Military opens door to more dropouts
ANNVILLE, Pa. ” Brittany Vojta survived boot camp. It was high school she couldn’t make it through.
Now, however, she has benefited from a program the National Guard started this year in Pennsylvania for privates who drop out of high school after signing up.
In an old barracks at Fort Indiantown Gap, the 18-year-old Cleveland woman and other dropouts spent three intensive weeks in class this summer to help them pass their GEDs ” so they would meet the minimal educational requirement for staying in the Guard.
Straining to fill its ranks with the Iraq war in its fifth year, the military is taking on an ever bigger role providing basic education to new recruits. The strategy is potentially risky for the military as it strives to maintain the quality of its force, but it’s giving dropouts like Vojta a second chance.
“Something happened in that soldier’s life that was bad. … We have the ability to stop another bad action from happening ” them getting discharged from the military,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Walton, 32, who started the Pennsylvania program. He says it is not about filling quotas but helping the troops.
While that program is aimed at keeping recruits in uniform, the Army and Army National Guard also reach out to past dropouts ” some of them already years out of school ” with a promise of helping them get their GEDs if they enlist. More than 13,000 recruits have earned GEDs through the program, known as Education Plus, which started in 2005.
Pennsylvania’s GED program is aimed at soldiers who enlisted in high school while in good academic standing, then failed to graduate. The military allows people as young as 17 to join, if they have permission from a parent.
The three-week course, also open to recruits from other states, is not your typical high school environment: The teacher may be civilian or military, but a drill sergeant is also present in the classroom. Recruits spend nine hours in classes and have study hall in the evening, but it’s still boot camp and they have get up at 4:45 a.m. daily for physical training.
Class sizes are typically about 23 students.
“I never understood math … for four years in high school I couldn’t do it,” said Vojta, a private first class with the Ohio National Guard who passed her GED test and hopes next to become a military police officer. “Come here for a couple of weeks and I got it down because they’ve actually taken the time to explain it.”
The program evolved from a tutoring effort in Pittsburgh staffed by a guardsman’s wife, a teacher who volunteered to help 17- and 18-year-old recruits struggling in high school classes. Since it started in March, more than 85 of the 120 privates who participated have gone on to pass the GED, about the same success rate for all GED test-takers nationwide.
One teacher Carissa Krzak, 29, of Camp Hill, said she has received thank-you letters from her students.
“They are given a second chance and they really want to take advantage of that, make the best of the situation,” she said.
Defense analyst Cindy Williams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the military could be hurting itself over the long term by recruiting dropouts. The Department of Defense’s own studies over 40 years have shown that soldiers with regular high school diplomas are more likely than those with an equivalent degree to finish an enlistment term.
Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a former Navy vice admiral, said some troops with only GEDs have gone on to make great soldiers, but he is still worried about the recruitment trends.
“What we have here is an erosion, a downward trend, in recruitment quality,” he said.
In 2006, the number of traditional high school graduates recruited by the Army dropped to 73 percent, from 84 percent a year earlier, according to National Priorities Project, a research group that analyzes federal data. The goal is 90 percent high school graduates ” a benchmark last met in 2004.
The military has taken a number of other steps to keep up its ranks, including some viewed as a lowering of its standards. It has increased the number of waivers it issues for people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify because of medical reasons or because of criminal convictions, and it has raised the enlistment age to 42.
Fort Indiantown Gap: http://www.dmva.state.pa.us/ftig/
Army Recruitment: http://www.goarmy.com/