Army Specialized Training Program
The Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was a military training program instituted by the United States Army during World War II to meet wartime demands both for junior officers and soldiers with technical skills. Conducted at more than 222 American universities, it offered training in such fields as engineering, foreign languages, and medicine.
ASTP differed from the V-12 Navy College Training Program in producing technically trained personnel rather than officers as its primary goal, though recruits were expected to become officers upon completion. The program was approved in September 1942 and implemented in December that year.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor sparked U.S. entry into the war, the Army apparently suspended at least certain advanced elements of Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) training (around 1943). This was a particularly problematic situation for the nation's numerous land-grant universities, whose constitutions include the agreement to train "militia." A program which could provide a "continuous and accelerated flow of high grade technicians and specialists needed by the Army" would both help the war effort and offset ROTC enrollment turndown. In addition, a sudden and massive emergency requirement for replacement junior officer during an anticipated amphibious invasion of the Japanese mainland loomed large.
Entry requirements were high: a minimum of 115 (later 120) on the Army OCT-X3 Examination for Officers Candidate School, a Stanford-Binet-type IQ test, compared to 110 for OCS candidates. All new soldiers were required to complete 13 weeks of infantry basic training before being assigned to a college campus. Col. Henry Beukema, a Professor of History at West Point, was named Director of the program. He was responsible for sending 200,000 soldiers to 227 colleges at cost of $127,000,000. While high school graduates at least 17 years of age but less than 18 were offered a chance to apply, the majority of participants were already on active duty in the Army.
During the late part of the academic year 1942–1943, a national testing program was conducted among the male college and high school student bodies. Selection was based upon approximately one standard deviation minimum above the mean. Enlisted men already on active duty were also tested, and accepted only at the rank of private. Because so many men had graduated from ROTC and received commissions—93,000 by March 1942, outnumbering regular Army by three to one—men who wanted to advance had few choices. Moving up through ASTP seemed like a promising alternative. Candidates included all enlisted men who had completed basic training, or if under 22 years old and completed high school or its equivalent, or if older than 22 years old and with a minimum of one year of college, and who met the IQ standard.
The highly accelerated ASTP program was offered at 227 land-grant universities around the country. Students were expected to complete a four-year program in 18 months with a bachelor's degree and a commission. A minimum of 25 class-time hours per quarter were required to meet the compressed schedule. Intensive courses were offered in engineering, science, medicine, dentistry, personnel psychology, and 34 different foreign languages.
While in academic training the soldiers were on active duty, in uniform, under military discipline, and received regular army pay. Recruits marched to class in groups, ate in mess halls located in the barracks, and trained in the fields around a campus. The soldiers week featured 59 hours of "supervised activity," including at least 24 of classroom and lab work, 24 of required study, six of physical instruction, and five of military instruction. At its height in December 1943, about 140,000 men were enrolled in the program.
By November 1943 the Army recognized that its ASTP replacement training centers were not producing nearly enough new soldiers for the Army Ground Forces, particularly in light of the impending invasion of France. In January 1944, Col. Beukema reported to a U. S. Congressional investigating committee that ASTP was more demanding than either West Point or the Naval Academy.
Each step of the ASTP story was tied in with the ups and downs in the Army's estimate of its manpower requirements. In all such changes, the college training program, as a marginal undertaking, was sharply affected. [The choice was] between specialized training and an adequate combatant force.
General Lesley J. McNair felt ASTP took young men with leadership potential away from combat positions where they were most needed. "...with 300,000 men short, we are sending men to college." Manpower planners calculated that more infantrymen would be required in advance of the planned invasion of Europe. ASTP was not only one of the easiest programs to reduce or eliminate, it also provided a large pool of ready-trained soldiers. In February 1944, about 110,000 ASTP students were told they would be transferred to combat units.
Students who had not been on active duty were shortly terminated from their academic programs prematurely and returned to active duty. Those who had sacrificed non-commissioned rank to qualify for the college training diversion were not necessarily reinstated, and often shortly went into combat as privates.
The 17-year-olds were continued in school until 18, at which time they were transferred from Army Reserve to active-duty status and called up to infantry basic training. After basic training, those who were willing were returned to the reduced number of land-grant schools still maintaining ASTP.
From a wartime high of 150,000 students, ASTP was immediately reduced to approximately 60,000 members. The remainder, having already completed basic training, were sent to the Army Ground Forces. Even though they did not have the experience to qualify for non-commissioned officer rank, the Army anticipated that their superior training and intelligence levels would result in advancement to leadership positions.
Graduates in action
ASTP graduates were used as replacement soldiers. About 35 U.S. divisions received an average of 1,500 men each, though some got considerably more, such as the 3000 received by the 395th Infantry Regiment in March 1944.
Fresh out of college, the new replacements were often given harsh receptions by both fellow officers and veteran NCOs. One company commander asked, "What kind of soldiers deal out bridge hands during their ten-minute training breaks?" ASTP personnel were often skeptical of the capabilities of their new superior officers and NCOs. However, once in combat, they rapidly proved their worth and any distinctions between the regular Army and the college soldiers were erased.
In the spring of 1944 ASTP levels were further reduced at the direction of the Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall. The Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps' continued to experience serious shortfalls in producing casualty replacements, necessitating the use of divisional service troops and Army Service Forces troops as infantry replacements. When the defeat of Germany was in sight, and the testing of the new atomic bomb successful, the apparent need for potential junior officer replacements disappeared and the final ASTP groups were largely disbanded, although there were ASTP units for medicine and engineering still existing in August 1945.
While the ASTP initiative suffered from manpower drawdowns to meet immediate combat needs, it did serve as an important financial subsidy of land grant colleges whose male student bodies had been decimated by the diversion of about 14 million men into the various armed forces.
Another positive effect of the ASTP effort was a softening of university resistance to lowering the draft age from twenty to eighteen. Finally, and most far-reaching, it exposed a large number of potentially very capable men to college who might not have attended otherwise. After the war ended, fully four out of five surviving ASTP alumni returned to college.
Still, critical views were held. A highly dismissive opinion was expressed by Major General Henry Twaddle, a former Army Assistant Chief of Staff for G-3, who wrote, "The underlying reason for institution of the ASP program was to prevent some colleges and universities from going into bankruptcy. From a strictly mobilization viewpoint, the value of the program was nil.":128
Notable alumni of the ASTP include:
- Mel Brooks, American actor, filmmaker, and composer
- Heywood Hale Broun, sports commentator
- Frank Church, U.S. Senator
- Bill Dawson, prominent California attorney
- Bob Dole, U.S. Senator and Senate Majority Leader
- Herman Kahn, futurist and theorist
- Henry Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State, Nobel Prize winner
- Ed Koch, U.S. Congressman, New York City Mayor
- George Koval, Russian spy in Manhattan Project World War II
- Arch Moore, former Governor of West Virginia
- Andrija Puharich, physician and parapsychologist
- Jerry Rosholt, author and historian
- Gore Vidal, author and politician
- Kurt Vonnegut, author 
- Charles Warren, California politician; chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality
- "The Army Specialized Training Program". Shared Sacrifice: Scholars, Soldiers and World War II. Ball State University. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- Keefer, Louis E. "The Army Specialized Training Program In World War II". Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- "70th Division Association". Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- "ASTP". 488th Engineers Light Pontoon Company. Archived from the original on 2004-01-23. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- Leveque, Phillip. "ASTP: The Army's Waste of Manpower". Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- "A Few Notable A.S.T.P. Alumnus". Archived from the original on 2004-01-23. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- "395th Regiment History". Retrieved 2009-03-23.[dead link]
- Palmer, Robert. "United States Army in World War II – The Army Ground Forces - The Procurement and Training of Ground Combat Troops". Retrieved 2015-06-10.
- Flynn, George Q. (2002). Conscription and democracy: the draft in France, Great Britain, and the United States (illustrated ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 303. ISBN 0-313-31912-X.
- Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt (1991). Fates Worse Than Death. G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0399136339.
- Sarah Sharp (1986), Charles H. Warren, From the California Assembly to the Council on Environmental Quality, 1962-1979: The Evolution of an Environmentalist.. Oral history interviews conducted in July 1983 and January 1984. Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1986.