News: Army Guard breaks ground on $18.4 million training complex for GED Plus program
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
By Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy
National Guard Bureau
CAMP JOSEPH T. ROBINSON, Ark. – The Army National Guard broke ground on an $18.4 million construction project Sunday that will triple the capacity of those that attend its GED Plus program.
Scheduled for completion in early 2010, the training complex will allow for up to 7,500 students to pass through the program each year.
The GED Plus program allows non-high school graduates to enlist in the Army National Guard with the stipulation they earn their GED prior to attending basic combat training. In order to reach that goal, those in the program attend a resident course at the Army National Guard's Professional Education Center that prepares them to complete the GED exam.
Implemented in 2006, the program, which runs anywhere from 12 to 21 days based on the students' test scores prior to enlisting, has seen more than 5,100 attendees with more than 85 percent earning their GED, according to school officials.
"We bring them in and take away all distractions so they can be successful," said Command Sgt. Maj. Harry Beaver, command sergeant major for the PEC, pointing out one of the keys to the program's success rate.
Students of the program have little time for distractions. The program is not only geared for preparing students to earn their GED but also to prepare them for the rigors of basic combat training. As such, the students' days start early and are kept full with classes, physical training and the mentoring of the ever-present drill sergeant.
The drill sergeants oversee the students when they are not in class, and for the students, having a drill sergeant around can be a bit of a jolt.
"At first, it's [a] shock," said Staff Sgt. Thomas Kreitzer, a drill sergeant at the school. "It's kind of like the first day at basic training. They don't know what to think. They've got a guy with a big, round hat yelling at them."
But the role of the drill sergeants is to instill discipline and attention to detail as well as provide motivation, said Kreitzer, who recently returned to the school after completing the drill sergeant course at Fort Jackson, S.C.
"I use the same fundamentals they use in basic training," said Kreitzer. "I went to drill sergeant school for that very purpose—to instill all the discipline they do in basic training, down here."
For the first two days, the students' time is spent entirely in the company of the drill sergeant. They are taught military customs and courtesies, drill and ceremony and are introduced to daily physical training.
The program provides benefits to not only the students – who earn their GED, which can open other doors outside the military – but also for the Guard.
"It gives you a more ready force to train with," said Kreitzer.
And the program has benefits to the local community as well.
"We get a better citizen going back home," said Beaver, "even if they don't stay in the Guard, or the military. Doesn't a better citizen make a better employee? A better buyer? A better neighbor? And things like that [are better] for the future of the United States."
And the future holds big things for the program as well. The new complex that will house the program will consolidate operations from several outlying buildings, some of which are barracks buildings from World War II.
"This training complex that is being built behind us will allow us to reach out and engage a larger portion of our youth that don't complete high school, but who do have the ability to grow, serve and make a positive contribution to our country," said Col. John Frost, commandant of PEC.
And for the students that means a better road to success, something which many have already found through the program.
"I've never once had a private tell me when they walk across that graduation stage that they were sorry they came here," said Kreitzer.