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FORT BENNING, Ga. — The initial group of Soldiers to participate in the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s first Cohesion, Operational Readiness and Training (COHORT) program graduated from the initial phases of their training Feb. 2, marking a promising first edition for the pilot program.

The COHORT program took a group of 15 Army National Guard recruits destined for the same unit — the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry — and sent them through basic and advanced individual training as a group.

Recruiting and Retention Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Raymond Ripberger, described the training initiative.

sm170202-Z-AR921-252.jpg“The COHORT program complements existing training methods,” Ripberger said. “It sends groups of trainees through initial entry training together and assigns them to the same unit or platoon for the first few years of their contract.”

According to Sgt. Maj. Joshua Reed, Operations Sergeant Major for the RRB, the Army initially experimented with the COHORT program in the 1980s. It is designed to increase unit readiness, produce higher quality Soldiers, and improve unit cohesion.

Reed proposed bringing the COHORT program to Wisconsin two years ago, and the program was already in motion when Ripberger stepped into the role of RRB commander in September 2015 and ensured the project “stayed the course.”

sm170202-Z-AR921-106.jpgCommand Sgt. Maj. Byran Bates of the Army’s 5th Squadron, 15th Cavalry Regiment, spoke to the positive effects of the COHORT program.

“This class has the lowest attrition rate we have ever had,” Bates said. “It is very impressive. The rate is two percent across the whole company. The average attrition rate is 12 percent.”

Reed added that the COHORT program has not only validated, but exceeded his expectations.

“We did not realize how much of an effect the program would have on other trainees during basic training and advanced individual training,” Reed said. “We did not expect the COHORT platoons to so dramatically reduce the overall attrition rate of the training companies,” he said. “Although it is early we are hopeful the tangible improvements continue to show up in future programs.”

sm170202-Z-AR921-222.jpgMaster Sgt. Jacques Jean, the Senior Army National Guard Liaison with the 194th Armored Brigade, helped facilitate the COHORT program and reflected that the program’s effectiveness is evident in not only the group’s perfect graduation rate, but also the honors its members received.

“This is the first pilot program and it was 100-percent successful,” Jean said. “Everyone from Wisconsin performed with excellence.”

Staff Sgt. Zachary Fischer, a drill instructor for the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s RRB, received the Drill Sergeant of the Cycle Award for his professionalism and performance.

Fischer worked with the trainees from start to finish — drilling with them one weekend each month at a Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP) armory until they completed initial entry training.

“I was thrilled to have the opportunity,” Fischer said. “It was great to work with these trainees full time.”

“There were multiple times that other drill instructors approached me with praise for this group’s performance,” Fischer continued. “They consistently performed well. They raised the bar and the other platoons had to try harder to keep up.”

Ripberger echoed Fischer’s sentiments.

“The COHORT program has been a success from top to bottom,” Ripberger said. “Not only did Fischer demonstrate excellent leadership but those under his leadership did as well.”

One Soldier in particular raised the bar. Spc. Joseph Paul, a cavalry scout for the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment and participant in the COHORT program, received the Armor and Cavalry Leadership award for demonstrating leadership, initiative, and loyalty.

Paul attributed his success to his platoon, stating that he treasured the opportunity to go through training with 15 other men he already knew and trusted.

Ripberger is certain that the COHORT program has a bright future.

“We have proved the concept and know that it works,” he said. “It requires partnership and coordination at many levels, but it works. If attrition rates for the next two cohorts is comparable to this one, then we are onto something that will benefit the entire Army.”

Wisconsin has two other COHORT programs already in progress. Arizona and Michigan have plans to reintroduce COHORT programs in the upcoming fiscal years.

A successful COHORT program would contribute to the National Guard’s overall readiness to serve as the Army’s primary combat reserve and as the first military responder here in the homeland.

Editor’s Note: Pfc. Alice Ripberger is the daughter of Lt. Col. Raymond Ripberger