New program to identify 'high potential' recruits with GEDs
by Gary Sheftick
After missing this fiscal year's first quarter recruiting goal by 2,300 soldiers, the Army is taking a look at accepting more recruits with high school equivalency degrees. "This notion that quality is defined by being a high school diploma graduate has put us in a box that is really hurting our ability to recruit," Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera said.
The Army has many fine soldiers now with GEDs, Caldera said, explaining that young people with GEDs shouldn't be barred from military service if they can demonstrate the "desire and the ability to be successful." Caldera has directed Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Patrick Henry to develop a pilot program to look at recruits with GEDs. Henry said the program will study ways 'high potential" GED holders might be identified. The pilot program will not be a "quick fix" for recruiting shortfalls, officials said, but is instead designed to provide benefits for the Army years into the future. "The Army is committed to recruiting and maintaining a quality force, " Henry said.
"Earning a GED should not preclude otherwise qualified and motivated young men and women from serving our nation in uniform," Henry said. "They have taken the initiative to earn a recognized high school equivalency, and that initiative can translate into success in the Army."
A small task force under Henry is trying to isolate attributes, qualifications and skills that will identify those potential recruits with GEDs who are most likely to be successful in the Army, an official said.
Life experience such as jobs, scouting, and volunteer work may be taken into account, he said, to see if these play a significant factor in demonstrating one's potential for retention.
The task force may also look at other research, he said, such as a study being conducted now by the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. ARI developed a test to measure motivation among recruits. Called the Assessment of Individual Motivation, or AIM, the test has been administered to about 20,000 recruits so far. About 2,000 of these recruits have GEDs, researchers said.
Some researchers envision the AIM eventually being used to help screen potential recruits. The test results might be combined with other criteria and experience, officials said, to help identify those candidates who are highly motivated and likely to succeed in the Army.
Under a current Department of Defense policy, no more than 10 percent of recruits can be GED holders. Officials said if the Army wants to accept more than 10 percent, Caldera would request relief from DoD regulatory restrictions.
Last month, recruiting more GED holders was a topic of discussion at the Army's first Hispanic Leadership Summit held Jan. 13 in San Antonio, Texas. Participants at the summit included Congressmen Ciro Rodriguez and Charlie Gonzalez, both of Texas; and Gil Coronado, director of the Selective Service System. Coronado dropped out of school at age 15 and joined the military. He later went on to receive a GED and retired from the service as a colonel.
"The military opened more doors in my life than I ever thought existed," Coronado said Coronado explained that the military " provides a level playing field in which you meet people from walks of life that you might never have been able to meet were it not for the military. It's truly one of the best experiences a young person can have for laying a successful foundation to his or her life," he said. Rodriguez, who represents the San Antonio district, said that research has identified seven reasons why students drop out of high school.
"One of those is academic," Rodriguez said. "The other six are not." Rodriguez said that many Hispanic students drop out of high school to help support their families. He said that these young people deserve an opportunity to enlist in the Army. "I think that the Army is an institution that should not write off people in America who need a second chance," Caldera said.
A number of the Army's top NCOs have been GED holders, according to Army personnel officials, saying those ranks include two former sergeant majors of the Army.
One example of a GED holder who achieved success in the Army was Medal of Honor recipient Louis Rocco. He dropped out of high school, later earned a GED, and went on to earn an associate's degree from the University of Baylor while in the Army. He also was commissioned a warrant officer before leaving the Army. He now works as a counseling therapist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Antonio.
As a sergeant first class, Rocco earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam in 1970 for carrying eight injured soldiers across 20 meters of exposed terrain under fire. He did this despite having a broken wrist, fractured hip and severely burned hands suffered moments earlier when his helicopter was shot down on the way to pick up the wounded.
"You don't have to have a diploma to serve your country and perform an act of valor above and beyond," Rocco said.