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Top 10 Tips for Surviving Army Basic Training

L Clifford has been through Army basic training and is sharing what helped him survive it.

Basic training tips

Basic training tips

How to Survive 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 experiences 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

  1. Always Look Busy
  2. Drink Lots of Water
  3. Lock Your Stuff Up
  4. Get Used to Waking Up Early
  5. Start Studying Before You Get There
  6. Get in Shape
  7. Remember—It's All a Mind Game
  8. The Drill Sergeant Is Always Right
  9. Always Maintain Control of Your Weapon
  10. 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 by 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.

If you wear glasses get used to these. BCGs (if you don't know what BCG means look it up).

If you wear glasses get used to these. BCGs (if you don't know what BCG means look it up).

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 safe. Always keep it within 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.

Good Luck!

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.


Alex Marcus on April 17, 2020:

Also memorize Code of Conduct

Cheyenne on May 22, 2018:

That was very helpful thank you

lincoln on June 10, 2016:

thanks for the advice I am studying for the army and I need some advice

Emily on December 09, 2015:

Me and my boyfriend are going to basic training.can you tell me is there any problem if anyone knows about our relationship ???

patrick on September 21, 2015:

Leave for for fort jackson tomorrow. This has helped alot. It has increased my confidence.

April on August 21, 2015:

I leave for fort jackson on nov 2. I am scared for basic. Took a apft this wednesday and failed the run but did great on pushups and situps. What is the best way to become prepared for running in basic?

Erin on July 09, 2015:

i leave for Ft. Leonard Wood August 11th. This defiantly helps ease my nerves and makes me even more ready to leave! Thank you!!

Holden on May 29, 2015:

i keave June 8th for fort Jackson. This is very helpful. Doing most of these already but now I know I need to study a little more

Matthew on September 27, 2014:

I leave for Ft Jackson October 6th. Super excited and nervous. Thanks for the tips.

Bryan on September 05, 2014:

Thanks for the advice it should help me when I ship out for basic

Alex on August 25, 2014:

Thanks for the tips. I'm going into the Army reserve after I finish my EMT training as well as getting myself up to Army PFT standards.

Danny on July 19, 2014:

These next 30 days are going to be the longest of my life.. I can't wait for basic

SPC A on July 14, 2014:

Oh and don't be a "Drill Private" or a "Blue Falcon". Just stay in your lane and you won't have any issues. Those 2 types of privates will have a horrible time either by the hand of the drill sergeants &/or the hands of his/her fellow future soldiers.

Also, try to stay away from going to sick call if you're not truly hurt. You're gonna have lazy days where you really don't want to go to PT but think about your physical fitness level and how far you are from being able to pass an apft. Just do the work. Dont get lazy.

jorge on June 26, 2014:

I took every bit of information givin, gatherjng my thoughts wondering if this is for me

Ryan Decorah on June 05, 2014:

I leave on Monday for Ft. Sill, I'm very nervous but excited nonetheless. This advice is very helpful and I can tell it'll come to mind during my basic training time. Thank you.

Lar on May 07, 2013:

I leave on the 20th for Ft. Sill as well! I'm feeling the same things, but I am definitely prepared for this to the best of my abilities.

Harley on May 03, 2013:

I leave on the 20th for Ft Sill. I'm slightly nervous but excited at the same time.

Diane Van Hook from CT on April 14, 2013:

Boy, could I have used this before I went in!

That being said, I don't think you missed anything at , and anything else that anyone will need to learn will come from experience.

I'm second generation Army, and I used to joke with my roommates that I came in partially pre-trained, because that was how my dad had taught me to organize stuff. You get out of the training what you put into it, and everything else, the drill sergeants will wring out of you to the last drop.

As an addendum to your list: Don't try to pull one over on the drills. Don't sneak food out of the d-fac, don't try to lie, don't try to have stuff mailed to you that you are not allowed to have.

This isn't summer camp. Don't treat it as such. You are there to be trained to survive combat conditions. And make sure that you are there for the right reasons, otherwise you are going to have a VERY miserable existence until you're off active duty, or you get kicked out.

Johnson on April 08, 2013:

Leave in 10 days for Fort Leonard Wood. Thanks for the tips. Let you know how it was in 5 months lol.

R.S. Hutchinson from USA on August 20, 2011:

Ah! the memories lol!

Joyful Read from Boise, ID on August 19, 2011:

Thanks for sharing these. My husband was in the Army for 10 years and I often try to imagine what that must have been like - this has added another piece to the puzzle.