What It Takes to Survive US Military Basic Training

The physical demands of Basic Training are no joke – you’ll need to be in tip-top physical shape to handle the gruelling marches, pass the difficult physical fitness evaluations,  and, of course, survive the notorious  Hell Week in the end. But surviving is much more about your mindset than your physical fitness – Basic Training is only 20% physical,  and 80% mental.

So, do you have what it takes to survive Basic Training? Let’s find out…

Basic Training is designed to psychologically  “disassemble the civilian” and turn you into a  physically fit, proud and dedicated soldier.  It’s intended to test your ability to handle extreme physical and mental stress while teaching you the particular rules and customs of your chosen branch of service.

Military life, in general, is famously routine and hierarchical,  and Basic Training is an extreme version of this – it’s a time to weed out those who can’t adjust to the demands of military life before resources are wasted on them. A hallmark of Basic Training is that there is always someone telling you what to do when to do it, and how to do it right. The role of your Training Instructors, or T.I.s,  and Drill Instructors, or D.I.s, is to adjust your attitude to the military way of thinking and help you develop self-discipline, sacrifice, loyalty, and obedience. And, unlike in a civilian job,  disobedience won’t just get you fired  – it could get you sent to jail.

    There’s no denying it – Basic Training is tough,  and it’s tough on purpose. So, how can you best prepare yourself to not only survive Basic  Training but thrive in it? Of course, making sure you’re in the best physical shape possible will make your Basic Training experience less shocking,  and some familiarity with firearms won’t hurt,  either. Take the time to look up the standards for your branch’s physical evaluations and make sure you can muscle out at least the minimum requirements. Running and boot-camp style workouts are a great way to get into shape for Basic.  Do not expect to get fit at Basic – that’s a major rookie mistake.

    Basic Training is intended to test your limits, so being in top physical shape before you head to Basic will mean you can focus more on surviving the mental challenges than on keeping up with the physical ones. Mentally preparing for Basic Training is probably a harder challenge.  No matter how well-prepared you might think you are, it’s impossible to fully prepare for the mental challenges of Basic Training, since it’s specifically designed to test your ability to handle unexpected challenges. Taking some time to learn basic military history,  terms, and customs before Basic will help you thrive in the classroom portions of your training.  Strong teamwork and leadership skills will also  give you an edge.

    – Basic Training is designed to teach recruits how to work as a team, and focus on we instead of the me. But be careful that you don’t stand out too much – being too good of a leader can put you at risk of being singled out by your D.I. and becoming responsible for the performance of your whole squad. Basic Training is first and foremost a test of your discipline. Basic can’t make you more disciplined, but your D.I.s can definitely make you wish you were! Coming into Basic with an attitude of obedience and discipline will be easier if you remember that it’s temporary,  and it’s not personal – just keep your head down, focus on the task at hand,  and don’t procrastinate, and you just might make it through unscathed.

    The last thing you’ll want to do before you go is to make sure you’ve made arrangements for the day-to-day details of being away from home for months of training. Your contact with the outside world will be severely limited during Basic Training,  and you won’t have the option to leave to handle any issues that arise unless you want to quit altogether. Who will take care of your home, pick up your mail, and make sure your bills are paid while you’re away?  Taking some time to plan for these things will free you up to focus on surviving Basic Training without worrying about what’s happening at home.  You’ll also want to let your friends and family know how they can contact you, and what the rules are for mail – for example, any gifts or care packages will likely be confiscated, and anyone writing to you should be careful not to use any military title that you haven’t yet earned.

      Now that you know how to prepare for Basic Training,  let’s find out what you can expect when you arrive. The Army, Navy,  Air Force, and Marines each have their own training curriculum to prepare you for the unique demands of each branch. But since  Basic Training is each branch’s first opportunity to turn civilians into military personnel, there are some commonalities in their Basic Training. Physically, all branches will require recruits to be able to run at least 1.5 miles, complete a  minimum number of push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups,  as well as be able to march long distances carrying a heavy pack. Daily runs or aerobic workouts will become a part of your routine no matter which branch you choose, alongside endless drills, like barracks inspections and standing at attention for what might seem like hours, all designed to test your obedience and discipline. 

       These drills will be your first chance to witness an instructor go ballistic on recruits,  so attention to detail in these areas will be key in making sure you aren’t the focus of their rage. Any form of Basic Training will also have a classroom learning component,  where you’ll focus on military history, the legal side of warfare, and the values and customs of each particular branch. Don’t be tempted to think of this as the “easy” part – there will be exams,  and it will be every bit as important to pass these tests as any of the physical ones. And, of course, no Basic Training would be complete without extensive weapons training.  You’ll learn how to assemble and disassemble your weapon, how to sight targets at various distances,  and spend plenty of time working on your marksmanship.

      By the end of Basic Training,  you should be so familiar with your service weapon that it will seem like an extension of your own body. Beyond these similarities, Basic Training for each branch of the military is unique to the demands and goals of that particular branch, and you’ll face countless challenges throughout your training to test your readiness to serve in that branch.

      The U.S. Army’s 10 week Basic Training course

      The U.S. Army’s 10-week Basic Training course consists of 3 phases. During the first phase,  the Red Phase, you’ll learn the fundamentals of soldiering, army history and values,  and get your first taste of the physical and mental demands of army life with endless drills,  inspections, and tactical marches. Once you move on to the White phase you’ll get training in weapons and marksmanship, as well as navigation training, which will come in very handy later on.  If you make it to the final Blue phase, you’ll have the chance to get your hands on machine guns,  grenades, and other advanced weapons.  You’ll also be expected to complete a 10 to 15-kilometer tactical march with a full pack without complaint.

      The U.S. Navy’s 7 week Basic Training course

      Basic Training for the Navy is only 7 weeks long,  but don’t let the shorter duration fool you  – it’s every bit as brutal and demanding as the Army’s 10-week course. On top of classroom training, tactical marches, and endless drills,  the early days of Navy Basic Training will include extensive weapons training on the  M16 rifle and 12 gauge shotguns, along with a  uniquely-Naval physical standard – swimming. The hardest part of Basic Training for any  Naval recruit is during week 3 when you will board a ship for the first time. The ship will be land-bound, but that won’t make it any easier on you as you get some hands-on experience in the life of a seaman. On top of maintaining your fitness and discipline, you’ll also need to internalize a whole new set of seafaring customs,  memorize ship vocabulary, learn to identify ships and aircraft, and become skilled in the art of semaphore, or flag signalling to communicate with other ships. At sea, a ship and her crew must be able to handle any type of situation with only the resources on board, so you’ll also gain first aid certification and rescue training. You’ll also need to be prepared for the greatest potential danger on a ship – fire – and practice fire prevention and firefighting skills.

      The U.S. Airforce’s 8 week Basic Training course

      If the Air Force is your calling, you’ll head to  San Antonio, Texas for an 8-week Basic Military  Training, or BMT course to find out if you’ve got what it takes to join the Air Force. Just like with the Navy, the specialized knowledge required of Air Force servicemen and women will be the hardest part of Basic Training.  You’ll spend countless hours learning about the law of conflict, mental preparation for combat, and aerial terminology and operations,  all while being subjected to endless drills, marches,  inspections, and workouts designed to push your mind and body to their limits. If nothing you’ve heard so far seems  like that much of a challenge to you,  

      The Marines 13 Week Basic Training Course

      PARRIS ISLAND, SC – JANUARY 7: US Marine Corps Drill Instructors put recruits through upper body exercises called planks during the 54-hour Crucible event January 7, 2011 at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina. 359 recruits successfully completed the exercise. Marine boot camp is a 12-week training course and takes place at Parris Island, SC for recruits east of the Mississippi River and at Camp Pendleton, CA for those west of the Mississippi. The US Marine Corps includes just under 203,000 active duty Marines. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

      Then the Marines might be just the branch for you. Just to qualify to attend Basic Training,  you’ll need to pass an Initial Strength Test – if you can meet the minimum standards for push-ups,  pull-ups, sit-ups, and running, you’ll earn the privilege of undergoing an intense 13-week Basic  Training experience. On top of the usual discipline, fitness, and classroom training,  you’ll also need to pass a daunting swim qualification and complete combat water survival training. Prepare for endless hours of treading water in miserable conditions. You might think that if you’ve made it this far in Basic Training, the worst must be behind you,  but you couldn’t be more wrong. 

      Hell Week

      Welcome to Hell … Hell Week, that is. Before you can graduate from Basic Training and earn your place alongside the proven members of your chosen branch of service,  you’ll need to prove yourself in a final,  gruelling test of strength,  endurance and mental toughness. If it’s the Army you’re hoping to join,  before you can graduate from Basic Training you’ll have to survive a field training bivouac,  an endurance exercise that will tie all of your training together and test your ability to survive in the elements with minimal gear and find your way to safety with nothing but an old-fashioned map and compass. You’ll also have to pass a final  Fitness Test and the End of Cycle Test with 212  individual tasks that you must pass to graduate.

      If you’re drawn to the life of a sailor,  the Navy will submit you to a final test of your seaworthiness. The Battle Stations  Test will incorporate everything you’ve learned in the last few weeks into 12 shipboard scenarios that must be completed flawlessly.  The scariest part of the Navy’s Basic Training,  though, has to be the Confidence Chamber.  You and 100 other recruits will line up in a  sealed chamber wearing gas masks, while a tear gas tablet is lit in the room. Then, one by one,  you’ll each remove your mask, throw it in the trash and recite your name and social security number before being allowed to escape the gas.  Only after you’ve passed these gauntlets will you receive your official Navy ball cap,  which tells the world you are no longer a  recruit, but a full-fledged Navy sailor.

      If you have your eyes on the skies, the  Air Force’s BMT obstacle course will tie together all that you’ve learned over your training, from tactical skills to marksmanship to assault exercises.  Finally, on the last day of Basic Training,  you’ll complete the infamous Airman’s Run, a 2.5-mile run that you’ll do under the watchful eyes of the hundreds of friends and family members who have come to witness your graduation ceremony.

      Like the Marines themselves, their version of Hell Week is in a league of its own.  The Crucible is a 54-hour exercise that recruits must complete on only 8 hours sleep and  2-and-a-half MRE rations or Meals Ready-to-Eat.  The event starts at 3 am with a 6-mile road march,  the first of many marches that will total 40 miles in less than 3 days. Between grueling marches,  recruits will compete in 4 separate 4-hour tests that might include crossing a precarious rope bridge with gear and ammo, running to firing stations and engaging pop-up targets with limited rounds, and battling other recruits with a padded pole-like weapon called a pugil stick,  among other obstacles. Finally, totally exhausted and ravenously hungry, The Crucible ends with another 9 mile march, and at the finish line,  successful recruits immediately receive their  Marine Corps insignia and the honor of being called “Marine” for the first time.

      Now that you know what it takes to survive basic training,  be sure, and share your thoughts in the comments. Do you think you could survive basic training? Which branch’s basic training seems the most grueling to you?

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