virtual environment.
The new initiatives and procedures have included exceptions to policy, new programs, IT capability improvements and more to ensure recruiters can safely process new applicants and continue to take care of Future Soldiers while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact normal operations.
“I’m proud to be part of an organization that continues to take ideas from recruiters on the ground and quickly turn them into initiatives and policies that match what we’re dealing with right now,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, USAREC commanding general. “Within two weeks, we had timelines and policies changed to help our recruiters begin applications for new Future Soldiers.”
PROCESSING NEW APPLICANTS
Recruiters are now able to virtually complete all the processing necessary for applicants to sign a “soft contract,” which is a contract that guarantees the military occupational specialty of choice, current incentives, and a temporary reservation for training as long as the applicant successfully fulfills the final in-person requirements when it is safe to do so.
To enable the all-virtual soft contract, USAREC had to make some changes to the standard processes. For instance, the verification window for the PiCAT, or the Pending Internet Computerized Adaptive Test, has been extended from 30 days to 45. The PiCAT is an online, non-proctored version of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, so applicants can select an occupation based on their scores from the at-home test. The scores will be validated through a proctored verification test at the local Military Entrance Processing Station when in-person processing is available and safe.
Additionally, submissions for age and tattoo exceptions to policy as well as some waivers can now be sent prior to the MEPS physical in order to keep the application process moving as much as possible. During normal operations, these waiver applications and policy exceptions can only be sent after all other requirements are fulfilled and the applicant is deemed otherwise qualified to serve.
Some changes also have occurred to allow recruiters to use technology to fulfill some requirements that previously could only be fulfilled in person. Recruiters can now witness the signature of an applicant’s parent or guardian through video calls, and they are authorized to accept digital copies or photos of original source documents to verify the applicant's eligibility for enlistment.
To allow for additional processing time for new applicants, temporary reservations for initial entry training courses have been extended from seven to 45 days.
CURRENT FUTURE SOLDIERS
There also have been a variety of changes that have taken place for current Future Soldiers who had already signed contracts and were scheduled to ship to basic training.
To maintain proper social distancing, all Future Soldier functions and training are being conducted virtually. During this time, recruiters will emphasize that physical fitness is an individual responsibility and recommend Future Soldiers continue to physically prepare themselves for basic training.
Regarding physical fitness requirements, current Future Soldiers who are preparing to ship while social distancing continues will not be required to take the Occupational Physical Assessment Test in order to attend basic training. This is a precautionary measure to limit in-person contact as much as possible for the safety of the Future Soldiers as well as the recruiters. This is only a temporary suspension of the OPAT requirement.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused training delays for more than 4,000 Regular Army Future Soldiers thus far. Understanding this is an inconvenience for many and, in some cases, it is causing extreme hardship, the Army has sought ways to ensure it can take care of its Future Soldiers during this stressful time.
To support those who are severely impacted by the shipping delays, the Army quickly developed an unprecedented program to bring some Future Soldiers onto the rolls as active-duty Soldiers even before they ship to basic training. The Future Soldier to Active Duty Program allows select individuals to be attached to the local recruiting battalion to be paid as privates and receive full benefits.
“Future Soldiers may have quit their jobs or not extended their leases, because they expected to ship to basic training,” Muth said. “We recognize the need to take care of our Future Soldiers the same way the Army takes care of its Soldiers already on active duty.”
The FSADP is determined on a case-by-case basis, and participants will be required to complete regular physical fitness, pre-basic training courses, and other requirements.
“This program won’t apply to all delayed shippers,” Muth said, “but we’re giving commanders on the ground the ability to take care of these folks experiencing extreme hardship.”
Individuals who have been delayed because of the pandemic but do not meet the criteria for the FSADP will be eligible for a Delayed Shipping Incentive, which ranges from $2,000 up to $6,000, depending on the amount of time delayed.
Public updates regarding changes to recruiting because of COVID-19 can be found at https://recruiting.army.mil/coronavirus/.
Recruiters seeking information about these and other new initiatives can find details and status updates on the command’s COVID-19 Sharepoint page.