- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina National Guard has turned its recruiters into long-term mentors to help their newest soldiers adapt and flourish during their first months in the military.

The Guard’s top recruiter, Lt. Col. Matthew Fryman, said the Recruit Sustainment Program helps give young recruits a leg up before they go through the Army’s nine weeks of basic combat training, which is required before they enter the state’s part-time military. It also helps the 10,000-member Guard meet a recruiting goal it missed last year by about 100 soldiers, Fryman said.

Many of the nation’s youth aren’t physically fit enough to even enter basic training, let alone last through its nine weeks. Some might have trouble adjusting to following orders. Other restrictions such as a criminal record exclude many people. Fryman said the Guard recruiters not only sign up their trainees, they counsel them through the early challenges of military life.

“Only about 25 percent of the population might qualify,” Lt. Col. Matthew Fryman said of entering the military.

Fryman said the program pairs recruiters with new soldiers and coaches them during weekend drills before they go to basic training. The Guard recruiters keep tabs on their soldiers as they move through basic and advanced individual training, which could last up to 18 months before they come back to the Guard.

“By the time they hit basic training, they’ve had contact with a drill sergeant, they know how to march and run,” said Fryman, a Guard veteran of 24 years. “It really gives them a leg up.”

At a recent ceremony held to recognize the soldiers’ acceptance to their Guard “home” units after training, 18-year-old Pvt. Monet Amour Johnson recalled how the program helped her.

Starting at 106 pounds, the petite soldier said she’d met military weight requirements, but the additional physical training helped add about 20 pounds of muscle mass, an advantage for getting through combat drills in a backpack and carrying a weapon.

Johnson said she also had to deal with a potential metal allergy and had to tame her hair into a proper military bun to meet standards required by basic training.

“I just kept trying, and my recruiter helped me through it,” said Johnson, who was set on becoming a truck driver like her grandfather.

He’d lost both legs in the Vietnam War, she said, “so I told him I’d finish the mission for him.”

Pfc. Josiah Winter, 26, of Charleston, said he’d signed up in June 2013. A manager at a gym, Winter said the physical training wasn’t as difficult for him as it was to adapt to a culture where he had to do a commander’s bidding.

“Suddenly, you’re on everyone else’s time, not on your own. Learning to follow orders, that was tough,” Winter said.

Winter said he’d joined to get money for an education, as well as serving his country. Interested in technology, he said he was looking forward to working with the 151st Signal Battalion in Spartanburg.

“We’re glad to have him,” said his beaming Sgt. Maj. William Bostic, 49, of Gaffney, the unit’s top enlisted soldier. “He’ll do great.”

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Follow Susanne M. Schafer on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/susannemarieap

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