A Brief Glimpse into Military Basic Training
Sitting in the bus the future recruits joked and laughed with each other apprehensively. It was the least the group could do to prolong the unknown that laid before them. At this point there was no return.
Up ahead was a series of tests spanning a few months that physically and mentally pushed the individuals to their breaking point. Eric McDonald formerly of the US Army recalls “There’s no way to prepare yourself to be completely controlled” The bus enters the military base and the deafening silence sets the tone. Civilian life is now over.
Each year on average 180,000 people enlist into the military through the various branches according to Military.com. Although each branch has different standards when it comes to completing basic training, the experience throughout is eerily similar. The sole purpose of boot camp is to not just “break down” individuals but to give them the tools to be able to perform the tasks that will be asked of them throughout their tour. Whether you are enlisting to become a Food Services Specialist or a Maritime Enforcement Officer, you are seen as the same. A recruit.
Basic training is broken down into segments with the first week being solely dedicated to administrative work. It’s here where recruits first get their uniforms, get up to date with shots and all medical records, and go through an intensive orientation. Petty Officer Elisabeth Crichton of the USCG describes it as “orientation with lots of yelling and shots.” Much of the time is spent in long lines where you are told to hurry up and wait. The physical aspect has not yet begun but the mental games have already started.
The physical tests begin shortly after the first week at which this point sleep deprivation and a complete change in lifestyle have begun to affect some recruits. “Before basic training I was used to eating to fall asleep or when I was bored.” Eric remembers. Now recruits live on a strict regimented schedule that they must fully adhere to. This adjustment is a complete shock to some and mistakes are sometimes unavoidable. It’s here where Company Commanders take advantage on teaching the recruits what mistakes were made and these mistakes are recorded to each individual’s personal record.
As the days start to roll by, the end starts to become clearer. As Elisabeth describes it though “the days go by fast but the weeks go by slow.” At this point friendships and bonds are made within members of each company with each recruit pushing each other and to not quit. Eric feels that it was these friendships he made in boot camp that helped him stay focused and on track.
As the end of basic training gets closer and closer, the environment around each company is almost completely transformed from the first day they all got off the bus. There is no “down” time but there are small instances where Company Commanders and recruits can let their guards down for just a few seconds. As Elisabeth remembers the last few nights before graduation “I remember our Company Commander telling this goofy kid in our company that his package looked really big tonight. Of course she was talking about a piece of a mail he had received. Everyone burst out laughing including our CC who quickly shouted back at us to lock it up” For those who had made it this far into boot camp, their hard work was close to being fulfilled with reward.
Graduation day is filled with an abundance of emotions. The physical and mental toll of 8–12 weeks was finally coming to a close and the prospect of starting your life as a military member was near. ”On graduation day I felt excited to start my life.” Eric says, “I was 18 and it was my first time being completely independent.” For many going through boot camp this is the same reality. Young with their first touch of independence.
Basic training hopes to ready each individual and through their own experience help them prepare for their respective careers. Eric’s advice to future recruits is to “diet before leaving.” The military diet and portions can come as a complete shock to some if they are unprepared. He also believes that physically preparing yourself is really the only thing you can do. Mentally, there is nothing that can prepare you for whats to come. You have to experience it firsthand. Though the first steps you take off the bus may have you thinking what they heck am I doing here, for those seeking a career in the military, the lessons you learn about yourself are invaluable in preparation of whats to come ahead.