Basic Training: Grooming and Food

New recruit receives haircut
Getting their hair cut is a rite of passage for new recruits in the military. (Scott A. Thornbloom/U.S. Navy)

Just a Little off the Sides: Haircuts

Haircuts are a rite of passage during military basic training. Almost immediately after arrival, your hair will be cut so short that it almost feels like you were shaved bald (guys only).

After the initial haircut, you'll get a trim at least once per week during basic training. However, during the weekly trim, depending on which branch you're in, your hair may not be entirely cut off again, and the sides and the back may just be evened up.

Tip: You actually can estimate how long someone has been in basic training, depending on which branch you're in, by the length of their hair. New male recruits have virtually no hair at all, those who have been there a week or two have a little bit of stubble, and those who are getting ready to graduate have an inch or so of hair showing.

Except for the Navy, women do not have to get their hair cut. However, when in uniform (which is all the time in basic training), women must wear their hair in such a way that the hair does not protrude past the bottom of the collar, and is not below the eyebrows. If your bangs are grown out, they must be long enough to be tied into a bun.

Navy gals, you will get your hair cut so that it meets the preceding standards at all times. You can let your hair grow back after basic training, as long as you continue to wear it in such a way that you meet the standards while in uniform.

Cleaning Up: Showers

In basic training, you take group showers. There's no way out of communal showers. They're required. Everyone in your barracks will enter the shower room assigned to your barracks when commanded. The shower area is one large tiled room with multiple shower heads along the walls. Your instructor will give you a time limit for your shower and tell you when you may take your shower during the day or night.

Warning: In Marine Corps boot camp, the first couple of weeks will be spent doing things "by the numbers." This is true for hygiene time as well. When everyone is packed into their showering area, a drill instructor will give you an allotted time (by counting down from a certain number) to clean individual parts of your body and then rinse. Being able to take a full shower without a DI giving commands is also a rite of passage.

Over the years, I've received more e-mail concerns about this aspect of military basic training than any other factor. It seems recruits are scared or self-conscious to be naked in front of other recruits during shower time. When I went to basic training, group showers weren't a big deal because daily group showers were required after high school physical education.

Tip: Don't waste energy worrying about this aspect of basic training. I can guarantee that when it happens, you'll be so nervous or scared of your drill instructor that you won't worry about the shower.

When my twin daughters attended Air Force basic training a few years ago, they were so nervous about this aspect of training that they almost decided to change their mind and not ship out. I almost had to drag them to MEPS when the final day came. They were scared silly about having to shower in front of other people.

During their basic training graduation, I asked them how they got through having to take group showers. They looked at me like I was crazy. They didn't even remember being nervous about it! Go figure.

Chowing Down

In basic training, you receive three meals per day. Most of the time, these are hot meals served in the chow hall (called the dining facility in the Air Force and Army, and the galley or mess hall in the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard).

Warning: Chow hall meals in basic training are not slow, leisurely events. You have a limited amount of time (about 15 minutes) to sit down and consume your meal. Even though the chow hall serves them, recruits are not allowed sweets or even sodas in some of the branches.

After basic training, you'll enjoy your meals in the chow hall much, much more. Most military chow halls today include an extensive salad bar, a station for full meals such as fried chicken, seafood, Mexican food and pastas, along with a snack line that includes hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, fries and other junk-food items. Plus, you're allowed to consume sodas and dessert!

The chow halls in basic training are limited. You usually have a salad bar, but the snack line is generally off limits to recruits. If you don't like the choices offered in the full meal line, that's just tough. It's that or go hungry. The basic training chow hall food will be reminiscent of the choices offered at a high school cafeteria -- not very appetizing.

One thing has changed for the positive in military basic training chow halls from days past. In the old days, the rule in the chow hall was that you had to eat everything on your plate. That rule no longer exists. You no longer have to eat everything you take if you don't feel like it. Basic training is all about getting into shape, not stuffing your mouth with food you don't really want.

Tip: No matter what, time in the chow hall isn't social hour. Do not look around or make any conversation with others.

From Basic Training for Dummies, copyright © 2011 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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