Did you shudder just a little bit as you read those words? Did haunting
images -- probably from Hollywood movies -- flash through your mind? Perhaps
you pictured drill sergeants bellowing at trembling recruits, or exhausted
recruits doing pushups in the mud as the rain pours down.
If you did, you're not alone. Fear of boot camp, officially called
basic training, keeps many people away from exploring a career in the military.
But what if much of that fear is misplaced? And what if many people are
missing out on potentially rewarding careers as a result?
It's important to remember that basic training is designed to train you
-- not to scare you.
"We've got an investment strategy that says we don't quit on soldiers,"
says Col. Kevin Shwedo. Shwedo is director of operations, plans and training
for U.S. Army Accessions Command at Fort Monroe, in Virginia.
There's no question that recruits are in high demand. Each year, the U.S.
Department of Defense hires about 300,000 new recruits. Every one of those
recruits will go through basic training.
Each branch of the military has its own basic training. The main branches
are Army, Air Force, Marine, Navy and Coast Guard. In each branch, basic training
differs in terms of duration, location and skills developed. The other branches
are Air National Guard, Army National Guard and Reserve.
The length of basic training ranges from seven to 12 weeks -- it's nine
weeks for the Army, for example.
The Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force each have only one location for basic
training, while the Army has several. Future Marines are trained in one of
Although there are different branches for basic training, they all share
a common goal.
"Basic training's sole purpose is to prepare all enlisted soldiers for
any event they may face in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other theater of operations,"
says Shwedo. He has commanded the largest basic combat training brigade in
the Army at Fort Jackson, in South Carolina.
Recruits also gain a lot of side benefits, says Shwedo. These benefits
include confidence, a sense of identity and leadership skills.
"The Army has probably the most all-inclusive training program," Shwedo
says. "You won't find any other organization in the world that will spend
almost $50,000 in training before [the recruits] report to their first duty
Officers who conduct training are called Drill Instructors (DIs) or Training
Instructors (TIs). "Their job is to teach you everything they wish someone
had taught them when they were in the same position," says Shwedo.
If you're not a morning person, this will quickly change -- or you'll just
have to endure it. After all, you'll be running several times a week at 5:10
a.m. The rest of the time, your day will start no later than 7:15 a.m.
It's a very good idea to get into shape before basic training. Go for
some runs, do some pushups and sit-ups. You'll be glad you did.
"The most important thing you can do is be physically fit when you arrive,"
says Shwedo. "You'll have an edge that other soldiers don't have."
"Obviously, you want to be as physically fit as you can be before training,"
agrees Cpt. Holly Brown. She's a military public affairs officer.
When Brown completed basic training, she had the additional challenge
of being away from her husband and young daughter. "Being separated from my
husband and daughter was difficult," she says. Brown says the military was
a "whole new world," and that the learning curve was steep.
Basic training is packed with information you need to absorb. "It's coming
at you at the rate of a fire hose," Brown says.
"It's quite a culture shock," admits Naval Lt. Chris Parsons, who works
in military recruitment. "You go from being a normal human being ... to here,
where you have a bunch of people in uniform speaking a different language."
Prior to basic training, it might be a good idea to review certain basic
knowledge, such as military ranks. Your recruiter will likely suggest additional
advance reading. The recruiter will also give you a list of items allowed
or forbidden (such as tobacco) when you arrive at basic training.
Officers complete a six-week Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC). They
get almost every task that non-officers get, with one big difference. They
also have to plan, execute, critique and then redo the task. "They have to
be leaders straight out of training," says Shwedo.
It's during BOLC that an officer candidate's leadership potential is assessed,
Shwedo says. They then progress to a pre-commissioning stage that lasts from
two to four years, followed by job skill training.
How Hard Is It?
Well, in some ways basic training is pretty rough. The days can be long
and arduous. There might be times when you'll hate it.
But there will also be times when you love it -- when you feel the confidence
and pride that comes with mastering a new skill, when you start to bond with
your fellow recruits, when you gain self-respect and pride for your growing
ability to face challenges and tackle them with courage and determination.
The U.S. military describes its approach to training as "Insist and Assist."
This means you'll have to follow orders, even when you don't feel like it.
But it also means that you'll be given the knowledge, tools and other support
that you need to succeed.
"A lot of people would suggest our job is to filter people out, when our
job is [actually] to take every soldier that is trainable and has the requisite
skills [and] make them succeed," says Shwedo. "You will not graduate unless
you meet every standard that the Army has, but we will assist you with training
to achieve every standard."
All the basic comforts will be provided. You'll be well clothed and well
fed. You'll have a roof over your head (most of the time). You'll have access
to high-quality facilities for classroom training, sports and physical fitness.
Shwedo says the Army has greatly revised basic training over the past
two or three years to ensure it prepares soldiers for the environments they
will find themselves in. In the past, the focus was on specific tasks that
had to be mastered for graduation. But now, "we have chosen 39 warrior tasks
and nine battle drills," Shwedo says. "We've made the training more relevant."
Taking orders all of the time can be one of the most difficult adjustments
for new recruits. If you have trouble with authority, the military might not
be for you. Everyone in the military answers to someone, and orders cannot
be challenged just because you don't want to do something or don't like the
way it was said. Not following an order can result in a serious reprimand
or even jail.
Parsons says those who complete basic training learn a wide range of skills.
"They're going to learn to accept each other and work as a team," Parsons
says. "It's from being forced to learn from each other that you capitalize
on each other's cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
"You get people who might find it difficult adjusting to getting up at
5 in the morning or taking orders directly, but by giving them this indoctrination
period....we force them to gel as a team, and that's what carries people through."
Despite the challenges, many recruits successfully complete basic training.
If you know what to expect going in, you're more likely to make it through.
"When it comes to basic training, for me it's about their attitude and
their desire to succeed more than anything physical," says Parsons. "We have
everything here to ensure their success."
Shwedo says some recruits come from very tough upbringings. Some have even
been abused, and this has eroded their self-esteem. "They've been looking
for structure," he says. They go from an environment where they don't believe
in themselves to the military, where "every day is filled with accomplishment."
What's the result of all this accomplishment?
"They get their dignity back," Shwedo says. "When they achieve that ...
we have a magnificent soldier for life because we did something that society
For Parsons, seeing the change that recruits undergo is a particularly
rewarding part of his job. The recruits learn to do things they never thought
they could do.
"When you see the transformation -- they come in with no self-confidence
and walk out with their head held up -- it's a good feeling."
Surviving U.S. Military Basic Training
More tips on making it
Get Ready for Boot Camp
Advice from the U.S. military