What does basic US Army training look like? Here is my story of the years I wore the uniform: It’s ten weeks of heaven for some of the drill sergeants, or ten weeks of something much worse for the rest of the recruits. US Army basic combat training is everything you would expect from a military boot camp – lots of blood, sweat and tears during the intense training. But you get paid for your trouble – a total of $3,800 plus room and board. Probably the most difficult aspect is the isolation from your civilian friends and family.
After you sign your enlistment contract and take your oath at a military welcome center, you get a shipment date, then you travel to Fort Benning-Georgia, Fort Jackson-South Carolina, Fort Leonard Wood-Missouri, Fort Sill- Oklahoma or Fort Knox-Kentucky.
Get ready for the toughest lockdown outside of prison
I did basic US Army training in 1999 at Fort Knox and you’re locked in there like a gold bar. But certainly not treated as gold. I got the famous trendy haircut from a bored barber and then I saw no civilians the rest of the cycle, except for the workers in the dining room. The hardest part for me was Day 1. It’s called “pick up day” and it’s the first time you’re introduced to the drill sergeants. They stepped out of the sun, rolled down a hill in their smokey the bear hats and sunglasses, and unleashed verbal terror on many recruits. It was extremely stressful. They often choose a “private project” to harass, and I was chosen early as a project. It’s best to blend in as much as possible, but I stayed because of early incompetence. Drill Sergeants aren’t supposed to swear, but at Fort Knox there was definitely some colorful language. Some of the verbosity is downright humorous, but don’t laugh, or you’ll be singled out even more.
Stress, less sleep and physical training
You must memorize and recite general orders, as well as other important beliefs for new soldiers. The hardest part of this first three-week phase is physical training with much less sleep than usual. Be prepared to get into a push-up position (the lean forward position) and stay there for long periods of time. Physical training prepares you to excel in the army combat aptitude test. Previously, this only included push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. However, the military changed it to be more realistic and to measure the strength and agility you need in battle. So now trainees still do sit-ups and a two-mile run, but they also do deadlifts, sprints and carries, power throws and leg tucks.
Platoon guides get the toughest job
Drill Sergeants choose a “platoon guide” from the start. This position is held by a convict soldier who is in charge of the unit when the drill sergeants leave the barracks – along with many other responsibilities. This meant that I was even more in the spotlight and the subject of a lot of attention from drillers and other trainees. I couldn’t do anything right and I was blamed when things went wrong in the peloton.
Marksmanship is the most important task
You will wake up at 4am. You’ll walk in and keep your wall locker neat and organized. You will get KP duty and clean pots and pans, maybe steal some cookies when drills aren’t looking, but the biggest responsibility and duty is to your weapon. You’ll learn how to mount and dismount your rifle, then head to the shooting range to prove your marksmanship.
Can you run on a full stomach?
I hope you can digest heavy and starchy foods. Some recruits aren’t used to eating three meals a day and then chasing after food, so expect stomach aches and heartburn. You’ll also get familiar with navigating those obstacle courses you’ve seen in the movies.
Phase three is called the warrior phase. The fun part is more weapons practice – grenades, maybe a machine gun or two, all culminating in a field practice drill. This is a week of camping to show off what you’ve learned. The drill sergeants eventually relax and do what I call “fireside chats.” These are gentle talks that teach trainees about pay, checking accounts, invoicing, and other life skills for being an off-duty soldier. You then complete the training by taking a comprehensive test on all soldier tasks.
We thought we were going to war
During my time in basic training, the company commander did a fishy thing. He called us to a theater and told us that we would all be deployed directly to Kosovo after graduation, because at the time the Balkans was the hot spot. It wasn’t true, but it made the training realistic. I truly believed in it and was super excited to have a chance to go to war so early in my career. But alas, we received our individual orders and no one went to Kosovo.
Graduation is finally coming
Graduation, as you would expect, is excellent. And your friends and family come to see the festivities. You feel awesome and confident. You are in great physical shape and ready to take on the world. Sometimes drill sergeants will allow your loved ones to visit the barracks. That’s when you’re totally shocked because the drill sergeants are nice and friendly to your parents. It’s certainly a different side to what you’ve experienced in the previous weeks.
Then you will move on to Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Depending on your job or military occupational specialty, you will be shipped to AIT and this school usually takes at least an additional 16 weeks. If you are lucky enough to be assigned to 82n/a Airborne Division or 173rd Airborne Brigade, you may be able to attend a jump school at Fort Benning.
An unforgettable experience
I’m glad I went through basic army combat training. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Some recruits excel in atmosphere and don’t look back. I think it was an intense and transformative experience that I will never forget. And if I ever met one of my drill sergeants again, I would shake his hand and thank him.
The new 1945 Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. EastwoodPhD, is the author of Humans, Machines and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an emerging threat expert and former US Army infantry officer.