Basic Training Punishments

New recruits perform sit-ups
New recruits undergo plenty of exercise to install discipline -- and sometimes as punishment. (Petty Officer Christopher D. McLaughlin/Coast Guard)

You probably won't be court-martialed in basic training. It's also unlikely that you'll be punished under the provisions of Article 15 while in basic training (unless you commit a serious crime, such as stealing).

Because you're still learning in basic training, you're given a break. In most cases, documentation of any punishment is destroyed when you graduate, and nobody will even know it happened unless you tell them.


Yelling is, by far, the most common corrective action in military basic training. If you perform some boneheaded stunt, your training instructor is going to let you know about it ... loudly.

Don't discount being yelled at as a punishment. I've seen grown men reduced to a quivering bowl of jelly by a drill instructor's yelling. These military folks are professionals ... far better at it than your parents ever were. When I was an Air Force first sergeant, I was given the opportunity to revisit Air Force basic training as a guest. The ranting of the drill instructors scared me, even though they weren't yelling at me, and we first sergeants are somewhat professional yellers ourselves.

Getting Dropped

Getting dropped is a very common punishment in basic training. It simply means being ordered to do some sort of physical exercise, usually push-ups.

The Marine Corps takes getting dropped one step further in basic. In Marine Corps and Coast Guard basic training, you might get quarter-decked. The quarter-deck is a special place in the barracks where you're sent to do an amazing amount of physical exercises, all under the direct supervision and encouragement of a drill instructor.

Technical Stuff: In addition to quarter-decking in Marine Corps basic, there is also pitting. Pitting is incentive training for a large group of recruits, so named for the sandy pits set aside for such events.


Recycling, or getting set back, is by far the most feared punishment in military basic training.

Recycling simply means being moved to a different military basic training unit that is in an earlier part of basic training than you are currently in, which means you have to repeat training and spend additional time in basic.

Basic training instructors will lead you to believe that they have the power to recycle you for pretty much anything, but in actuality, recycling is a very controlled administrative action that can be imposed by only the commanding officer for very specific reasons.

Remember: You can be recycled without being punished. For example, if you're in Week 2 of basic training and you get sick and put in the hospital for two weeks, when you get out, you won't be returned to your basic training unit (which is now in Week 4). You'll be recycled to a different basic training unit that is presently in Week 2 of training.

Getting Kicked Out

Getting kicked out of the military while in basic training is not that easy, nor is it a very fast process. Training instructors are taught not to give up and will try everything possible to turn someone around before recommending them for discharge.

Those who do get recommended for discharge often spend weeks, or even months, in a special discharge unit, waiting for their discharge to be processed and approved. During that time, they usually spend the day doing manual labor (cleaning buildings, cutting grass, sweeping sidewalks and so on).

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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