The process to become a soldier in the U.S. Army is a long and oftentimes difficult journey, but young men and women who make the decision to serve their country are able to transition into the Army lifestyle with ease thanks to a program which helps them adjust before even stepping foot onto a training location.
The U.S. Army Future Soldier program, also known as the Delayed Entry Program, allows prospective soldiers to enlist in the Army, but delay reporting for duty up to one year. The program is popular among high school students who have decided they want to serve in the Army, but still need to finish school.
“Kids don’t immediately go to basic training after swearing in, like you see in the movies,” said Staff Sergeant Jeremy Levens of the U.S. Army Turlock Recruiting Station. “Most of the people we have in the Future Soldier program are high school seniors who we don’t want to take out of school. It’s important to us that they get their high school diploma.”
The Future Soldier program engages its members about once a week by preparing them for the rigors of basic training. Through physical activities, like group crossfit or cadence runs, and mental exercises, like learning how to use a compass or read a map, students become acclimated to the camaraderie, discipline and pressure that are frequent when serving in the Army, Levens said.
“We try to make the training really diverse,” said Levens. “That way, they get a little bit of a taste of what they’re going to do so when they do get to basic training, it won’t all be brand new.”
On Dec. 20, a group of 20 Future Soldiers met at the Turlock Corporation Yard to fill up sandbags for the community to use during the upcoming stormy season. The group included students from Turlock, Hilmar and Pitman high schools, as well as students from other areas of Stanislaus County.
Michael Patterson, a THS senior, joined the Future Soldier program so that he can join the Army Reserves. The opportunity will allow him to both afford college and serve his country, he said.
“I always wanted to go to college and play basketball, but I didn’t have enough money,” said Patterson. “I was introduced to the Army Reserves, and I think basic training will make me into a better man and better person both on and off the court.
“This group is all about teamwork, love, the family and the bond between us. It’s about accepting people for who they are. You’ve got to have friends that are like family in this world.”
The Future Soldier program does focus on preparing students for what they will face once they report for duty, but the group often tries to give back while they train. Filling up sand bags is a difficult activity for the average civilian, but the Future Soldiers filled up bags with ease and felt great about giving back, said Levens.
“I think it’s important for the public to understand and realize I am a soldier, yes. I do wear this uniform and that’s my job, but when I take off my uniform at the end of the day, I’m a resident of Turlock just like everyone else,” he said. “It’s important to me to give back to the community that takes care of us so well, and I know that these kids feel the same way.”