Teaching Future Soldiers

January 8, 2009
When you join the Army, you can’t take it for a test drive, says Sgt. 1st Class Charles Eaton, who is the Future Soldier Training program manager for the U.S. Army’s Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. That’s the raison d’être for the Future Soldier Training System. It’s a series of interactive computer simulations using components from America’s Army to teach "pre-basic training" lessons to a special category of recruits known as "future soldiers."

These recruits sign up for the Army, but for various reasons (like finishing high school), they can delay entry for up to a year. The Army still wants them to learn about the organization and feel like members of the team, and that’s where the Future Solider Training System comes in.

The pre-basic-training lessons "are tasks that soldiers need to learn before they go to basic combat training," says Marsha Berry, a project manager for America’s Army at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. The lessons include drill and ceremony (marches and salutes), military time, military insignia, Army values, risk management and the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, and so on).

In the past, recruiters used a variety of ad hoc methods to teach these Army fundamentals to recruits. With the Future Solider Training System, "the training is standardized, online and interactive," Berry says. Since the system was deployed in September 2007, future soldiers have logged more than 75,000 hours on it.

The system currently features nine modules. Six of them teach the pre-basic task list, and three more cover additional optional skills, like first aid.

In the military-time module, for example, a drill sergeant introduces the lesson and guides the user through it, Berry says. Frequent questions keep the lesson interactive. Several immersive, interactive game scenarios will be added in late 2008 or early 2009.

Training future soldiers on the pre-basic skills "eases their anxiety so they can absorb more information in basic training," Eaton says. "FSTS lets drill sergeants focus on those who don’t understand the concepts and need more attention." The result is that the Army loses fewer people from basic training and "it gives the future soldier a sense of belonging to the Army," Eaton says.

Businesses could consider the Future Solider Training System as a model for interactive, immersive tutorials for orientations, basic job skills and other training applications. Just as the Army’s system does, such tutorials and scenarios could help new employees better grasp the complexities of their jobs and help them start feeling like members of the team.