Senior U.S. Army leaders are pushing a campaign to enhance recruiting, toughen physical fitness training and extend Basic Combat Training to prepare soldiers for a major future conflict.
Secretary of the Army Mark Esper spoke Monday at the Association of the United States Army's Global Force Symposium about his vision for the Army of 2028 that calls for a larger, more physically fit force.
"To meet the challenges of 2028 and beyond, the total Army must grow," Esper said. "A decade from now, we need an active component above 500,000 soldiers with associated growth in the Guard and Reserve."
The Army requested 4,000 soldiers be added to the active force as part of the proposed fiscal 2019 budget. The increase would boost the active-duty ranks from 483,500 to 487,500.
The Army must focus on "recruiting and retaining high-quality, physically fit, mentally tough soldiers who will deploy and fight and win decisively on any future battlefield," he said.
"A decade from now, the soldiers we recruit today will be our company commanders and platoon sergeants. That's why we are considering several initiatives, to a new physical fitness regime to reforming and extending basic training in order to ensure our young men and women are prepared for the rigors of high-intensity combat," he added.
Esper did not give details about extending Basic Combat Training, which currently lasts 10 weeks. But the Army has already begun reforming BCT.
By early summer, recruits will go through a new Army BCT, redesigned to instill strict discipline and esprit de corps by placing enhanced emphasis on drill and ceremony, inspections and pride in military history while increasing the focus on critical training such as physical fitness, marksmanship, communications and battlefield first aid skills.
The new program of instruction is the result of surveys taken from thousands of leaders who have observed a trend of new soldiers fresh out of training displaying a lack of obedience and poor work ethic, as well as being careless with equipment, uniforms and appearance, according to Army Training and Doctrine Command officials.
The Army has also been considering adopting the proposed Army Combat Readiness Test: A six-event fitness test designed to better prepare troops for the rigors of combat than the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT.
The ACRT was developed, at the request of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, to better prepare soldiers for the physical challenges of the service's Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills -- the list of key skills all soldiers are taught to help them survive in combat.
Gen. James McConville, the Army's vice chief of staff, said that the service is also considering improving the screening processes it uses to better prepare recruits coming into the Army.
"We are going to put more screening systems in place to make sure that when young men and women enter the Army, they are ready to meet the standards," McConville said.
Training and Doctrine Command has done a "great job of implementing the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, which is a four-event physical-fitness test to make sure that young men and women get in shape before they go to initial military training," he said.
"Then once they get into initial military training, we are screening them again to meet the physical demands of being in the Army," McConville said.
The Army is also testing a concept that involves assigning fitness experts to two Army divisions, he said.
"We are putting physical therapists, we are putting strength coaches, we are putting dieticians into each of the units so when the [new] soldiers get there, we continue to keep them in shape as they go forward," McConville said.
"We are going to have to take what we have, we are going to have to develop that talent and we are going to bring them in and make them better," he added.
Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said the service is also going to have to get better at how it approaches recruiting.
"When 87 percent of the people we recruit have someone in their family that has been in the military, it starts to beg the question, 'Are we expansive enough in our recruiting efforts?' " McCarthy said.
"Are we sophisticated enough in the way we communicate to the entire country and recruit the best quality individuals?," he said. "So our sophistication has got to get better, from the tools that we have to find the people to the manner in which we communicate."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.