NORTH CANTON, OH — More than 50 new recruits gathered at the North Canton Armory Nov. 20 for their one-weekend-a-month drill assembly. But instead of reporting to their new units, they reported to their recruiters. On some days, training begins with a modified Army physical fitness test.

“Come on, guys!” shouted Sgt. 1st Class James Youngdahl. “I just had a private do 74 push-ups in one minute! All this excitement and we still have sit-ups to do. Yeah! Alright troops!”

The recruits, in varying levels of physical fitness, urged one another on and responded to Youngdahl’s enthusiasm by clapping their hands and shouting encouragement to their fellow recruits.

The goal of the morning’s test was to diagnose and make recruits aware of their own fitness levels and to familiarize them with Army physical training, said Youngdahl.

Following physical training, the recruits showered and reported to their classrooms.

The troops are participating in the restructured Recruit Sustainment Program, a new take on an old idea.

Captain Robert H. Paley administers the program, which helps integrate recruits into their new role as soldiers and prepare them for Army basic combat training.

Although the RSP has been around in concept for many years, recent innovations and an active interest on the part of state leadership have taken the program to a whole new level, Paley said.

The recently restructured program sees the recruits through three phases.

In the red phase, indoctrination, newly enlisted troops report to the RSP for their first drill. They receive introductory briefings and attend classes on Army values, personal finance and military customs and courtesies. Recruits enter the white phase during their second drill assembly. The longest phase, the troops continue to receive classroom instruction and hands-on training in basic soldiering skills. In the blue phase, recruits attend one final drill assembly before shipping out. They go to Columbus with their recruiters to meet with the battalion staff and receive a physical fitness assessment and overall check to ensure they’re ready to report for initial entry training.

Prior to recent improvements in the RSP, training pipeline losses, a statistic that tracks recruits from signing to actually shipping, ran as high as 40 percent. The losses were tough on recruiters who had to cover the same ground twice, Paley said.

Since May, the attrition rate has decreased to about 10 percent, exceeding all expectations and causing a lot of excitement. Gone are the days where new troops see their recruiter only as long as it takes to enlist them and send them to their unit. In fact, new troops are now assigned to the recruiting command and do not report to their units until they return from initial entry training.

Individual recruiters act as squad leaders to their new recruits, preparing them both mentally and physically for the challenges they will soon face. (Photo: Sgt. 1st Class James Youngdahl calls cadence as he brings new recruits from the Recruit Sustainment Program back in from a one-mile run during drill assembly at the North Canton Armory Nov. 20, 2005.)