HANOVER, Va. –
Approximately 115 newly-recruited Virginia National Guard Soldiers came together for a regional training event held April 13-15, 2018, in Hanover, Virginia. The recruits were all part of the Recruit Sustainment Program, founded approximately 12 years ago. The RSP aims to increase troop readiness by bringing together new Soldiers before they ship to Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training and teaching them the basics of military service.
“Our intent is the make them administratively correct, physically fit and ready to ship to basic training,” explained Master Sgt. Josh Pedersen, section chief for Virginia’s RSP. He explained that bringing together trainees from four RSP stations – in Petersburg, Virginia Beach, Fort A.P. Hill and Leesburg – served to help motivate the new recruits.
“Sometimes drill weekend after drill weekend of the same thing over and over gets a little mundane, especially going into the summer surge, so we’re just trying to get them a little more motivated before they ship and to remind them it’s not the worst thing in the world be in the Army,” Pedersen explained.
Regional training happens at the RSP once or twice a year, Pedersen said, and the weekend focused on weapons systems including the M4 carbine and the M2 machine gun, basic squad-level tactics, as well as basic military knowledge and skills, like drill and ceremony and U.S. Army rank structure.
Within the RSP, Soldiers are sorted into phases, depending on what point they are at in the training process. Red Phase is the initial phase of the RSP, for newly-recruited Soldiers attending their first or second drill. Red Phase focuses on verifying administrative correctness for the Soldiers, as well as briefings, education and counseling and also lays a foundation for the training that will come later. White Phase is the continuation phase, according to Pedersen, which aims to mimic the training environment Soldiers will encounter in BCT.
“From the Soldiers, we’ve heard that they go more prepared and we’ve heard from the training bases as well that the recruits are more prepared and they usually get put into a leadership position as well, so they can be instruction their peers,” Pedersen explained. “They understand the drill and ceremony and the rank structure and they’re more ready to jump into basic training.”
Soldiers who do not immediately complete AIT following BCT, enter Green Phase, which sustains the training learned at basic and helps in readying the Soldiers for their advanced training. Finally, Soldiers who have completed both BCT and AIT return to the RSP for one final drill period as Gold Phase troops where their paperwork is checked one last time and they are validated as fully-trained Soldiers before being handed over to their unit of assignment.
“The RSP definitely helped me when I went to basic,” Pvt. Malick Martin said. He said he was interested in military service since he was a kid and finally made the decision to join once he got to college. He enlisted as a 12N Heavy Machine Operator and has already completed BCT. “I’m not going to say I was miles ahead of everyone else, but I understood everything as they were throwing it out, while everyone else had to take a couple of weeks. I came in day one knowing what they expected and what to say and what to do, so it prepared me really well.”
Pvt. Sean Saunders, another Green Phase Soldier, reported the same thing. Saunders said he participated in JROTC in high school, and that he arrived to the RSP with a solid understanding of military culture and skills, but that the RSP helped him to expand and solidify his knowledge.
Both Saunders and Martin said the greater piece of advice they offer to their fellow RSP Soldiers is to pay attention to detail.
“You have to be aware of your surroundings,” Saunders said. “You never know what’s around you and what’s going to happen and if you’re not aware of your gear of where your battle buddies are, there will be consequences.”
According to Pedersen, the Virginia National Guard was the first state to implement the RSP. He said each RSP in the nation is graded on their success rates, which includes how many Soldiers actually make it to BCT, how correct their paperwork is and how many complete their training successfully. He explained that four to five months is the ideal amount of time for trainees to spend in the program, but that the amount of time each recruit spends there varies widely across the force.