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The Basics of Basic Training

Privates must learn multiple individual movement techniques, such as the high crawl.

Privates must learn multiple individual movement techniques, such as the high crawl.

Privates must learn multiple individual movement techniques, such as the high crawl.

Jackson Day

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     This past summer I reported to Fort Benning, Georgia, for Army Basic Training. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been asked countless questions about basic training. That’s a difficult question to answer, though, as basic training, and military life in general, is a wild beast—it’s unlike anything I had ever done before. It pushed me to my mental and physical limits, but in the end I feel I’m a better person. I understand myself better and feel more confident in who I am. That might sound crazy, but it’s a fundamental truth.

     To best explain what basic training is like, we need to start with, well, the basics. It consists of a 10-week long course where civilian volunteers are transformed into soldiers capable of fighting on any modern battlefield. You’ve got to keep in mind that once soldiers graduate from basic training, they could be fighting overseas within a couple of months, so it is designed to prepare average people for the rigors of war. It’s not supposed to be easy. For me it definitely wasn’t.

     The night before I shipped out to Benning, I was so nervous I literally made myself sick. I was up the entire night throwing up and didn’t get more than 2 hours of sleep. Feeling sick, tired, and scared of what I had just signed myself up for, I got on a plane alone and started my adventure.

Recruits spend their first week or two at Benning in the Reception Battalion. Reception kinda sucks. In Alpha Company there were three suicide attempts while I was there. One kid jumped out of a 3rd story window during the middle of the night, broke both his legs on contact, then started yelling for help. According to multiple members of Alpha Company, the first thing the drill sergeant said when he saw the trainee was, “Come on, private, you’re so bad at everything! You can’t even kill yourself right!”

In all honesty, I didn’t think reception was horrible, though. The process is designed to take about 3-5 days, but due to an influx of summer trainees, the average stay was much longer when I went through. For the first couple days you’re actually doing stuff like getting gear assigned, getting your first haircut, and doing various tests. Once you finish those tasks, however, it really starts to suck.

The sergeants just put you in a huge room with a couple hundred trainees and you sit there. That’s it. No talking. Nothing. You just sit there. If anyone falls asleep, everyone stands. To make it worse, there is no air conditioning so the room was normally around 90°, if not hotter. It sucked. This might just be me over thinking things, but ever since I got back, I’ve had a hard time just sitting and doing nothing. I blame reception. The day we actually shipped out for real basic we were all excited.

Bravo Company 30th AG ready for Basic to start

     On the 5th of July, the members of Bravo Company 30th AG all lined up with our gear, waiting for busses to show up. It was nerve racking because we all knew the hard part was just about to begin. Suddenly we see the busses pull up, drill sergeants step off, and directions are being yelled. We are loaded on the busses by drill sergeants who aren’t trying to hide the fact that they already hate us. Now, you must understand that the Private News Network (PNN), what we all called the series of rumors privates told one another, reported that when you first got to basic the drill sergeants made you carry one of your duffle bags above your head while you wore the other on your back. Hearing this, many of us decided to put most of our gear in one bag and have practically nothing in the other. That way when we were told to lift the bags above our heads, we could lift the light bag and save ourselves some struggle. That strategy backfired. 

When we got off the busses, the drill sergeants started yelling again, and sure enough we hear the order to lift one bag above our head. The plan was going smoothly until the straps on the duffle bag on my back broke due to the weight of having near all my gear in it. A drill sergeant noticed and that made me a target. The drill sergeant ran to me and yelled, “Private, why isn’t your gear secured?!” I knew I didn’t have long before something bad happened, so I responded, “No excuse, Drill Sergeant,” put my light bag on my back, struggled to lift my heavy bag off the ground, and started running again. The Drill Sergeant followed me, and as I began to lose my strength due to running with a minimum of 50 pound bag above my head, the yelling got louder and more profane. It might not sound like much, but in the moment, it was absolutely horrifying.

This is how the first 72 hours of Basic Training continued – a battery of either being yelled at or “correctively trained” (which is the politically correct term for being forced to do physical exercise as a punishment).

A member of 4th Platoon struggles with his bag while a drill sergeant lets him know of his failures.

During the first 72 hours, you know nothing, and the drill sergeants take advantage of that fact. You get given “time hacks”, or time limits, that are near impossible to make, and they use terms that no one understands. The drill sergeants will yell something like, “Secure your IOTV in your wall locker, secure your FLC and ACH on your person, and insure you have a grenade pouch. Fall into a 16 man front formation in the CTA. You’ve got 2 minutes.” You’ve got to know what all that means, but, believe me, you learn real quick when there’s a threat of corrective training. The first day was the one and only time I ever thought, “Why did I do this?”

     From there each day got better.  After that I could feel myself improving, and whenever I began to have doubts, I could tell myself, “I’ve made it this far, I can make it further.” Over the first couple weeks of basic, trainees spend a large amount of time doing physical training, obstacle courses, confidence courses, and team building exercises. It’s almost

Privates perform a low crawl during an obstacle course.

unanimously agreed upon that the first phase is the worst—you have no rights, someone’s always yelling at you, you’re lost in a new environment, and you’re constantly tired. The first phase is vital though because you learn to trust your gear, your buddies, and most importantly, yourself.

     The next phase of training is based around weapon proficiency. During this phase you spend pretty much every day at the range or in the field. I was assigned an M4A1 as my personal weapon system. In our company we also had two m320 grenade launchers, two M249 SAW machine guns, and one M240 machine gun. We were trained to fire all weapon systems in the platoon as well as how to maintain and clean them. I have to say, after 2 weeks of firing my M4 almost everyday, I’m not a bad shot.

A Private fires a 320 Grenade Launcher

     During the last few weeks of training, you learn a few more complicated warrior drills and  incorporate everything you’ve learned during a final week long field exercise. During the final field exercise the drill sergeants act as your enemy, and you have to defend yourselves. Everyone is armed with blank ammo, and we act as though it’s a real battle zone. That means if you see a threat, you shoot. The drill sergeants regularly attack your platoon base, and you have to “stay alive.” As squads you are also assigned to carry out certain missions like securing MREs from an area surrounded by enemies or clearing an area of the enemy. Then during the night we had to post 360° security, meaning we always had to have at least half our platoon awake. The drill sergeants loved to attack at night so security was necessary.

Privates pull 360 degree security to insure their safety

I still very clearly remember the second to last night; around 2300 some of my battle buddies heard some noises in the bushes and prepared for the threat. Then out of seemingly nowhere our First Sergeant (the highest ranking Non Commissioned Officer in the company) charged our platoon base. In a split second my battle buddy called “CONTACT! CONTACT! CONTACT! EIGHT O’CLOCK! 25 METERS!” and no less than four M4’s were fired at my First Sergeant in unison. He didn’t even have time to charge us completely. He stopped in his tracks, said, “Well done, Privates. It’s fair to say you got me,” then just walked away. A little later that night, probably around 0130, I was on guard and I saw thought I heard movement. I yelled out “Halt! Identify yourself!” but nothing happened. It still felt a bit wrong, though, so I waited and I heard the movement again about a minute later. Once again I yelled out, “Halt! Identify yourself!” Still no response, but my battle buddy and I both identified movement in the grass about 15 meters away, and I took the shot. As soon as I did my company executive officer (XO) stood up and snuck away. That may sound somewhat simple, but my platoon was the only one to keep everyone “alive” that night. Our First Sergeant was able to charge one platoon “killing” four privates before anyone was able to fire a shot at him, and one platoon had 7 privates “killed” by our  XO sneaking around their base, poking them with a stick, then whispering, “I stabbed you. You’re dead now. Shut up while I kill your buddies.” Staying alive on a battlefield is somewhat difficult—especially when you’re running on 4 hours of sleep.

     Once you get used to the yelling and corrective training, basic can become somewhat tolerable. At times it was somewhat enjoyable. When a group of people are put in a stressful situation, at first they turn on each other, but once they figure out that doesn’t get them anywhere, great friendships are formed. You learn to rely on your battle buddies, and things get easier as you work together. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s a fundamental truth. I learned countless little fundamental truths like that.

I learned a lot about myself. I learned how far I can be stretched before I begin to break down and how to rebuild myself when I catch myself when I began to falter. I learned how to control my emotions. I learned to deal with people who have different opinions in very stressful situations. I learned the importance of having a team you trust. The list goes on and on. Not to mention all the actual military stuff I learned, like how to use a military grade radio, or assault an enemy group, or how to throw live hand grenades. I just learned a lot, that’s all there is to it. Basic Training was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m glad I did it.

Charlie Company 1-46 on Graduation day


     If anyone has any questions about the military or my experience, feel free to contact me at


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The Basics of Basic Training