Recruiters help would-be soldiers get prepared for rigors of Army life
When the first flurries of snow fell on Fayetteville on Tuesday, most Fort Bragg soldiers were long gone from their posts, having been sent home early to prepare for the winter storm.
But at Honeycutt Park, more than a dozen teens hoping to join the military were hard at work, despite the freezing weather.
With young Americans increasingly unqualified for military service, recruiters - particularly those in Fayetteville - are taking extra steps to ensure would-be soldiers are prepared for the rigors of Army life and the hurdles of basic training.
Theresa Cashwell, 18, is the daughter of a master sergeant with the 7th Special Forces Group. And on Feb. 10, Cashwell will follow the dream inspired by those military roots when she travels to Fort Sill, Okla., for basic training.
Since October, the South View High School graduate has attended the twice-a-week Future Soldier sessions hosted by the Fayetteville Recruiting Company at Honeycutt Park off Fort Bragg Road.
The sessions, she said, have not only given her a sneak peek at Army life but prepared her for her new career by teaching her proper Army techniques and terms.
"It would have been much tougher," Cashwell said of her upcoming basic training. "I'm more physically prepared. I know what's to come."
As more than a dozen would-be soldiers stood at attention, soldiers with the Fayetteville Recruiting Company tested each teen with a typical Army physical fitness test.
Each of the teens will have to pass before he or she will be able to attend basic training, said Capt. Paul Dixon, commander of the recruiting company.
"I won't ship people out who aren't qualified," Dixon said.
Lt. Col. James D. Greer, commander of the Raleigh Recruiting Battalion that oversees the Fayetteville recruiters, said officials work with recruits on physical fitness and offer tutoring and nutrition education through the Future Soldiers program.
Nationally, only one in four would-be recruits is qualified for military service, he said. The big reasons for disqualification are education and obesity.
"You do see a shrinking pool in that sense," he said. "It makes it a little tougher."
But Greer said North Carolina, with its large military population, has plenty of positive role models for those looking to serve.
Fayetteville has "high potential" recruits thanks to the influence of Fort Bragg, Greer said.
And if the desire is there, recruiters will go the extra mile to help someone who falls short qualify.
In Jacksonville, a man lost 50 pounds so he could join the Army, Greer said. Others saw their test scores rise 10 to 15 points after tutoring.
"If they aren't qualified, we may work with them," he said.
The Fayetteville Recruiting Company is the best in the Army, on pace to top Army Recruiting Command for the third year in a row, Greer said.
Dixon said being in the shadow of the nation's largest Army post certainly helps, but he added that local recruiting is not all a product of convenience.
The company is a victim of its own success, he said, meaning its mission grows each year it exceeds expectations.
But that has not led to overrecruiting or settling for less qualified recruits, Dixon said. If you join the Army from Fayetteville, you are expected to be among the best.
"We take pride in this," Dixon said. "It's about quality, not quantity."
Dixon said recruits from Fayetteville have an attrition rate of just 6 percent in basic training. The national average is about 10 percent.
"If we vet them, I have no doubt they'll do great things," he said.
But not everyone is prepared when they walk into a recruiting office in Fayetteville.
Dixon said some would-be soldiers need help.
With a light snow at Honeycutt Park on Tuesday, he and other soldiers from his recruiting company barked encouragement as teens ran laps.
"A lot of it is mental," Dixon said. "Your mind will quit before your body will."
The Honeycutt Park sessions are held each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, no matter the weather, but it is worth the time investment, Cashwell said.
Cashwell is joining the Army Reserves and wants to be a mental health specialist.
Her husband, Troy Cashwell, also participated in the Future Soldiers program and is in basic training.
"It's like a head start," she said.