The Army is ending a program that helped nearly 3,000 high school dropouts earn high school equivalency certificates and become soldiers.

The GED pilot program known as the Army’s prep school started here in summer 2008, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan left the service scrambling to find soldiers. But since then, with the economy in a downward spiral and jobs hard to come by, more people with diplomas have been enlisting.

In 2008, 82.8 percent of people who enlisted for active duty were high school graduates. That number jumped to 94.6 percent in 2009.

“We’re a victim of our own recruiting success,” said Col. Kevin Shwedo, deputy commander at Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest training installation.

Recruits who were in the program’s last class and have been in basic training for about five weeks said they were grateful to squeak through.

“If it weren’t for the program, I’d still be a shift manager at McDonald’s,” said Kristi Garcia of Alice, Texas.

Cradling an M-16 between practice rounds on the shooting range, the 25-year-old married mother of two said she quit high school as a senior after having a child, and put earning a living ahead of schoolwork.

Then, she said, her grandmother died and she realized she wanted more out of life. She decided on the military, but the Marines told her she had too many dependents to enlist. Then an Army recruiter told her about the chance to earn her GED through the Fort Jackson program and got her enrolled.

Two weeks of classwork to brush up on her math and some early morning physical drills later, she passed the GED test and was headed to basic training.

Garcia said she was sorry to see the program end, since it means an opportunity others won’t get unless they stay in high school and earn a diploma.

Shwedo said the GED program could be resurrected within months if recruiting slumps again when the job market improves.

Source: Susanne M. Schafer for AP News.

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