FORT JACKSON, S.C. - Ah, Army basic combat training -- nine weeks that will push you, test you and teach you.
I went through basic training last summer when I joined the National Guard.
As I was preparing to leave for training, I had many people tell me the experience was far more mental than physical. While I found it hard to believe at the time, it was true.
When I shipped to Fort Jackson in August, the only thing I physically had going for me was that I was within the Army's height and weight standards and I could kind of run, depending on the day. Believe me when I say the physical aspects come to you, because they really do.
I talked with some of my friends I met at training about what tips they would offer to future soldiers headed to BCT.
Obviously the experience is different for everyone, but there's a few things to adhere to that will make it easier.
If you have any questions about BCT, feel free to ask them in the comments and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.
Preparing to leave for basic training
If you've never ran before, start
Even if you're a slow runner or you can't run for more than a short while, basic training will help get you there. You run EVERYWHERE in BCT and you're always on a tight schedule, but it's still good to start getting into running before you arrive.
Work on push-ups and sit-ups
The Army will soon be overhauling the Army Physical Fitness Test and replacing it with new events, but the current test consists of two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups and a 2-mile run.
You don't want to be like me and show up to training unable to do a single push-up. With enough physical punishment, you'll eventually get used to them, but at least knowing you can do enough to pass the APFT is ideal. The requirements are based on age and gender. Check the standards for passing here.
Change your diet before you go
If you're used to snacking throughout the day, you're going to need to work on changing your diet before you leave for training. You have three meals a day at BCT, and you must make sure you're eating enough during the limited time you have at each meal to get you through the day without snacks.
Also, a friend suggested giving up coffee a few weeks before going. If you're someone who regularly drinks coffee -- or any caffeine, for that matter -- cutting back can help you avoid the headaches and irritability that comes from withdrawal.
Leaving for training
Bring the bare minimum, I cannot stress this enough.
When you arrive, you're going to be issued a ton of gear, and you're going to have to carry all of that around in addition to whatever you bring with you. Plus, your personal items are going to get locked up for the next nine weeks.
Your physical fitness uniforms will be given to you when you first get there, and you will soon get your uniforms. Within a few days of arriving at reception, you'll get to go to a small store and purchase hygiene products. You'll also have the opportunity to get more items during training.
I brought a small backpack with travel-sized shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, a toothbrush, some bobby pins, a comb and an extra set of clothes.
Oh, speaking of hygiene, here's a grooming tip: If you are a female with long hair, make sure you know how to put your hair in a bun. You're going to have to keep it up during training and it can't look messy. Males have to get haircuts, but females can keep it long. If you're considering cutting your hair for training, make sure you cut off enough to account for how much it may grow while you're in training. I cut mine short and it became a mess after a while. Gel and bobby pins will be your best friend.
Be sure to bring a debit card and some cash, but no more than $30. You will be issued a card that you can use at the store during training.
Have addresses of people you want to write
Depending on your drill sergeants, you probably won't see much of your phone during basic. I had several five-minute phone calls throughout the nine weeks, and those were mostly just to tell our parents we survived a hurricane, we moved on to the next phase of training and we were graduating.
I also wasn't given the option to text my family my address so I could only get it to them by writing a letter. Mail is a saving grace after a long day, and you're going to want to make sure the people back home have a way to reach you.
Getting through training
Always lock your stuff up
LOCK YOUR LOCKER.
Thieves and drill sergeants who will tip your locker or hide your stuff. Need I say more?
On that note, write your name on everything: shirts, inside your boots, hygiene items, underwear, you name it. People will steal anything. I had a boot (yes, one single boot), shampoo, bras, socks and my shower shoes taken. Other people had their clothes, including their dirty underwear, snatched.
Keep your mouth shut and follow instructions
Do what you're told, always show up where you are supposed to be early, don't ask questions and keep your conversations to a minimum. Don't draw attention to youself. If you're someone who can't go more than a few minutes without talking, you're going to struggle.
You're probably going to be told to do things that really don't make any sense. Just do it. If you follow the instructions you're given, it's not all that hard. If you fail to do what you're supposed to, well, you'll probably have a lot of fun. (Important: My sarcasm doesn't transfer on the internet, but I promise that sentence was VERY sarcastic.)
Think about the bigger picture
Some days are going to feel like they drag on forever. The first few weeks were especially hard for me. Being cut off from home was more difficult than I anticipated it would be, and lack of sleep and high stress only added to that. But you have to remind yourself that it doesn't last forever.
The easiest way out is through.
There were people I trained with who ended up getting discharged for a variety of reasons: health, injuries, they couldn't handle the training. I did my MOS training at the same base I trained for basic, and I ran into several people who were getting sent home who were still stuck on the base a month after my cycle graduated.
Looking at the bigger picture will help put the whole experience into perspective. I complained a lot and had a very negative mindset through much of the training, but when I stopped and really thought about why I was doing it and how what I was doing would benefit me, it made it easier. For instance, getting punished with physical training may feel like torture while you're doing it, but think about how you'll do better on your next PT test.
Some extra advice
Take measures to protect your feet. I had my parents mail me blister pads, and I tried to cover the back of my heels with large bandages whenever I knew I would be walking a lot in boots. Also, if it isn't too hot, wear a pair of dress socks under your boot socks during long ruck marches. You don't want to layer up your feet too much, especially if you are training in the summer months, but the thin dress socks can provide a bit of extra padding.
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