1. Keep your mouth shut.
Everybody’s scared and confused when they first ship out to boot camp. For some, this is the first time they’ve really left the secure bubble of family, friends and home. Well, don’t expect any sympathy, and quit your whining! When you arrive at reception, everything is going to be loud, fast, and confusing. You may end up spending a few days here, and it won’t get any better over time. This is your introduction to basic training, and the cadre (Army personnel responsible for getting you your paperwork, equipment, and orders) have seen a million scared kids just like you – and they’re not the least bit sympathetic to your homesickness. They don’t want to hear your attitude, either. Make it easy on yourself – shut up.
2. Do what you’re told.
It sounds simple, but when drill sergeants start barking multiple orders at you, demanding you hurry up, stop, get your gear, get up, go, stop, wait, go, go go go! – it gets a little confusing. Don’t panic; no one else is any more prepared than you are. Just remember Tip #1 and do your best. Whatever you do, don’t be the one lagging behind, dropping your equipment all over yourself, whining and complaining about everything. That sterling individual (and there is always at least one) will become an example for the rest of your platoon and maybe your entire company for the duration of basic training. That individual will be ridiculed, belittled, dogged and resented for the whole nine weeks. Trust me, you don’t want to be that individual. Basic training will introduce you to levels of stress you’ll never experience anywhere else, and when you’re working under that pressure trying to prove yourself amongst your fellow soldiers, the last thing you need is to be the butt of every drill sergeant’s joke. Drill sergeants are notoriously mean, unhappy people, and they can and will make your life a living hell if they want to. Don’t make yourself a target.
3. Make friends.
It’s a long nine weeks, and it’ll be even longer if you don’t bond with your platoon. You’ll have approximately sixty others like yourself all trying to survive together. Don’t go against the grain – make friends and fit in. You’ll be stuck with these people day in and day out, side by side, all working toward the common goal of graduation. Without fail, there will be a handful who seem hell-bent to bring everybody in the platoon down. These are the people who will have all the rest of you doing push-ups for 45 minutes because they didn’t feel like standing still in formation. These people are despised by all, and when you’re living in these close quarters, you definitely do not want to be one of them. The Army is a strict, structured place of discipline and self-control, but after lights out, you’re at the mercy of your fellows. Remember Full Metal Jacket? Don’t make it happen to you. Instead, pull your weight, do what you’re supposed to do, and become a part of the team. If you do this successfully, you’ll find yourself a part of a support system stronger than any you’ll ever find again.
4. Don’t cry.
The drill sergeants do not feel sorry for you. Whatever your problem is, suck it up and keep moving. Nothing will happen to you that hasn’t happened to millions of other fledgling soldiers. Part of the drill sergeants’ job is to keep you safe and make sure you get out of this alive. As long as you’re breathing, you’re fine. So get over it. Pain, exhaustion, hunger, heat, misery – it’s all a part of the experience, and complaining about any of it will only make a fool of you in front of your platoon. And don’t even think about crying to your drill sergeant about any emotional distress you may find in basic training. The drill sergeants do not care. They’ll only mock you and make your pain and suffering worse, so see Tip #1 again and keep moving.
5. Don’t try to get out of this.
You got yourself here. No one made you sign the paperwork. So own it. Maybe it’s harder than you thought it would be. So what? You’ll live, and you’ll be a little tougher for it. Don’t be one of the sad sacks who lie about their sexual orientation, act crazy, or fake an injury (or injure themselves on purpose) in hopes of being sent back home. These people are the absolute lowest life forms in the world of basic training. And you know what? Nothing they do gets them out any sooner. Either they’re exposed for the frauds they are and are forced to finish training anyway, or they end up in a paperwork loop that lasts several months – and sometimes over a year – longer than it would’ve taken to just suck it up and finish training. The best way to get back home is to just stop being a baby and finish what you started. The less drama you cause while you’re here, the easier it will be – for everybody.