Originally created 01/30/98

Army makes training more demanding



COLUBIA -- Battling back against perceptions that the Army has gone soft, officials have toughened basic training for recruits at Fort Jackson by raising graduation requirements and adding a tough new confidence course modeled after a Marine Corps regimen.

The Army's new "culminating event" aims to make basic training more demanding and realistic. Maj. Gen. John Van Alstyne, Fort Jackson's commander, likes the challenges.

The course, modeled after the Marine Corps' 50-hour basic training marathon known as "The Crucible," is designed to foster teamwork, endurance and problem-solving.

"Given the type of operations our soldiers might likely be called upon to participate in, where people need to think and operate in small groups, I concluded that basic training was not as rigorous as it needs to be," Maj. Gen. Van Alstyne said.

Fort Jackson commanders in recent months have reopened a barbed-wire dotted "conditioning" obstacle course, given drill sergeants more authority to kick out problem trainees and added nine requirements for graduation, including the new culminating event.

In one recent exercise, Sgt. 1st Class Jon Doyle watched a tottering recruit dance along an 8-inch path before placing his left boot just outside the tape marker. "You're dead, private!" Sgt. Doyle boomed, then offered encouragement to others straddling the imaginary mine field.

"I really like this course!" Maj. Gen. Van Alstyne said in describing five other problem-solving exercises.

In one event, trainees must hoist one another over a 12-foot wooden barrier without touching the "contaminated" lower half. Those who touch it become casualties and must be carried by their comrades to the next training area.

In every case, small squads of men and women must work together to find solutions and complete the tasks within strict time limits, a Columbia newspaper reported Thursday.

Army trainees traditionally have spent several days in the field at the end of basic training, but the new training is modeled after the grueling Crucible in its tests of stamina, mental toughness and values instruction.

Although there is little evidence to suggest Army trainees are going to field units unprepared, Maj. Gen. Van Alstyne says Fort Jackson leaders recently decided that the eight-week basic training curriculum needed to be more challenging.

Since implementing tougher standards this fall, the percentage of recruits failing basic training has risen from 8.5 percent to 11 percent. Maj. Gen. Van Alstyne predicts the rate might not bottom out until it reaches 15 percent to 18 percent.