Army Basic Training

Surviving Military Boot Camp

men running in army physical fitness test (APFT)
••• Image courtesy

The Army has several training base locations including Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina; Fort Knox in Louisville, Kentucky; Fort Leonard Wood in Waynesville, Missouri; and Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. Where you attend is primarily dependent upon the location of your follow-on, Advanced Individual Training (Job Training). In fact, if you enlist in one of the Combat Arms MOS's, you very well may receive basic training and Advanced Individual Training all at one location: Fort Benning for infantry; Fort Knox for armor; Fort Leonard Wood for combat engineers, military police, and chemical.

You'll want to do some things to prepare in advance before departing for Army Boot Camp. Your recruiter should give you a list of what you can and cannot bring. As with all military boot camps, tobacco products are forbidden. So if you smoke or chew, now would be a good time to quit.

A significant portion of your nine weeks at Army Boot Camp will be taken up with marching, drill, ceremonies, and lots & lots of standing in formation. Your arms will thank you if you take some time before arriving at boot camp to study about and practice the basics of the drill. It's also a good idea to start ahead of the game by memorizing Army officer and enlisted ranks. You'll also want to memorize the Army General Orders.

There are seven Army Core Values that will be continually hammered into you during your nine-week stay. You'll sleep, eat, and some more about Army Core Values until you think they're part of the Constitution, and wonder why your high school history class could have missed them.

Memorizing these seven core values in advance may give you a little extra breather time while others are trying to commit them to memory.

Each new recruit is issued a copy of TRADOC Pamphlet 600-4. You can give yourself a head-start in learning some of the things you'll need to know to graduate boot camp by studying this pamphlet in advance.

Army Basic Training is the physically intensive. If you are not physically active, you'll want to start preparing yourself a couple of months before leaving for boot camp. Concentrate on running (both sprints and distance), push-ups, and sit-ups, as these are the basis for both the "pre-test" and the final PT Test.

Reception Battalion:

Believe it or not, for many, this is the hardest part of Army Boot Camp. Desert Shield/Desert Storm proved that much of war for the Army is hurry up and wait. The United States moved thousands of Army troops and tons of equipment, weapons, and ammunition in a few weeks, then the deployed troops waited for months and months for the first sign of action. The Reception Battalion gives you a chance to practice waiting.... and waiting ... and waiting. When you get bored with waiting, you'll be allowed to practice waiting some more. If efficiently organized, the actual processing that goes on at the Reception Battalion would probably take 8-10 hours. You get to do it the Army way, however, and means doing just a little bit of "processing" each day for anywhere between one and three weeks.

The good news is that, while there will be Drill Instructors assigned to watch over you, they don't yell at you very much while you are in the Reception Battalion.

At least they don't for the first half of your stay, while you're still running around everywhere wearing your official Army PT Sweats (You won't get your uniforms until several days into "processing"). It's almost as if they don't notice you until you're just about ready to depart for Official Boot Camp.

There's one exception, however: the Initial PT Test. If you fail this test, you'll get to spend some time at "Fat Camp," where brand-new Drill Instructors get to practice on you for a while.

While in the Reception Battalion, you'll get your shots, process your paperwork, be issued your uniforms, and that very favorite of all -- the haircut (like Air Force Basic, you get to pay for the privilege). Between times, you'll go to chow (three times per day), and you'll wait. You'll know your group is getting close to getting out of Purgatory when the Drill Sergeants start to notice you.

You cannot wear contact lenses during basic training. You also cannot wear your civilian glasses, once you have been issued your official government-issue glasses. In civilian clothes (after basic training), you can wear whatever kind of glasses you want.

The Reception Battalion doesn't really use up your entire enlistment period -- it just feels like it. But, within a couple of weeks, you'll finally be loaded on the bus to begin your real experience at Army Boot Camp. One wouldn't ordinarily think that one would look forward to boot camp, but after two or three weeks in the Reception Battalion, you'll be begging to go. Perhaps that's its real function. Don't worry, though: this feeling will only last until about 30 seconds after you meet your new drill sergeant.

From Week One to Week Three. The first thing you'll notice about your new drill sergeant is that he or she appears to be a different species from the ones hanging around the Reception Battalion. He/she will appear to be much larger, much meaner, and very much louder (like Air Force Training Instructors, Army Drill Sergeants are also known for their chronic hearing problems). Unlike Air Force Training Instructors, Army Drill Sergeants absolutely love push-ups. "Drop and Give me Twenty" is a favorite phrase (shouted, of course). On this first day, pretty much everyone will get "dropped." You'll be dropped individually, you'll be dropped in pairs, and you'll be dropped as an entire platoon.

Week one is best characterized by a term known as TOTAL CONTROL. Total control is where the soldiers only do what they are told to do by their Drill Sergeants. The first few weeks of Basic Training is definitely NOT the time to find a better way of doing things. Soldiers arrive at the Basic Training Unit from the Reception Battalion and are immediately immersed in an environment where every move they make is scrutinized by the Drill Sergeant.

During the first week, you'll start Physical Training, and you'll also be given an initial PT Test. This test requires a little bit more than the screening in the Reception Battalion: push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run.

The typical day throughout Basic Training runs from 0430 (You got to get up very early in able to "do more before 12:00 then most people do all day"), with lights out at 2100 (9:00 PM).

During the first week or so, nobody will be able to do anything right. However, by the end of the first week, you'll be able to do what you're told, when you're told, and exactly how you're told to do it. The word, "why?" will be surgically removed from your vocabulary before that first week is finished.

Standing Guard Duty. 

The Army uses "Fire Guards”. It amounts to the same thing: two-hour shifts of walking around the barracks, keeping watch in case someone tries to steal it, or worse yet, set it on fire.

Total Control continues the second week, along with courses on Army Core Values (including classes on sexual harassment and race relations), and other military-related subjects (such as the fundamentals of bayonet fighting, and first aid training). During the second week is also where you get to practice hacking, coughing, and crying in the "Gas Chamber." This normally occurs in the afternoon, shortly after lunch. No matter how hungry you are that day, eat a very light lunch. While in the chamber, you'll take your mask off two times (once, you merely lift the mask to state your name, rank, and social security number, then you redone the mask). If you can get away with keeping your eyes closed and not breathing this nasty stuff, go for it. However, it's far more likely that the Drill Instructor will make sure you open your eyes and take at least a small breath before you're let out of the chamber.

Also during the second week, you'll be introduced to your rifle. It is a rifle. More specifically, it's an "M16A4 Rifle." You don't get to shoot it during the second week. Right now you get to learn how to hold it, point it, take it apart, clean it, put it back together, take it apart again, put it together again, take it apart once more, put it together one more time, etc.

One of the requirements of Army Basic Training is to keep your locker locked at all times.

During the final week of Phase I, the Drill Sergeants will (very slowly) start to move the emphasis of training away from the individual, to "team." You'll be assigned a "Battle Buddy," and guess what? Throughout the remainder of Basic, everything your Battle Buddy does wrong, you get the "credit for!" What could be better than that? At least you'll no longer be alone when being "dropped." Your Battle Buddy is like your Siamese twin. You'll go everywhere with him/her and do everything with him/her. Of course, as with all weeks, physical training and drill continue during week three, as well as more training/practice taking your rifle apart, and putting it together.

During the weeks 4-6, you'll spend most of your time on various ranges. You'll start with basic M16A4 shooting (just try to hit the targets), and move on to farther targets, pop-up targets, grenades, grenade launchers, and more. You'll be surprised at how many different ranges one Army post has.

During the 5th week, you'll get practice using bayonets and an introduction to anti-tank weapons and other heavy weapons. You'll also get practice negotiating the obstacle course. This differs some from Air Force Basic, as the obstacle course is more "combat oriented." You'll run the obstacle course carrying your new friend (The M16A4 Rifle). You and your Battle Buddy will also be expected to work as a "team."

Sometime during the 6th week, you'll note that the Drill Instructors aren't yelling as much as they used to. In fact, at times, they seem almost human. You will continue daily PT, as well as practice basic drill and ceremonies.

By Week 6, you should be able to shoot straight and navigate basic combat obstacles. 

Week 7-9, while challenging, this is the most fun you will have during Army Basic Training. During the first week of III, you'll take your final PT Test. If you don't pass, you won't get to go on to the "Field" with the rest of your Platoon (However, with all the physical conditioning you've received by this point, failure on the PT Test is extremely rare). The Final PT Test consists of the Standard Army Annual PT Exam. You'll need to score at least 150 points to pass Basic Training.

Going Into The Field. 

You'll learn how to set up tents, go on night patrols, and perform night operations. You'll learn to appreciate Army Chow Halls, as all your meals in the Field will consist of MREs.

During Week 8 of Basic, you'll culminate the field training experience with a special tactical field exercise. Recruits then go through Victory Forge, a final three-day field journey prior to graduation.  This exercise ties everything you've learned in basic together. The Drill Instructors will advise (and keep you from getting hurt), but tactical decisions will be made by the platoon leaders and squad leaders. While they differ in scenarios, all Army Basic Training Programs include this Final Event.  At the end of the Field Event, you'll return to a short, informal ceremony marking your transition from civilian to soldier.

You'll return to Army Basic to spend the final week preparing for the graduation ceremony. Basic training in the Army is designed to lay a foundation for discipline and basic combat. Your real training, however, will begin after basic when you transition to Advanced Individual Training (AIT).