A new Navy preparatory course focused on fitness and nutrition seeks to push hundreds of new recruits into the fleet this year — even as the military branches struggle with attracting new members and the Navy is expected to miss its accession targets.

The Future Sailor Preparatory Course, which kicked off in April with 42 potential recruits, aims to eliminate recruiting barriers that prevent individuals from serving, while also maintaining current standards. The course focuses on providing individuals who are as much as 6% above entry body-fat standards for accession training, with physical fitness, nutrition and life skills training.

The course, based out of Recruit Training Command at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois, is projected to add an additional 338 sailors to the fleet ithis fiscal year, according to Lt. Mack Jamieson, a spokesperson for Naval Service Training Command.

But that could change.

The program has the capacity to expand and train even more future sailors prior to boot camp, according to Capt. Frank Brown, director of operations at Naval Service Training Command.

“The program is based on the fact that recruiting is being challenged right now,” Brown told Navy Times. “We do have capacity to potentially go all the way up to one full training group, so we could potentially go all the way up to 1,000 recruits in this program. … I believe as awareness builds on the program, I’m optimistic that we’ll see those numbers continue to grow.”

Upon successful completion of the course -- meeting or falling below the Navy’s body-fat standards for entry training -- individuals head to a Basic Military Training division to complete the 10 weeks of boot camp.

The program is modeled after the Army’s Future Soldier Preparatory Course, implemented in August 2022, which includes a fitness program that aims to lower potential recruits’ body fat, as well as an academic program geared toward boosting their Armed Forces Qualification Test scores.

A physical therapist for the Navy designed the fitness curriculum for the Navy’s program using principles from the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System, known as NOFFS. That system strives to provide Navy sailors with guidance on how to train safely and effectively.

It also focuses on low-impact strength training, and uses such equipment as resistance bands, sandbags or free weights if available, according to Lt. Maria Spencer, an operations analyst with Naval Service Training Command.

“But one of the utilities of the NOFFS system is that most of the workouts can be done primarily with just body weight,” Spencer told Navy Times.

That helps instructors cater to an individual’s specific fitness level for the Future Sailor Preparatory Course, she said.

“Some may be coming in with higher fitness or lower fitness than someone else within their cohort,” Spencer said. “The instructors can see that and can scale the workouts accordingly for each individual.”

The NOFFS system also includes a nutritional component, which teaches students how to balance their servings to receive the right balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, Spencer said.

Rather than track calories or macronutrient intake, which typically requires the use of a cell phone, those participating in the program are taught broader principles such as serving size portion recommendations, accompanied with visuals. Sailors can use that guidance in the fleet to make appropriate nutritional choices a lasting habit, Spencer said.

“They’re learning how to construct their own plates to meet their nutritional needs as well as fuel themselves for their workouts and activities that they’re doing,” Spencer said.

The curriculum supplements the fitness and nutritional components with academic coursework geared toward sleep hygiene, and basic militarization to familiarize potential recruits with how to wear a uniform, The Sailor’s Creed, and other Navy core values.

“Ultimately, when they get into boot camp, into Basic Military Training, having a leg up on that is going to help them to succeed and excel in that realm as well,” Brown said.

The service determined the three-week program structure was optimal for safely losing body fat needed to meet Navy entry standards, after evaluating data from the Army’s preparatory course.

“Folks are coming in pretty close to the body-fat composition needed already,” Brown said. “So, if they’re only 1% or 2% over — just by getting in a structured environment, having a change in diet and getting the physical fitness going — in a three-week period, they can safely lose 1%, 2% of their body fat and then be able to enter training.”

Currently, males must have no more than 26% body-fat composition, while females must have no more than 36%, to enter boot camp.

The Navy has completed several rounds of the pilot program with male potential recruits. Women will join iterations of the program starting in July, Brown said.

Individuals may complete the program up to four times, at which point they will be evaluated for continued service on a case-by-case basis. That rolling curriculum structure allows someone who just barely missed body composition goals another shot to safely meet them, while also serving as a motivator for incoming students, Brown said.

“Now that recruit division commanders will have already worked with those members, they’ll be able to help them target on what final areas they need to improve on in their second three weeks or, if they need a little longer, consecutive cycles,” Brown said. “But we really see any rollovers as a great catalyst to help new arrivals.”

Brown said the overarching objective is to invest in these individuals so they are prepared once they head to boot camp and to demonstrate that the service values them as future sailors.

“We really are focusing on the holistic person concept with not just the PT, but also the nutrition and the sleep hygiene to give them skills that maybe they weren’t practicing prior to coming into an organization, which will serve them well in boot camp and beyond,” Brown said.

The Navy is bracing to fall short of its enlisted recruiting goal for FY23 by roughly 6,000 to 7,000 sailors, according to an email Navy Times previously obtained from Rear Adm. Alexis Walker, the head of Navy Recruiting Command.

The Navy met its active duty enlisted recruitment goal for FY22, but it came at a cost. The service’s Delayed Entry Program, which allows someone to join the Navy prior to their shipping date, was depleted to the lowest level the Navy has seen in 40 years.

However, the Navy failed to hit targets for active duty and Reserve officers, as well as Reserve enlisted personnel, in FY22.

Service leaders attribute recruitment challenges to factors including more thorough medical screenings, fewer Americans eligible to serve, and low civilian unemployment.

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