Top 10 Tips for Surviving Army Basic Training
You've been to MEPs, taken the ASVAB, passed the medical exams, and signed a contract. Now you're waiting to ship to basic combat training. It's normal to be nervous and excited. Basic training is an experience of a lifetime. I wouldn't repeat it, but I wouldn't trade it for anything else. Basic training is not easy, but it doesn't have to be a horrible experience either.
What follows are ten tips that I have put together to help you survive basic combat training, or at the least, improve it. I have generated this list from my own experience as well as from the experience of others. This list is not all-inclusive, but here are ten of the most important pieces of advice I could give.
10 Tips for Basic Training
- Always Look Busy
- Drink Lots of Water
- Lock Your Stuff Up
- Get Used to Waking Up Early
- Start Studying Before You Get There
- Get in Shape
- Remember—It's All a Mind Game
- The Drill Sergeant Is Always Right
- Always Maintain Control of Your Weapon
- Do What You're Told
1. Always Look Busy
Drill sergeants hate it when they see soldiers standing or sitting around doing nothing. Looking busy will keep you from getting "voluntold" for extra details or getting smoked (physical exercises used as corrective action). Working on extra details may mean less sleep because you have to get up early or stay out late. If you have downtime, pull out study materials, clean your rifle—do whatever you have to do to look busy. Even if you aren't actually doing anything or are sneaking some extra sleep (don't get caught doing this), just make it look like you're busy.
2. Drink Lots of Water
They are going to hammer the need to stay hydrated into you at basic training. Even still, many people underestimate how much water they are losing each day. I witnessed many people passing out from dehydration. Make sure you drink lots of water.
3. Lock Your Stuff Up
I don't know how many times I was woken up in the middle of the night to a drill sergeant tearing apart someone's wall locker and dumping their stuff in the middle of the bay, or worse hiding it around the barracks or tossing it out a window. This continued from day one all the way to graduation. Lock your stuff up. Lock it up whenever you are more than an arm's reach away. It will save you grief and sleep. You will also encounter soldiers who can't keep track of anything and are willing to steal your stuff to replace their lost equipment and uniforms. If you lose or have equipment stolen, you are financially responsible for replacing it.
4. Get Used to Waking Up Early
Expect to be up at 4:30 a.m. almost every day. This doesn't include waking up throughout the night to do fireguard and charge of quarters shifts. It helps if you get into an early morning routine before you ship for basic training. You might as well get used to it on your own terms.
5. Start Studying Before You Get There
There is quite a bit of material you will need to familiarize yourself with upon joining the Army. It's far easier to learn these things on your own terms rather than when you are tired, confused, and stressed out. Your drill sergeants will quiz you on the spot about most of these things, and it will keep you off of their radar if you already know them.
What you should learn:
- The soldier's creed
- The 3 general orders
- The army values
- Rank structure
- Basic drill and ceremony
- The exercises in the APRT (Army physical readiness training)
These are all things your recruiter should help you learn. Your recruiter can provide you with resources to help you out.
6. Get in Shape
Being able to pass an Army physical fitness test by the time you ship to basic training will make your life easier. Not only will the physical fitness training itself be easier, but you won't risk getting stuck doing extra PT when you could be doing something else like having an extra 30 minutes of personal time (which doesn't sound like much but believe me it is). You also won't risk getting sent off to fat camp (I can't remember its official title), which is where you go if you can't pass a PT test by graduation. This means you stay at basic training for even longer. You don't want that. Being able to pass your PT test means one less thing to worry about.
7. Remember—It's All a Mind Game
You will be yelled at. You will be confused. You will be tired. You will be frustrated. You will make mistakes. Other people will make mistakes. You will all be punished as a group regardless of whether you made a mistake or someone else did. Keep in mind—it's all a big mind game. Yes, the Army wants physically strong soldiers, but more than that, they want mentally tough and adaptable soldiers. Don't let it get to you. This is part of the training. Don't get mad at each other if one of you slips up. It doesn't matter who messed up because the drill sergeants will always find someone messing up. Keeping this in perspective makes day to day life at basic training a little less frustrating.
8. The Drill Sergeant Is Always Right
Get used to saying, "Yes, Drill Sergeant," "No, Drill Sergeant," and "Moving, Drill Sergeant." There won't be a need to say much else. Don't say, "I'm sorry," or "thank you," to a drill sergeant, and never call a drill sergeant, "sir," or "ma'am." Drill sergeants will frustrate and confuse you. Just accept this as a fact of life and remember that the drill sergeant is always right. Never talk back or act defiantly. This will only make your basic training experience harder.
9. Always Maintain Control of Your Weapon
Shortly after you start basic training, you will be issued an M16. I highly advise you to familiarize yourself with basic safe firearm handling skills if you aren't already. Always make sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. This needs to be instinctual. Always keep the weapon on safe. Always keep it within an arm's reach or under the watch of a battle buddy you trust. If you fail to follow any of these rules, your drill sergeant will make your life hell.
10. Do What You're Told
"Do what you're told. Do what you're told. Do what you're damn well told." This is the best piece of advice I could give anyone shipping off to basic training. Basic training will go smoothly as long as you do what you're told.
This is not an all-inclusive list, but are the ten most useful pieces of advice I could give. I hope this helps. If you're in the military or a veteran yourself and think I left something off of the list, please share it in the comments section. To all future soldiers shipping off to basic training, good luck, and have fun.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.