A friend is leaving in a matter of days for basic training, followed by Airborne School and then on to one of our Special Operations Units where, hopefully, after he navigates the Selection and Assessment courses, will get qualified and serve as a member of one of our very best units in the force.
But first comes basic training followed by advanced individual training, i.e. infantry school where they teach the basics of being part of the Queen of Battle. When all is said and done, the vast majority of us who’ve served in Special Operations units look back on the time in basic training as a piece of cake.
But it comes with challenges, mainly, this is all new. These young men and women are leaving home, most for the first time in their lives and are entering a realm that is totally alien to what they’ve been accustomed to. It is a culture shock, something the military plays upon to help integrate the boots into military life. It is an eye-opener for some when you first get off of the bus. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
So, for my friend, and the rest of those young people heading to basic training soon, here a few tips that will make navigating the first gate of your military career an easy walk in the park.
Tip #1 – Embrace the Suck: Trust me, the suck factor in basic is nothing compared to what you’ll experience when you begin your Special Operations journey. It will register about 0.2 on the Richter scale of suck factors. But this is all new and people will be screaming at you from every conceivable direction. Your head will be spinning at first.
For many of our readers, you’ll see that we always say that the breakdown of mental to physical factors for Selection is mental for the vast majority. In basic training, it is even more so. The Drill Sergeants will play a constant mind f**k with the boots. Don’t worry about it, don’t stress about it. It is going to happen regardless. Learn early on to roll with the flow and embrace what they’re throwing at you. It will just make you stronger and better prepare you for what ultimately lies ahead.
Tip #2 – Be a Team Player Now: It is imperative to begin building your military self from Day 1. And in basic, it is all about the unit, the whole, being successful. Another thing we always say is, “you’re always being evaluated.” And that is also true in boot camp. The Drill Sergeants will always look for the lone wolf that is only interested in himself. Don’t be that person.
While you’re all in the same boat, be the guy who helps along his fellow grunts when they need a hand up. They’ll do the same for you. The more your unit shows that they’re looking out for one another and are sticking together, the less mind games BS they’ll throw at you collectively.
The more you use the term “we” instead of “I” in basic, the better life will be. Some of the troops you serve with in basic may indeed become the guy that will sweat, bleed and share his last drop of water with you once you get to your unit.
Tip #3 – Remember, We Defend Democracy, Not Practice It: This above all else will save you untold heartache and massive amounts of pushups in basic training if you remember this one small fact. Much of what you will experience will seem grossly unfair. It may well be just that. But that just follows right along with Tip #1.
Never, ever talk back to a Drill Sergeant or any other member of the cadre. It is a losing proposition and you will lose every single time. A good rule of thumb is to never talk to a Drill Sergeant unless spoken to.
Remember the scene from “Full Metal Jacket”, Pvt Joker tells the Sr. Drill Instructor (The Gunny), “Sir, the private believes any answer he gives will be wrong and the Senior Drill Instructor will only beat him harder if he reverses himself, SIR!”
Of course, there are exceptions to this. If he’s teaching something and he asks for questions or you don’t understand what is going on, then ask. But always do so in a respectful manner and don’t try to sharpshoot the DIs. That won’t end well either.
Tip # 4 – Lead By Example: Now is the time (as stated above) to forging your own military identity. If you desire to become part of the Special Operations community, then you’ll already be familiar with or should be the term, “Quiet Professional.”
Do your absolute best at everything and give 110 percent with everything you do. But don’t beat your chest over every single thing you do correctly. Show the Drill Sergeants that you are a serious-minded individual that they and more importantly your unit can count on.
It could mean that you become a squad leader or platoon guide which puts more on your own plate. Because then you’ll be responsible for not only your own success but the rest of the unit as well. It doesn’t seem like much of a daunting task until the first time you’re put in charge of the group. Don’t run from it, embrace the leadership challenge and learn from it. You’ll be better off in the long run.
Tip #5 – Never Quit or Lose Focus: This is the first of several gut checks you will experience in the military but by the easiest. It may not seem like it at the time, but this is a relatively easy task to excel in. They get progressively harder down the road.
Remember to stay focused on your tasks in the short term. Airborne School? Nope. Selection? No way Jose. Worry about you are doing right this very minute and don’t deviate from that. What seems like a million light years away will be on you much faster than you’d have thought possible.
Everything you do or say is evaluated. Never quit or give in. A drill instructor today may be a leader of a Special Operations team in the future and they will remember the good troops and the poor ones.