Building a G.I. from Scratch

New recruits standing in line.

When I went to Air Force basic training as a young 18-year-old kid, there was no Internet, and there were no books about military basic training. The only sources of information about what to expect during basic training were your recruiter and family members who probably went through basic about 100 years before you. Your recruiter would simply say, "It's easy. Don't worry about it," and leave it at that. (After all, his job was to get you on a plane, not to scare you to death.)

When I got off the plane in San Antonio, Texas, and that guy in the Smokeythe- Bear hat immediately started yelling at me for (what seemed to me) no reason, I remember thinking, "Oh, my. I signed up for four years to this??!"

I had no way of knowing that basic training and military training instructors were only a very small part of military life, and those MTIs at the airport certainly weren't about to tell me. I didn't know that they weren't allowed to hit me. I thought anyone of them could pick me up and throw me across the airport. I wondered if I had time to write out a quick last will and testament before one of them got their mitts on me.

When I first started writing about military basic training on my website (, I got a lot of hate e-mail from military basic training instructors. According to many of them, by letting the cat out of the bag and letting out all of their secrets, I was diluting the basic training experience, taking away their ability to "shock and awe," and therefore making their jobs harder. I disagree.

I can describe the military basic training experience in one sentence. It's all about breaking a person down and rebuilding him from the bottom up. The breaking down process begins immediately upon arrival. Basic training instructors don't want you to think things through — they want you to automatically react, but react in the right way. That's why there's so much repetition in basic training. You don't think; you just do" But, you have to do it the military way.

Tip: In basic training, there's an old saying: "There's the right way to do something, the wrong way to do something, and the military way." It really should read, "The right way, the wrong way, and the basic training way," because innovation and better ways to do something are encouraged in the military — just not while you're in basic training. Save your "better ideas" for after you graduate and join the "real" military.

The first few weeks of military basic training is dedicated to breaking you down. During this period, you'll find that you can't do anything right. Even if you do it right, it'll be wrong. Nobody's perfect, and military drill instructors are trained to ferret out those imperfections and make sure that you know about them.

After you've been completely ripped apart, the real training begins — teaching you to do things the "basic training way," without even having to think about it — you just react. If a military basic training instructor can make this reaction happen, then he has done his job.

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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