It’s been a rough few years for Army troops executing permanent change of station moves.
Waitlists for housing, moving company shortages, and more have bedeviled soldiers — as has the uneven quality of the Army’s “sponsorship” program, which is intended to pair moving soldiers with mentors in their new units.
Those issues drove the service to create new “reception companies,” which will be small units at major installations dedicated to helping new soldiers navigate their arrival and in-processing, explained Army senior leaders in a media roundtable last month.
The Army will create 13 of the units, which will vary in size based on the installation’s size, by fiscal 2025, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said. The Army’s top NCO emphasized the importance of helping soldiers at transition points in their career.
“The transitions are hard,” Grinston said. “[Nearly] every one of the quality of life initiatives deal with, mostly, a transition...I think reception companies help us receive people in our organization.”
While the first officially-authorized units won’t arrive until October 2022, some units across the Army have decided to implement an interim version of the program.
The 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, inaugurated its reception company on Nov. 3 in a ceremony where the company’s first new soldiers were handed off to their units.
One of the division’s senior-most operations NCOs told Army Times in a phone interview that the new in-processing experience at “Pegasus Troop” is radically different from what he experienced.
“The in-processing that I went through, it wasn’t [very] helpful,” said Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Dyer, who helped plan the interim unit. “’Here’s a sheet. Here’s some things that you need to do.’ And that [was] it.”
Now there’s a structured program of instruction meant to show new soldiers what’s going on, where important things are happening and how their lives will work at Fort Hood.
“It allows troopers time to get themselves and their family situated,” Dyer added. “It takes time to find a home and to find childcare in each PCS [move]. ... This program, it provides guidance and time, which allows our new team members [to] navigate those situations before they have to report to their unit and get into it.”
The reception company’s top NCO, Sgt. 1st Class Brian Brown, explained that the eight-day reception period offers an opportunity to knock out much of the Army’s required annual training and readiness items up front and resolve any lingering PCS or pay issues.
“We’ll get them integrated as far as equal opportunity classes, [sexual assault and harassment prevention] classes...resiliency training, and any pay issues they have,” Brown said in a phone interview. “When they ship out to their unit ... they’re ready on day one.”
The process allows new soldiers to focus on integrating into day-to-day life and operations rather than getting caught up on mandatory trainings.
“We’re here to get them squared away and ready to get to the fight,” said Dyer.
The program also includes a meeting with the division commander and senior enlisted leader, in addition to classes on the division’s history and heritage.
One new soldier who went through the company told reporters that the experience has left him confident in his new unit, too.
“It’s truly welcoming,” said Pvt. Dallas Aistrup, an infantry soldier who recently graduated from training at Fort Benning, Georgia. “First impressions are a big thing.”
Permanent units arriving in 2022
The Army’s top enlisted soldier, Grinston, says the permanent reception companies will be even better than these interim efforts.
The service plans to structure positions in the units as prestigious slots available to only the most-qualified soldiers who have completed their key assignment in their current rank. The positions won’t be linked to any specific military occupational specialty or officer area of concentration, Grinston added, explaining that it’s more important to have the right soldier for the job.
“We’re looking to say there [will] be a second-time first sergeant or a second-time commander,” Grinston said, adding that the goal is to “get a quality [leader] that says, ‘Here, welcome to my organization, let me tell you what’s great about here.’”
He implored other senior leaders across the Army to “pick your absolute best to run the reception companies...[they represent] you and the first impression on your installation.”
The first permanent reception companies will open at Fort Hood; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina in late 2022, according to comments made by Grinston at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual gathering in October.
Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Stewart, Georgia; and Fort Bliss, Texas, are slated to receive their permanent authorization in October 2023.
Soldiers PCS’ing to Camp Humphries, South Korea; Wiesbaden, Germany; Fort Benning, Georgia; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; and Fort Drum, New York, will find permanent reception companies beginning in October 2024.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.