The Six-Month Program: A Critical Appraisal

Short - Term Military Service Proves Popular, But Training Could Be Made More Intensive

The Army at present is re-evaluating its active duty reserve program by which thousands of college students in the last two years have been able to serve only six months active duty instead of the two years required by the draft. Bernard Gwertzman, former Crimson managing editor, offers his own evaluation here. He served his six months after graduation in 1957.

On August 9, 1955, President Eisenhower signed into law a Reserve Rorces Act (RFA-55) that was to "build and maintain powerful civilian reserves immediately capable of effective military service in an emergency." One of the Act's provisions for building up these "powerful" reserves was through the direct enlistment of men for six months active duty followed by longer periods in the Ready Reserve. This six-month soldier is differentiated from draftee and regular Army personnel by the abbreviation, "RFA," after the law that spawned him.

Program Offers Short Service

The six-month RFA program allows men an unprecedented chance to escape the two-year draft, but it also offers the Army the exciting challenge that would compensate for the reduced span of active duty time. Unfortunately, however, the Army has up to now not met this challenge with the imaginative planning necessary to ensure that RFA's will be "capable of effective military service in an emergency."

The Army had, until 1957, treated the RFA program as a football coach might handle an inexperienced team--"nothing fancy or unusual until we've got the players to do it with." It was only since 1957 that the Army "got the players," or in this case, the right number and caliber of volunteers. It still remains to be seen if the Army, with enough men in the RFA program finally, will ever take the necessary steps to improve it.

From October, 1955, to April, 1957, the Army had anticipated over 150,000 men, but only 60,000 actually enlisted. At that time, only teen-agers 17-18 1/2 were eligible to enroll in the RFA program, and a seven-and-a-half year Ready Reserve committment kept the enlistment rate down (other possible objections--parental opposition, low pay of $50 a month). A person in the Ready Reserve must attend 48 drill meetings a year, and a two week summer training period every summer for as long as he is a member.

Plan Widened in 1957

Faced with this severe manpower problem, the Pentagon in January, 1957, authorized all men 17-26 to join the program. This brought in large numbers of men in their twenties who preferred the RFA program to two years from Selective Service (and two years in the Ready Reserve). In addition, the Army reduced the Ready Reserve time to encourage more teen-age enlistments. At present, the Ready Reserve obligations for men 17-18 1/2 is three years, and for men 18 1/2-26, five-and-a-half. Pay is now $78 a month while on active duty.

Initial response to the enlarged program caught even the most optimistic recruiters by surprise. One sergeant, with several years' experience, said, while processing my papers, "This is the first time I can ever remember men standing on line to join the Army," and he was not exaggerating. So many men rushed to take advantage of the short hitch, that by May, 1957, the Army had to stop accepting enlistments. Over 3,000 men a week were joining; the previous high was about a thousand. The program was reopened on a limited basis during the summer, but in many locales there are still waiting lists.

College Men Enter

The influx of older men into the program for the first time, brought flocks of degree-bearing college and professional school graduates, and as a result, some RFA basic training companies boasted over sixty percent of their personnel with A.B.'s or better. In my platoon, of the men 21 or older, 85 per cent had been to college, 8 to Harvard. And out of the entire 50-man group, only a handful had not finished high school.

These RFA's, often superior as a group educationwise, entered the Army for their active duty with a relatively high level of enthusiasm, but every RFA to whom I have spoken agrees that his education was no asset during his basic training. Their leaders, in the traditional Army manner, would tell them, "Let us do all the thinking. It'll keep you all out of trouble," and although this was a statment of discipline, it was also one of fact. What was taught the men was often so overdone and geared for the minimum mentality that an intelligent person eventually could not help but rebel mentally, thereby losing whatever enthusiasm he may have started with.

In 1955, the Army tried to answer skeptics who feared that the RFA's would receive a "watered down" basic training, by giving RFA's the same eight week basic training as all other Army trainees. But it seemed to many this summer that RFA's should receive a different basic training from other men, not a less demanding one, but on the contrary, a more concentrated one. On the basis of what was actually learned, it was believed eight weeks was too much of the total training time, especially if one of the implied objectives of the program was to give RFA's as much training as possible in a short period of time.

Basic Training is Too Basic

Many RFA's thought that if the Army wanted to keep basic training eight weeks long, then they should have been taught how to handle more than the M-1 rifle, at present the only weapon seen during the eight-week period. Since in war time, anyone might be called upon to fight, they thought that such basic weapons as the carbine and Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) should also be included. Much too much time--over 80 hours--is devoted at present to the M-1, especially as it was taught last summer, with boring all-day sessions spent repeating the same firing positions over and over again.

The real waste in hours, however, was in the class room work. Classes in subjects such as mine warfare, CBR (chemical, biological, and radiological) warfare, and first aid, for instance, are important and potentially interesting, but were often lost on the men. Simple improvements in teaching techniques, taking advantage of the RFA's aptitudes, could save hours and interest the men.

Classes are Wearying

At present a typical class is as follows: An instructor mounts the platform, often with his men already fatigued from some strenuous physical training that has preceeded the class. He then spends about two hours or more reciting technical facts, or showing diagrams, much of which is entirely new to the men. There then follows two hours of practical work, with the men "doing" something--probing for mines, or wrapping splints, depending on the subject.

The first two hours are inevitably great for putting the men to sleep. Taking less time, the Army could as easily have given the men reading material to study and talk over before the class, then have given them a short talk touching on some main points, and followed this with a discussion period later.

Classes on subjects like "Character Guidance" were often so unsuited for a mature group that even the teachers were embarrassed. The hours spent on practicing to march, preparing for inspections, etc., while important for instilling discipline, would not suffer from a reduction either.

Nevertheless, despite these shortcomings, basic training is fundamentally a good system for initiating civilians to military life, but for the Army not to take advantage of its men's intelligence seems a waste of time and money. By raising the--I hate to use the word--intellectual standards of basic training, the Army could reduce the time now necessary to teach the raw fundamentals and at the same time increase the amount of training offered in the six month period.

The RFA's would lend themselves admirably to such a change, for their educational level is often above that of any other group of trainees, and the RFA's above all, would benefit the most by the more intense training which would allow them more time for advanced training in other fields.

The Amy, moreover, is not unaware of the possibilities inherent in a shortened basic training. Experiments have been carried out in various Army installations to see whether men with higher aptitudes could just as easily finish basic in four weeks instead of eight. These tests have been with draftees and regular troops up to now, but the RFA's would offer the Army an excellent group of guinea pigs.

Training Improves Later

Training generally improved after the first eight weeks but only if someone was fortunate enough to be sent to a school. If an RFA did not go to a school (e.g. cooking, photography, clerk-typist), he was sent directly to "On-the-Job-Training" (OJT). OJT was supposed to be for men, already proficient enough in their MOS (military occupation specialty) to make schooling unadvisable. Great numbers of RFA clerks, typists, and mechanics generally fall into this category. For the most part, these men "have it made," with frequent passes and privileges, such as having cars on post, but they often receive very little training. They generally spend their remaining four months of training time taking care of the menial tasks wherever they were assigned. Officers and enlisted men, alike, hesitated to spend much time teaching these men anything when they knew they would be gone as soon as they learned enough to become valuable to a unit.

OJT, like basic training, is a good means for training men, but only if it is done well. Many men are not proficient in their skills and should be sent to a school, instead. But if an RFA is sent to OJT, his immediate leaders should be orientated on the importance of the RFA's to the overall defense effort. Priority should be given to their training whether it be in the field or in an office. They should be shown as much as possible so that when they return to their reserves, their OJT will prove valuable; not just a wasted period of time.

On the whole, the Army has handled whatever schooling given the RFA's with a high degree of competence. They receive the same training as their classmates, and their classmates, and their instructors generally have a solid knowledge of their subject matter. Most RFA's to whom I spoke said the time spent in schools was the most valuable part of their six months training. Schools which require long periods of atendance are generally not available. Of course, a shortened basic training might allow more men into these highly specialized--and hard to fill--fields.

A certain number of men go on to advanced combat training, either in infantry, artillery, or armor--the toughest "schoolings" open to the RFA. Advanced infantry, for instance, is a continuation of basic training. The trainee fires weapons he only heard about in basic--the light machine gun, the recoiling rifles, the rocket launcher, the carbine, the mortar, and the pistol. He marches to distant ranges where he had been driven before. He learns to use a bayonet, bivouacking for four weeks out of the eight. Two RFA's at Fort Dix, N.J. in 1957 won the Expert Infantryman's Badge, the foot soldier's most coveted award, beating out several combat veterans in the process.

At first, when the number of RFA's was small, and they were only 17-18 1/2, they were accepted as sort of a "test group," having no effect on the actual running of the post. But as the RF's have increased both in numbers and in age, their presence has had a much more decided effect, especially on draftees serving two years--usually two boring years if they are stationed in the States.

The draftees--especially the more more educated ones--were not very upset by the RFA's when they were all about 18 years old, but when men 23 and 25, with the same maturity and backgrounds as they began arriving on posts, the draftees took notice. One man said to me: "It's tough enough to spend two years in the States, earning about $90 a month, and seeing your friends on the outside free and making four times what you're getting. But my morale has never been lower than now because of these RFA's. Four RFA's have come and left my section this year, whereas in the past, one draftee would have come and still be here. I would have been an RFA myself if it were open to me two years ago. It hurts when someone who has graduated school a year after me, is out of the Army before I am."

The regular Army men who have enlisted for three or more years, and who make up the backbone of the peacetime Army, on the whole have great contempt for such a short hitch, and feel that the RFA would make a poor soldier if pressed into action now. Most RFA's themselves although very happy with the short tour of active duty, would agree that their six months' training has not given them enough preparation for a war situation, but most are optimists and believe that was is not very imminent. If they thought it were, most would not have committed themselves to such long Ready Reserve statuses.

The Army, however, has never been more outwardly enthusiastic about any new program. "Everyone connected with the program agrees on its success," writes Maj. Gen. Kenneth P. Bergquist, commanding general of Fort Dix. RFA should stand, not for Reserve Forces Act, says Maj. Gen. P. D. Ginder, assistant chief of staff for reserve components, but for "Ready For America."

Yet if the program is now a success, it is successful mainly in the number of men who have enlisted. The Army need no longer worry about filling its quotas, but should direct its attention to the quality of training given RFA's in six months. It is in this sphere of thought that success will ultimately be measured, not in how many men are isued uniforms in one given year.

The RFA program offers the Army a valuable chance to experiment trying out new concepts, discarding old ones. It should not pass it up. Successful innovations developed now might prove invaluable in an emergency. If men with higher aptitudes, for instance, can be trained in a shorter period of time--and everything seems to affirm this--1