The intricacies of designing and running classes are nothing new to
ASTD staff or members--designing curriculums, administering tests,
setting up rooms, and carrying boxes are a cinch. But recently for
Tracy Lippincott, additional procedures included donning a flak
jacket, arming herself with an M16, and flying on a helicopter to
pick up test results in Balad, Iraq, 30 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Lippincott, an ASTD project manager, is also a Sergeant First Class
in the Delaware Army National Guard, and her most recent tour of
duty included 12 months at Camp Victory, a former Saddam Hussein
hunting reserve and palace complex, now home to U.S. and
multinational coalition forces in Iraq. For six months in 2005 and
2006, Lippincott set up and ran an innovative training program
there for soldiers.
As a member of the Guard's communication unit, Lippincott's initial
responsibility was to act as a liaison between Army units and the
commercial contractors there to install a communication system--a
job that required her to map the existing communication
infrastructure in every building. Though it was an extensive
project, she and her team finished the job in six months.
"When you run out of buildings you run out of a job, but you can't
leave," Lippincott says.
Soon, though, Lippincott noticed an ad seeking instructors to help
soldiers raise their test scores on the Armed Forces Vocational
Aptitude Test, better known as ASVAB. Lippincott knew her civilian
training made her the perfect candidate for this position.
In civilian life, people can generally move an idea forward without
permission, but in the armed forces, of course, one needs to gain
approval from a commanding officer. By the time Lippincott received
the okay to teach, the woman who had placed the ad had completed
her tour of duty and was preparing to leave the country. The
training program had yet to begin, and was about to be canceled.
"I stood up and said, 'I'll take it over' without thinking what I
was getting into," Lippincott says. "We had nothing, so I had to
start from scratch, and class was starting in four days!"
As a training professional and as a solider, Lippincott had learned
to think on her feet, so it's no surprise that she was able to
begin the training as scheduled. Because she was familiar with the
layout of every building, for instance, Lippincott knew there was a
tiny, unoccupied room on the camp, and after much cajoling, she
received permission to run classes there. She then "scrounged"
seating, tables, and supplies; found some ASVAB study books from
which she created an educational program; and recruited a training
partner. For the next six months the two women taught for 12 hours
daily: two six-hour classes made up of 25 students each.
In much the same way that SAT scores dictate which colleges a
person can get into, scores from portions of the ASVAB test can
determine, first, whether a recruit will be accepted for
enlistment, and later, what jobs a soldier is qualified to do
within the armed forces. The full-length ASVAB exam lasts around
three-and-a-half to four hours and has 10 subsets, including
everything from verbal questions to math to mechanical and
electronics comprehension. Though Lippincott's students took the
entire ASVAB test, her review program was aimed specifically toward
helping soldiers raise their General Technical (GT) scores, which
combine three of the 10 subsets into a composite score.
The GT composite score combines arithmetic reasoning, word
knowledge, and paragraph comprehension, and the test score plays a
significant role in a soldier's future. For example, a score of 99
means a soldier is qualified to do approximately one-third of the
Army's available jobs; a 100 means they can do about half the jobs.
Get a 110 (what Lippincott calls the magic number) and you can do
any job in the Army. (You also need a 110 in order to apply to
officer training.) The number also has a direct impact on how much
money a soldier can make--an increased GT score could equal an
extra $10,000 to $30,000 each year in reenlistment bonuses.
At Camp Victory, commanders released soldiers from duty to allow
them to take the review class. For each three-week term there were
70 to 80 applicants, but Lippincott could only accept 50 students.
"We gave preference to the younger kids, the ones who were new to
Most of the students were full-time active duty soldiers, meaning
that the Army is their job, as well as their potential career. They
were also what Lippincott calls war fighters, and when they weren't
out on patrol they had an excess of free, unstructured time. As
Lippincott points out, "There's no sex, no drugs, no drinking, so
what do these kids do with themselves?"
This class, with its six hours of class time and five to eight
hours of homework each night, gave the soldiers a focus and
something to concentrate on.
Each review class was broken into chunks--with three hours devoted
to arithmetic, one hour for lunch, and two hours for the verbal
portions of the test--and included a pretest, midterm, and final
exam. The final was given on Fridays, the day before the real test.
That Friday was also graduation day, during which students received
certificates and attended a graduation ceremony with a guest
speaker. But when graduation ended, it was back to the classroom
for one last exercise.
"We would do something fun, like MadLibs," Lippincott says, noting
that not even graduation counted as an early-release day.
In six months, 268 soldiers completed the training course, and
their pretest scores compared against their actual test scores
allowed Lippincott to gauge how well the review program worked. The
average GT score walking into the class was 86. Sixty-six percent
of students improved or stayed the same; 38 percent got 100 on the
test; 21 percent got a 110 or higher. Lippincott also found that
the lower the GT score, the more it increased on the actual exam.
The class structure went through a number of changes over the
months, most significantly moving from paper-based to almost
completely electronic. In addition, Lippincott helped establish a
full-fledged education center at Camp Victory, with online college
courses, information about U.S. universities, SAT testing, and
"The center was fully set up four days before I left, and I didn't
get to see it in action," Lippincott says. "It was difficult to
In May 2006, Lippincott left Iraq for the United States, and after
two weeks at Fort Dix, returned home to civilian life and to her
"Part of me feels I went over there and did nothing for the Iraqi
people, but part of me says, well I did help the soldiers there to
better their lives," Lippincott says. "We helped them grow their
careers and gave them a real sense of purpose. Instead of just
kicking in doors and seeing the uglier side of war, we gave them
something positive to take away."