Basic Training For Dummies®

Visit to view this book’s cheat sheet.

Table of Contents

Basic Training For Dummies®


About the Author

Rod Powers joined the United States Air Force in 1975 intending to become a spy. He was devastated to learn that he should’ve joined the CIA instead because the military doesn’t have that particular enlisted job. Regardless, he fell in love with the military and made it both a passion and a career, retiring with 23 years of service. Rod spent 11 of those years as a First Sergeant, helping to solve the problems of the enlisted corps.

Since his retirement from the military in 1998, Rod has become a world-renowned military careers expert. Through his highly popular U.S. Military Information website on (), Rod has advised thousands of troops about all aspects of the U.S. Armed Forces career information.

Rod is the proud father of twin girls, both of whom enjoy successful careers in the United States Air Force. Rod currently resides in Daytona Beach, Florida, with his pet tomato plant, Oscar. Even today, Powers tries to run his life according to long-lived military ideals and standards, but he gets a bit confused about why nobody will obey his orders anymore . . . not even Oscar.


To all the women in my life: Jeanie, Chrissy, Milani, Autumn, Charissa, Joy, Shilynn, Katie, Sue, Barb, Patty, Crystal, Amber, Linda, Camryn, Cindy, Denise, Dana, Hope, Robin, and Sheri. This book is not dedicated to Jackie — she had her chance.

Author’s Acknowledgments

The author wants to thank Autumn McLeod for reading my drafts and making sure my ramblings made some kind of sense. Also, her husband, Jake, for educating me about Coast Guard basic training and for looking over the Coast Guard portions of this book. Many thanks to my outstanding literary agent, Barb Doyen, for putting this project together and helping convince the publisher that there was a valid need for this book. Special thanks to the Army, Navy, and Air Force recruiting services, as well as Thomas J. Cutler of the Air Force, for making sure I covered all the basics of basic training.

Many thanks to Tracy Boggier, my Acquisitions Editor and Kelly Ewing, my sensational Project Editor.

Finally, I send more special thanks to the recruiting commands of the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, especially the recruiters assigned to the Volusia County Mall, for providing invaluable resource information.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments at . For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Kelly Ewing

Acquisitions Editor: Tracy Boggier

Assistant Editor: David Lutton

Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen

General Reviewers: Jake McLeod, Thomas J. Cutler, Grant Kellow

Editorial Supervisor and Reprint Editor: Carmen Krikorian

Editorial Assistant: Rachelle S. Amick

Art Coordinator: Alicia B. South

Cover Photos: © Tavrov

Cartoons: Rich Tennant ()

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Patrick Redmond

Layout and Graphics: Lavonne Roberts, Corrie Socolovitch

Proofreaders: Cynthia Fields, Lauren Mandelbaum

Indexer: BIM Indexing & Proofreading Services

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Kathleen Nebenhaus, Vice President and Executive Publisher

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher

Composition Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


If you’re reading this book, there’s a very good chance that you’ve joined the military and are just waiting for your date to roll around to ship out for military basic training. Maybe you’re wondering what you’re in for, or maybe you plan to be an honor graduate and want to study up on some of the things you’ll need to know to impress your instructors. Perhaps you have a close family member or friend attending military basic training and want to know what they’re going through. In any case, buying this book was a good decision. In Basic Training For Dummies, you can find out exactly what goes on in military basic training, as well as a few tips of what you can do to prepare in advance.

About This Book

Depending on your branch of choice, military basic training is between 6 weeks and 13 weeks long. Although a lot of new information is packed into this short amount of time, you can get a head start on required military knowledge, as well as a heads-up about what to expect during basic training, by reading through the chapters of this book.

Basic Training For Dummies gives you a blow-by-blow look at all five branches of the U.S. Military and their basic training courses, as well as tips and techniques that can help make your basic training experience more rewarding.

My entire purpose in writing this book is to help you get the most out of your initial military training experience. There’s so much to learn in such a short period of time, and a little advanced knowledge will certainly enhance your basic training adventure. As the old axiom says, “Preparation is half the battle.”

Conventions Used in This Book

The following conventions are used throughout the text to help point out important concepts and make the text easier to understand:

check.png All Web addresses appear in monofont. Note: Some Web addresses may extend to two lines of text. If you use one of these addresses, just type the address exactly as you see it, pretending that the line break doesn’t exist.

check.png New terms appear in italic and are closely followed by an easy-to-understand definition.

check.png Bold text highlights important points and the action parts of numbered steps or processes.

In addition, each branch of the military uses terminology specific to it. For example, the Army calls its drill instructors drill sergeants and basic training basic combat training. Throughout this book, I use general terms, rather than the specific ones, whenever I’m talking about multiple branches.

What You’re Not to Read

This book contains a number of sidebars (the shaded gray boxes). These sidebars are full of interesting information about basic training, but you don’t have to read them if you don’t want to — they don’t contain anything you simply must know in order to do your best at military basic training.

You also run across special icons, titled Technical Stuff, from time to time. These sections include concise, detailed information (interesting but nonessential) about the topic at hand, but the info probably can’t help you pass military basic training. You can safely skip these tidbits, if you want.

If you already know which branch of the military’s basic training programs you’re going to attend, you can skip over information about the other services. For example, if you’re going to attend Army basic training, you can safely skip over the section about Navy aircraft and ships. However, military basic training for all branches are very similar, so information about one branch’s system very well could help you with a different branch’s basic training.

Foolish Assumptions

While writing this book, I made a few assumptions about you — namely, who you are and why you picked up this book. I’ve assumed the following:

check.png You may be nervous about attending military basic training and need some information so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

check.png You’re curious about what goes on in military basic training on a day-to-day basis.

check.png You want to know what you can study in advance to help make your military basic training experience as rewarding as possible.

How This Book Is Organized

There is a method to the madness . . . a reason why this book is organized the way you see it today. I organized this book according to subject matter. Material having to do with preparing for basic training is organized together, what to expect for each branch is grouped in succession, and information about graduating from basic training is in one area.

This book isn’t organized to reflect how various events will occur during basic training, but rather by the significance of the events. You can read about more important events before you read about requirements that are of lesser priority.

I also include two appendixes — one on military justice and one on military history — to help you prepare for basic training.

Part I: The Basics about Basic

If you have no clue about what to expect during military basic training, then this part is for you. I talk about what you can expect in a day at basic training, no matter which branch you’re in. You also get a peek at what happens on the firing range and tips on which basic training jobs you may want to volunteer for (and which ones to avoid at all costs).

Part II: Getting Ready for Basic

Believe it or not, you can do some things in advance to make your basic training experience a little bit easier. In this part, you find out what you need to know about military ranks, military life, and the military law and justice (and hopefully you’ll never have to apply the latter knowledge!). You also find out what you need to do to get in shape for basic training.

Part III: Heading to Basic Training

You can’t just jump on a plane or bus and show up at basic training. If it were that easy, it wouldn’t be the U.S. Military. In this part, you find out what you should bring with you to basic training and what to avoid packing at all costs. You can also read about final in-processing at MEPS and what to expect when you get to your basic training location to begin your new life.

Part IV: Basic Training Life, Branch by Branch

Part IV includes the meat of this book. Here, you discover exactly what to expect in each of the services’ basic training programs, including daily activities, equipment, and how to interact with your classmates and instructors. I dedicate a chapter to each military branch so that I can point out each area’s special nuances.

Part V: Wrapping Up Basic Training

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with military basic training. Turn to this part if you’re interested in graduation events and basic training awards.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

This book is a For Dummies book, so it’s not complete without a Part of Tens. If you want to get right down to it and find out some of the most important information for doing well in military basic training and you like your info presented in easily digestible lists, turn to Part V. This part gives you basic training tips and advice on how to keep that mean instructor off your back.

Icons Used in This Book

Throughout this book, you find icons that help you use the material in this book. Here’s a rundown on what they mean to you:

tip.eps This icon alerts you to helpful hints regarding basic training. Tips can help you save time and avoid frustration.

remember.eps This icon reminds you of important information you should memorize (or at least read carefully).

warning_bomb.eps This icon flags information that may prove hazardous to your plans of conquering military basic training. Often, this icon accompanies common mistakes or misconceptions people have or questions about basic training.

technicalstuff.eps This icon points out information that is interesting, enlightening, or in-depth but info that isn’t necessary for you to read. You may or may not find these concepts helpful to you during basic training, but knowing the info may make basic training a little more rewarding.

Where to Go from Here

You don’t have to read this book from cover to cover in order to do well during military basic training. People have different strengths and weaknesses, and the format of this book is designed to be read in the manner that best suits you. You may be a whiz in physical training and choose to skip the fitness sections entirely and use your time in areas you feel you need more information.

If you do choose to skip chapters, I highly recommend you skim through those chapters anyway, taking note of Tip, Warning, and Remember icons, because these morsels of info include important factors about your basic training experience.

I suggest that you begin with Chapters 1 and 2, however. That way you can get a feel for what goes on during military basic training and what you’ll need to know. This plan of attack helps you set up logical and effective goals to maximize your military basic training adventure.

No matter where you start, I wish you luck on your upcoming military journey. I hope you find your time at military basic training as rewarding as I did!

Part I

The Basics about Basic


In this part . . .

In this part, you discover what to expect during an average basic training day, what basic training jobs you should volunteer for (and which ones you should avoid like the plague), as well as the proper way to handle a military weapon without accidentally shooting yourself or others.

Chapter 1

Forewarned Is Forearmed

In This Chapter

arrow Taking a look at the military basic training method

arrow Preparing is half the battle

arrow Detailing basic training

Military basic training is all about being prepared for any situation. That preparation includes gathering intelligence about situations you’re likely to face in the future. I merely provide a means for smart young folks to gather a little intelligence about what’s in store for them. I predict that those who are smart enough to read through this book before attending military basic training will have a higher chance of graduation and success, thereby allowing them to contribute to the most powerful military in the world, and that can’t be a bad thing.

Brushing Up on Military Missions

The United States Military branches exist to defend the United States against all enemies and to provide combat capabilities anywhere in the world in support of United States security objectives.

While it’s sometimes hard to tell (the Army has aircraft and ships, and the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have ground forces), each branch has specific missions.

Army mission

The Army exists to serve the American people, defend the Nation, protect vital national interests, and fulfill national military responsibilities. The Army makes up the nation’s largest and most extensive military ground capabilities. Currently, approximately 499,000 active duty Army troops are backed up by 700,000 National Guard and Army reservists. The Army is responsible to provide necessary forces and capabilities in support of the National Security and Defense Strategies of the United States.

The Army’s mission is codified by federal law:

check.png Preserve the peace and security and provide for the defense of the United States, the Commonwealths and possessions, and any areas occupied by the United States

check.png Support the national policies

check.png Implement the national objectives

check.png Overcome any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States

Air Force mission

The mission statement of the United States Air Force is “fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace.”

Like the other branches, the official mission of the USAF has been established by federal law.

Title 10, Section 8062 of the U.S. Code defines the mission of the USAF as follows:

check.png To preserve the peace and security and provide for the defense of the United States, the Territories, Commonwealths, and possessions, and any areas occupied by the United States

check.png To support national policy

check.png To implement national objectives

check.png To overcome any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States

Navy mission

The mission of the United States Navy is to protect and defend the right of the United States and its allies to move freely on the oceans and to protect the country against her enemies.

Federal law defines the mission of the United States Navy as follows:

check.png To prepare the naval forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war

check.png To maintain naval aviation, including land-based naval aviation, air transport essential for naval operations, and all air weapons and air techniques involved in the operations and activities of the Navy.

check.png To develop aircraft, weapons, tactics, technique, organization, and equipment of naval combat and service elements

Marine Corps mission

The United States Marine Corps serves as the amphibious forces of the United States. Its mission is detailed in Title 10, Section 5063 of the United States Code (USC):

check.png The seizure or defense of advanced naval bases and other land operations to support naval campaigns

check.png The development of tactics, technique, and equipment used by amphibious landing forces

check.png Such other duties as the President may direct

Coast Guard mission

The Coast Guard is the only U.S. military service not organized under the Department of Defense. Instead, the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security.

Even so, the Coast Guard is one of the official branches of the U.S. Military. Title 10, section 101(a)(4) of the U.S.C. says, “The term ‘armed forces’ means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.” Additionally, Title 14, Section 1 states, “The Coast Guard as established 28 January 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times.”

remember.eps In time of war, the President can direct all, or part of, the Coast Guard under the service of the Navy.

The U.S. Coast Guard is the only U.S. Military branch that routinely engages in civilian law enforcement during peacetime. Section 2 of 14 U.S.C authorizes the Coast Guard to enforce federal law.

The Coast Guard statutory missions as defined by law are divided into homeland security missions and nonhomeland security missions. Nonhomeland security missions are

check.png Marine safety

check.png Search and rescue

check.png Aids to navigation

check.png Living marine resources (fisheries law enforcement)

check.png Marine environmental protection

check.png Ice operations

Homeland security missions are

check.png Ports, waterways, and coastal security (PWCS)

check.png Drug interdiction

check.png Migrant interdiction

check.png Defense readiness

check.png Other law enforcement

Building a G.I. from Scratch

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 Smokey-the-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.eps 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.

Making the Basic Training Experience a Little Bit Easier

A lot of memorization goes on during basic training. Maybe you’re the type of person who can easily concentrate while some mean, large person is screaming in your face 24 hours per day, or maybe you’re more like me — you’d rather do your learning in a nice, quiet, relaxing environment. Unfortunately, you’re not going to find any nice, quiet, relaxing areas during basic training, so your only other option is to try to memorize this required knowledge before you depart. Part II should be able to help you with your memorization work.

One of the first things you’ll be required to know is the military rank/insignia system, especially for the branch you’ve decided to join. In addition, if you’re in the Marines, you will be required to have a basic understanding of the Navy rank structure because the Marine Corps was derived from and falls under the Department of the Navy.

Everyone in the military wears insignia, which are often called stripes for enlisted folks, and you should know what those stripes mean. If you call a sergeant major a private, I can guarantee you won’t like the results. Chapter 5 can help you out with military ranks.

Along those lines, you should commit to memory the proper way to address drill instructors in your particular branch. Just to add to the confusion, each branch does it differently. Don’t worry; I give you the straight dope in Part IV.

If you’re joining the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, it’s important that you memorize the rules for a sentry. Instructors in these branches like to keep you on your toes by popping out of nowhere, and asking you something like, “What’s the third rule of a sentry?” Responding with the correct answer is always preferable to not knowing. If the Air Force is your choice of service, you don’t have to worry about this memorization. As an Air Force basic training sentry, you’ll carry a book with you at all times during sentry (dorm guard) duty, and you can quickly look up the information, if needed.

warning_bomb.eps Many new basic training recruits make the mistake of thinking, “I don’t need to get in shape in advance. Basic training will get me into shape.” Big mistake. By far the biggest reason for getting “set back” in military basic training and not graduating on time is failing to meet the physical fitness graduation standards. You have only a few short weeks in basic to meet very high physical fitness standards for graduation, and — if you show up out of shape — you can’t do it. You won’t fail military basic training for being out of shape (the instructors won’t let you), but they’ll keep you in basic training as long as it takes for you to pass the standards. You can read more about required fitness standards in Chapter 8.

If you have a little extra time, make sure that you look over Chapter 7 on military law and what constitutes a crime in the military in Appendix A. You don’t have to memorize this information, but you should know basic facts, such as if you disobey an order, you can go to military prison for more than five years.

You’ll do a lot of marching during military basic training. While I explain the basics of marching and the standard drill commands in Chapter 9, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to practice them or even join your school’s marching band or Junior ROTC program for a little advance practice.

Getting There Is Half the Fun

Going to military basic training isn’t like leaving home to go to college. You can’t just pack whatever you want to bring — there are rules about what you must have, and more rules about what you can’t have. Fortunately, if your recruiter forgets to give you the official list of bring and don’t-bring items, I give you a little advice in Chapter 10.

Traveling to your basic training location usually involves a plane ride, but you can’t simply buy a plane ticket and show up. You have to process first through your local Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), which will arrange (and pay for) your travel. You can find out details about this process in Chapter 11.

Basic training doesn’t officially begin until several days after you arrive (although from your point of view, it may seem to begin earlier!). The first few days are spent in-processing — that is, doing all the paperwork to tell the massive government information system that you’re now part of the U.S. Military. The term in-processing means more than just giving you a uniform and issuing you a military ID card, though. Part III gives you an idea of what to expect during your first few days of basic.

Getting Specific about Each Branch’s Training

Several years ago, there was talk of creating a purple basic training — one basic training program for all of the branches, kind of like what the Naval Academy does with Navy and Marine Corps officers. This idea never got past the “what if” stage. While similar processes are involved in turning young men and women into disciplined military members, the specific subject areas, disciplines, rules, and processes vary too widely among the military branches to ever create a viable joint basic training program. The meat of military basic training is in the details, and Part IV of this book is where I take you through the day-to-day activities of each branch in separate chapters.

This is the only book I know of that details the basic training programs of all the branches, under one cover, and I think it can help with your basic training experience to find out what the new members of the other branches go through in order to go from recruit to trained military member.

However, while many aspects of military basic training are different, many are similar, or even exactly the same. I devote Chapter 2 to those similarities, explaining those aspects of military basic training that are the same (or nearly the same) for all of the branches.

Juggling Basic Training Jobs

You may think that military basic training is run by the drill instructors, and, in some ways, that’s correct. Instructors are the gods of military basic training and are there to ensure that everything goes according to their divine plan. However, almost everything else that goes on during basic training is accomplished, planned, and supervised by the basic training recruits themselves.

As with life itself, there are good jobs in basic training and jobs that suck. The trick is getting chosen for one of the good jobs while leaving the sucky jobs for others. The problem is, it’s usually not a matter of volunteering for any specific basic training duties. The drill instructors hand out the jobs, and there are few (if any) rules. The drill instructors pretty much get to assign the jobs as they see fit.

However, you can do a few things to increase your chances of getting one of the good basic training jobs. Chapter 3 includes all you need to know.

Taking a Shot at Weapons Training

It wouldn’t be a book about military basic training if I didn’t talk a bit about firing guns. Excuse me, I mean “weapons.”

warning_bomb.eps In the military, especially during basic training, never, ever refer to your rifle or pistol as a gun. Guns are those very big shooting things used on combat ships. Guns you carry in the military are called rifles or pistols or sometimes your “weapon.”

Most drill instructors believe they can teach a monkey to shoot. But they’d much rather teach a monkey than try to teach a farm boy who’s grown up with weapons his entire life. Teaching someone the correct (military) way from scratch is much easier than trying to eliminate bad habits that have likely arisen from several years of doing it wrong.

The U.S. Military has more than 200 years of experience in firing weapons and hitting what is aimed at. It’s best to remember this history, even if you were the original Wyatt Earp prior to basic training. If you know nothing more about shooting than what I explain in Chapter 4 when you first arrive at basic training, you’ll probably do much better on the firing line than if you’ve spent your entire life on a farm shooting pistols and rifles.

If you have significant experience with weapons, I know you won’t believe me. For some unknown reason, nobody ever does on this particular point. However, it’s been proven time and time again. You’re much more likely to earn a qualification or even win a weapons award (see Chapter 4) in basic training if you’ve never seen a gun than if you grew up your entire life hunting.

Gearing Up for Graduation

No matter which of the services you decide to join, your ultimate goal is to graduate from military basic training and begin your new life as a valued member of America’s armed forces.

Military basic training graduation is no small thing. The event rivals anything you may have gone through during your high school, or even college, graduation ceremony. As a very minimum, the event will include a formal military parade, where your family and loved ones can gape at you in your new military dress uniform as you march by in all your military splendor.

In some branches, you get a day or two on the town, while in other branches, you go immediately on leave (vacation time). For those who get leave immediately following basic training, you’re usually allowed only a week or two before you have to proceed to your first duty assignment. In any event, graduation day is a day you’ll remember and cherish for the rest of your life.

Basic Training Does Not a Career Make

Assuming that you graduate, basic training is just the beginning of your military experience. Many recruits will leave basic training and proceed immediately to their military job school. A few may get a little time off after basic to go home and visit family and friends. Some may proceed directly from basic training to their first military duty station, getting their job training on the job, or delaying specific military job training for a future date.

Each military branch has different policies, and within those policies, there is room for specific individual career paths. Chapter 3 gives you an idea of what you can expect after you complete military basic training.

Basic Training Can Be a Rewarding Experience

I get e-mail all the time from readers of my military information website () who want to know what they can do to win an award in basic training. I usually respond by telling them that those who try for an award rarely win one. Usually, those who win the awards are those who do their very best without even thinking about it.

However, depending on the branch, you can earn several awards during your basic training experience. Did you know that you can earn a military medal just for graduating from basic training? It’s true. It’s called the National Defense Service Medal, and it’s awarded to those who volunteer to serve in the military during times of conflict. I explain all about this medal in Chapter 20.

Other basic training awards are based on doing specific things better than anyone else. All the branches have an honor graduate or distinguished graduate program, which recognizes the recruits who had the best overall performance during basic training. Some branches even make a competition out of almost every single aspect of basic training. The Army rewards the top soldier during each training cycle with the Soldier of the Cycle award for each basic training company. Others offer only a few rewards and reserve those for the basic training graduation ceremony.