VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — More than 70 newly-recruited Soldiers participated in a combined training event as part of the Virginia National Guard’s Recruit Sustainment Program July 20, 2019, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The recruits meet one weekend a month to focus on administrative tasks and participate in training events that help prepare them for Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training.
Known as the three tenants of RSP, the program focuses on getting recruits administratively correct, physically prepared and mentally prepared for the rigors of military training. Recruits are trained in physical fitness and, based on their Military Occupational Specialty, they take an Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT. This test helps determine a Soldier’s career path based on their individual fitness level.
Virginia’s RSP started in 2005 and was one of the first in the nation. RSP #9, which covers the Hampton Roads region, including the Eastern Shore, Smithfield, Isle of Wight and Emporia, is the largest RSP in the state. They currently have over 200 recruits total, either participating in drill or currently attending training.
“Because of the large number of recruits that RSP 9 deals with, it’s hard to stay on top,” stated Staff Sgt. James Bishop, readiness noncommissioned officer for RSP #9. “Whereas the other RSPs in the state have a lot fewer people coming in, it’s easier for them to ship 100 percent. Overall we’re close to a 94 % ship rate.”
Bishop, who recently received an award for having the highest ship rate in the state, said the key to the program’s success was motivation and inspiration.
“In my eyes, there are a couple of big things that are expected,” Bishop stated. “Motivation is the number one key for these recruits. All they have to be is motivated and put in some effort. That’s our motto.”
“I get a lot of passion out of what I do for these young Soldiers,” he added. “I don’t have to teach them the ins and outs of the Army. I just need them to be motivated and have them know that they can accomplish any task, no matter how difficult it might seem.”
For many of the Soldiers who come through the RSP, the training they receive there leaves them more prepared and more likely to succeed at basic and advanced training.
“The RSP has produced a greater success rate of people who are shipping to boot camp,” said Staff Sgt. Damian Montano, a Virginia Army National Guard recruiter. “Because of this, they are ahead in class. The recruits get promoted early, placed in leadership positions and overall they are better Soldiers because of the program.”
Bishop explained that the National Guard is the only Army component that offers the RSP and said, “National Guard Soldiers are more squared away than active and reserve Soldiers. We can always tell who has been through RSP.”
There are five main phases in the program: red, white, blue, green and gold. Quick-shippers, those Soldiers who only come to one drill before shipping to basic training, are unofficially listed as “purple phase,” a combination of red and blue phase.
Soldiers fall into red phase during their first drill with the RSP. They are given an Army Physical Fitness Test and the OPAT. The recruits are also taught military time, rank structure, the phonetic alphabet and the Soldier’s Creed. Each recruit gets the Soldier’s Blue Book to reference and study, which is the same book they get at BCT. The book is a training guide for initial entry and covers various topics including military history, the Reception Battalion, health and safety, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention, physical readiness and more.
Next, after their first drill weekend, recruiters enter white phase. White phase consists of every drill after that until the recruit ships to basic training. Here, recruits continue building their military knowledge as well as their physical fitness.
Blue phase is the recruit’s last drill before they ship to BCT. During this phase, RSP cadre confirms that recruits are administratively, mentally and physically ready for basic training.
Gold phase is the final phase of the RSP and begins after the Soldier has returned from AIT. Any administrative work that needs to be addressed is done at this time before the Soldier reports to their unit. The Soldier also assists the cadre in training newer recruits and helps motivate their peers and answer any questions they might have about their upcoming training.
“Most of the time after the Soldier completes AIT, we will send them to their unit right away,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smithwick, training noncommissioned officer for RSP #9. “Sometimes we will have the Soldiers come back to the RSP if their unit is located in a different part of the state. Usually, if their unit is local, we have them check-in and we get in touch with their unit and send them on their way.”
Soldiers who enlist as split options enter green phase. This is for recruits who enlist during their junior year of high school, attend BCT, return to finish high school and then complete AIT following their high school graduation.
“The majority of recruits are here for a few months,” Bishop said. “The juniors are here for a longer time, so, we give them leadership tasks to help them keep up with their training.”
“It’s definitely worth it, especially if you enlist during your junior year of high school,” said Pfc. Gregory Hall, who joined in 2017.
“Before I went to basic, I obviously did not know anything,” Hall said. “The cadre teaching the Soldier’s Creed and giving us the blue books early was definitely a big help, especially when it came to the Soldier’s Creed – if you did not know that, you got smoked for it.”
Purple phase is where the red and blue phase falls on the same drill weekend before a recruit attends school. This means they only have one weekend of drill before shipping to basic training.
“The National Guard is a great branch to join because the RSP will get the recruits ready to go to basic training,” Smithwick said. “They are not going there completely blind where they will experience culture shock. They will have an idea of what is going to happen, and what is expected. The program helps prepare the recruits to get in the correct mindset.”
“In addition to that, we do a lot of physical fitness events,” Smithwick continued. “We hopefully instill in them a need to do PT as much as possible because it’s only one Saturday and one Sunday a month that we have them here.”
“I like to come check on the troops and help grade the PT test,” Montano said. “It’s not a requirement for me to attend but I like to check on the Soldiers I have enlisted, see how they are preforming, and offer encouragement before they head out.”
“I feel like RSP is so beneficial,” said Pfc. Adrianna S. Apelt assigned to the Charlottesville-based Charlie Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “I’m sure a lot of people might take it for granted when they come here on the weekends, but honestly, what you’re learning here is going to help prepare you and make you a good Soldier.”
Apelt, who just recently returned from AIT, spent her gold phase drill assisting RSP cadre and offering advice to the recruits.
“It’s great to see Soldiers like Apelt, who just came back from training,” Bishop said. “You get to witness the transformation they go through and it’s moving. That’s probably the best part of my job is to see these recruits come back from school and it’s like ‘WOW, you made much progress and now you’re going to go on and accomplish bigger and better things.’”