Yes, it is possible to fail basic training. You could go through the trouble of leaving your home, job, family and friends and come back a failure. In fact, this happens to about 15% of recruits who join the military every year. Too many recruits I speak to think that it is impossible to fail basic training.
From someone who has spoken to thousands of recruits over the years, let me tell you the top three reasons you could return home without graduating basic training.
1) You're an egotistical maniac.
I get an email like this almost every week. Here is an email I recently received:
"SGT Volkin, I work out every day and I get straight A's in school. My fear about basic training isn't about my capabilities to fail; my fear is that I will get booted for being too tough. If the drill sergeants try bossing me around, I fear my subconscious fighting skills in karate [I'm a black belt] will take over, and I will strike and injure a drill sergeant. How can I control the fighting force that has been instilled in me? Since I have straight A's and am already a fighting force, can I get a waiver from my recruiter so I don't have to attend basic training?"
No, this is not a joke. This is an actual email that I had to read and respond to. My response is below (name withheld to preserve anonymity):
"Dear X, you can't get a waiver for being such an awesome person. The fact that you would ask that question shows you have no idea what you're getting yourself into. You will get yelled at by your drill sergeants -- and judging by your personality -- probably many times a day. Not only will you not strike them, you will probably pee in your pants the first time you get yelled at. My advice to you is to not be overconfident; your ego might be your worst enemy. Best of luck."
2) You're not joining for the right reasons.
Someone might have told you that joining the military is a great source for repaying college loans (which is true). Someone also might have told you that joining the military will provide some direction and structure in your life (which is also true). However, if you aren't joining the military because you genuinely want to be there and serve your country, your chances of failure skyrocket. Mentally, you will have a very difficult time understanding why you are truly there, why you should continue being there and why you shouldn't just get up and walk away (i.e. go AWOL). It is perfectly fine to join the military for the aforementioned reasons. However, the underlying reason must be for the love of your country and the true belief that you live in the greatest country in the world.
3) You refuse to be helped.
No one, and I mean no one, makes it through basic training without being helped by another recruit. You must be the type of person to offer and accept help when needed. I have seen countless recruits try to act too tough to admit they need help or are too afraid to ask other recruits when they need help. Either way, you must be a team player to graduate boot camp.
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