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NEWS | Dec. 22, 2023

Fort Knox Active Guard Reserve Soldier achieves ‘unthinkable’ at GT score improvement test

By Eric Pilgrim

What’s higher than a 144 GT score on the Armed Forces Classification Test?

In March, trainers at the Fort Knox Education Center and Basic Skills Education Program asked this question of Army Personnel Testing officials at Army University.

The answer they got back: “Nothing. 144 is the highest possible score.”

The Fort Knox officials had enquired because on March 22, that’s what Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Hackley scored. The training supervisor for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Army Reserve Aviation Command, had done the unthinkable and achieved perfection.

Army officials told Fort Knox leaders that Hackley is the first Soldier they know of who has earned a perfect score on the test.

“I admit I was very shocked by it all,” said Hackley. “It feels so good to accomplish this. Unfortunately, in the Army people can get judged by their GT score, even if people have never met them.”

Soldiers who desire to take the retest do so for a variety of reasons, according to officials, oftentimes to raise math scores.

“Math is why most people take the class,” said Lola Best, instructor for BSEP. “That’s why we go over math skill-by-skill – make sure we cover every skill they might see on the test. Then we have vocabulary practice and paragraph comprehension.”

The average GT score Soldiers have before retesting is 98, said Best. After attending BSEP, she is seeing their average scores jump about 23 points, up to 123 — a success by any military measure.

When Hackley, a noncommissioned officer with 14+ years of service, decided to attend BSEP, she had an 87, high enough to serve in the Army, but too low for many career paths.

At least one reason for her low initial testing score, according to Hackley, had to do with a developing personal tragedy she experienced throughout high school.

Hackley’s father had gotten ill, requiring her to take care of him. Her responsibilities and the stress of them weighed heavy on her. In the middle of caring for her father, a 17-year-old Hackley decided to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, which is the exam required for joining the military.

Within days of her graduating high school in May 2006, her father died.

“Being 18 and not really knowing what to do, I started getting into stuff you shouldn’t be doing as a young kid,” said Hackley. “I have a younger sister who always looked up to me and I knew that. I was going down the wrong path in life, so I decided to join the Army.”

Hackley served on active duty for her first two-and-a-half years in the Army.

“I then came into the Reserves; did that for a while, and eventually I got picked up on the [Active Guard Reserve] program,” said Hackley. “It took a long time to get on the AGR program.”

She hadn’t considered attempting to raise her 87 score at first because she didn’t see the need. The first hurdle came after serving active duty as an ammunition specialist, when she decided to reclassify in the Reserve as a 42A — administrative specialist.

“I actually had to have a waiver to come into 42-Alpha because my GT score was so low,” said Hackley. “I didn’t realize how much your GT score affects your career.”

After switching to Troop Program Units, known as TPU and considered to be “the heart and soul of America’s Army Reserve, according to the Army Reserve website, Hackley said she found it difficult to find locations that offered GT score retesting.

As she climbed up the NCO ranks, Hackley focused more of her time and energy on improving the careers of her Soldiers, often at the sacrifice of her own. She understood that to be her primary role as a supervisor.

“I would let my Soldiers go before me, so it was never a concern for me to do my own retesting,” said Hackley. “It was always more to make sure everybody else was taken care of.”

When she arrived at Fort Knox in June 2022 as a senior NCO, her career aspirations virtually vanished.

“I got overlooked for about 30 to 40 nominative positions because of my GT score,” said Hackley. “It was something [U.S. Army Human Resources Command] would never even look at. I couldn’t be able to go warrant [officer], I couldn’t be a commissioned officer, I couldn’t be anything with a GT score so low.”

Her HHC leaders, Maj. David Holloway and Master Sgt. Jason Brown, said her abilities and capabilities had nothing to do with disqualification for nominative positions. In fact, they consider Hackley a major asset to the ARAC team.

“She’s definitely a go-getter,” said Brown. “She is very goal-driven; she wants to do the best that she can in everything that she does. It’s been great to work with her.”

Holloway, who took command of HHC in September of 2022, said he was not surprised at her GT score improvement.

“She brings a new perspective to the unit,” said Holloway. “She came in with some great ideas, some great ways to help streamline our processes to get information pushed out to help the Soldiers. She came in with energy and has stayed on top of all the training as well as helping our human resources NCO.”

Hackley realized that drive and desire was no longer enough. Frustration drove her to seek out BSEP to raise her score. She asked Holloway for permission to take it the monthlong course.

“I didn’t know what her score was until she told me about it,” said Holloway. “The ASVAB score didn’t reflect her, not the person I saw standing in front of me, so I highly encouraged her to do it. I’m always encouraging Soldiers to improve themselves.”

Soldiers attending BSEP usually set a goal of achieving a 110, which is considered the baseline standard for the opportunity to pursue any Army career path. That standard can even help get Soldiers into the U.S. Military Academy.

A 110 wasn’t good enough for Hackley:

“I told them I wanted a 115 because I wanted to go above a 110.”

During preparation for the March test, Hackley said some of her leaders tried to tamp down her lofty expectations out of concern that failing to achieve it might crush her spirits. But she was determined to get that score, studying hard during class and afterward.

There is the potential for Soldiers to do worse when they take the test. Best said unfortunately in those rare situations, the Soldier’s new results stand until they are able to retake the test again.

For that reason, as well as to improve Soldiers’ career opportunities, Fort Knox reestablished BSEP in November 2022.

Best said she had taught Soldiers for years and returned when BSEP was brought back to Fort Knox. Since coming on board, students’ test scores have improved 23 points on average — from 98 to 123:

“We’ve had excellent success in the program.”

Before Hackley’s test results, the highest score Best had witnessed was a 137. Rella Braxton, Fort Knox education services officer, said she attributes at least some of students’ successes to Best’s abilities as a teacher.

“It’s amazing to have Ms. Best in that position and see how the Soldiers are excelling,” said Braxton. “They’re exceeding their expected GT scores, and then some. I want to take her class.”

Best said when she first met Hackley, she knew Hackley would improve her scores.

“When I give them their first vocabulary test, I can tell who reads a lot and who doesn’t,” said Best. “When I was handing back the first paper, I said [to Hackley], ‘You read a lot, don’t you?’ and she said, ‘Yes, I do.’ That has a huge impact obviously on vocabulary and paragraphs.

“Her math was not that far off either, so it’s not that I taught her anything. I just reminded her of stuff she had learned in the past and had filed away.”

Hackley has become Best’s newest success story. Best has also become a part of that story, with Hackley saying she has no desire sit still now that she has accomplished what Best and others note as the unthinkable.

“They did say that I could reclass to any [Military Occupational Specialty] I wanted now,” said Hackley. “And I may. I just don’t know what that is yet. I do want to stay in AGR, though.”

While a world of opportunities has opened up to her, Hackley said she’s still focused on what matters most.

“I am recommending to Soldiers here that they take the BSEP and AFCT,” said Hackley. “Go do it, not just to help yourself but everybody around you. And I now tell NCOs that we need to change our mindset about helping Soldiers.

“We cannot help our Soldiers improve if we’re not also helping ourselves improve; they’re looking up to us.”