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How to Make Money in Basic Military Boot Camp

Updated on May 20, 2012

There are opportunities to make money anywhere, even in Boot Camp!

Many people worry about Basic Military Training, commonly known as Boot Camp, and wonder how they will make it through. They wonder if they truly have the discipline it takes to make it without being washed back or, worse, washed out completely. And then they fret over how best to fly under the radar of their TI’s attention. While these concerns were all very relevant to me during my six weeks in Basic Training for the U.S. Air Force, I also took a little time to make some money along the way.

There are several seemingly pointless exercises put into place during this immersion training program. I have witnessed these rules and rituals first-hand with the Air Force, and while they may not be the same exercises employed in the training program today or in the programs of the other branches, the basic principles still apply.

The classic scenario is that you are presented with a pointless task, such as folding your underwear and T-shirts into precise dimensions, requiring attention to detail and exact measurements. You must make your bed with hospital corners at crisp 45 degree angles. You must check each pocket of every uniform item on a nightly basis in order to find the tiny “Inspected by” papers that seem to magically appear over and over again. Your uniform items must be serviceable and in good repair, no buttons can be missing, no excess threads left by the manufacturer. The upkeep of your wall locker must be maintained at all times, conforming to the standards and regulations that the TI’s are more than happy to enforce. Those unfortunate enough to fail at any of these tasks are humiliated, their items thrown, or beds turned over with all the grace of an elephant on roller-skates.

So what happens next?

Never fear, this is exactly the type of environment that delivers the perfect opportunity to make a little cash on the sly. There are many different kinds of people in this world and those in training with you will represent a wide sampling of local cultures and ways of life. Some will be honest-to-goodness experts at military underwear folding and could probably do it blindfolded and underwater to boot! Most will be able to meet the standards, showing neither flare nor care. But then there are the ones that make it into every group, the ones that can’t seem to do it, can’t fold the crisp lines at the edge of the ruler, or simply can’t get past the seeming pointlessness of each ridiculous task. I hear they don’t make you fold underwear anymore, but there’s always something…

These choice few will often require someone to hold their hand throughout the duration of their training and the TI’s will do their best to spread the humiliation to those bunked nearest. They often won’t assign another trainee who was born to fold, mold, and scold their clothes into the proper dimensions. No, that would be too easy. Instead, they will choose some average Joe, who is struggling just as much as the rest of the normal people to get his own items folded and tucked into place, racing the clock, just minutes before Final Inspection.

And now what you’ve all been waiting for!

5 Easy Ways to Make Money in Basic Training:

1. The smart entrepreneur in Boot Camp learns the system, the personalities, and does his or her best to stay under the radar at all times. The eternal words of wisdom to every new recruit include an idea that your instructors should never learn your name: be invisible to the chain of command as much as possible. If you are thrust into the spotlight, as I was during my training, don’t panic. Knowing the system helps break the imposing façade. Keep your cool and never make excuses. If you did something wrong, go against the grain and own up to it. The most expected answer is, “I don’t know.”

When grilled over why there was still a sticker on my toothbrush holder during my wall locker inspection, a violation of some rule that had not been made clear to us at the time, I gave an answer that knocked the wind out of my TI’s sails and earned me the admiration and respect of everyone within earshot. Instead of protesting that we had not yet been told of this rule, I answered, “It was negligence, Sir.”

The TI stammered and spurted, “Neg.. Damn right it was Negligence!” But his opportunity to make an example had been blown and everyone knew it.

The first way to make money in Boot Camp is to earn the admiration and respect of your peers. Don’t seek attention, but handle it correctly if it lands in your lap. Those who like you and respect you will be willing customers and won’t hesitate to spread word of your services.

2. In Basic, everybody gets a job. Some may think that the Flight Chief or Element Leaders hold the most power, but that isn’t necessarily true. Sure, they have responsibility, and they can make your life hell if they so choose, but it’s also a two-way street. The Element Leaders are held responsible for the actions of everyone within their element. Likewise, the Flight Chief is responsible for every single member of the Flight, including the failures of his or her Element Leaders. It is a common occurrence for the Flight to see these people held to the fire for things not entirely under their control. And more often than not, at least one of them gets sacked and the balance of power is shifted. Remember, responsibility does not always equal power. There are several other jobs available that can provide much more than what you might expect at face value.

My assigned job was Fire Monitor, an impressive sounding gig that included taking out the trash every time the Flight left the barracks. Many people laughed when the TI explained the duties, and some kept laughing when he also noted that it might very well be the most desirable position available. Sure, the Door Guard Monitor (the one responsible for the scheduling of Door Guard duty) had the power to schedule you for two shifts during one night, one in the evening right after lights out and then again in the early AM, and scheduling favors could be traded, but this was nothing in comparison. The Fire Monitor also takes the trash out at night, just before lights out. This gives them the perfect opportunity to do one other not-so-secret task. Every night, two by two, they walk past the dumpster and then to the mailbox. At the time of my training, this was the only way to get a letter out in the mail and I am certain that there were several letters that never made it to that blue mail receptacle, though never on my watch. I could have charged people for mail delivery, but I chose instead to leverage the favors to earn the respect of those who were naturally disposed to dislike me. (Including the Door Guard Monitor, who saw fit to double book me several nights in a row. It only took a slight reminder of how his mail got to the box to make sure that never happened again.) The second tip is to know the strengths of your position, no matter how silly of a job it might seem at first.

3. So sew, G.I. Joe! Okay, so numbers one and two may have been better suited to surviving Basic Training, but every successful entrepreneur knows that you’ve got to take advantage of situations in order to get the upper hand. Earning respect and using your position as leverage are key principles when it comes to raking in a few well-earned bucks. So now it’s time to make some cash. One of the items that every trainee is required to purchase is a sewing kit. You, or someone next to you, will invariably find that one or several of the buttons on your uniform items have fallen off or are dangerously close to doing so. In order to pass the wall locker inspection, you must ensure that each and every article of clothing is serviceable and in good repair.

I was surprised to find out just how many people had no idea how to sew on a button with their little kits. Offering to do it with my kit was impossible! I simply didn’t have the spare replacement buttons or thread to accommodate the need. Instead, I offered to fix the problem with their kits and at the cost of 1 to 2 dollars per button. Word of my service soon spread and I had people lined up to get their uniforms fixed. The most memorable of these was one particular guy who had seemed to have it out for me. I charged him 4 dollars for a single button that took me less than a minute to sew back on.

4. Another way I made money in Basic Training wasn’t actually planned. One of the other trainees was really struggling and at the verge of being washed out and sent back home. I felt for the guy, I really did, but everyone is under pressure to meet the rigid standards and I was no different. Finally the guy pulled me aside and thanked me for helping him with his bed and some of his shirts but begged that I give his wall locker a looking over. I looked back at all the things I had to do to get ready for my own inspection and told him I’d do what I could. He was at the end of his rope, one more failure and he was out. He knew it, and I knew it. That’s when he said something that I dismissed at first. “If you help me pass my inspection, I’ll pay you twenty bucks!”

Honestly, I would have helped him out for free. I finished up my own responsibilities and then started looking over his locker. There were too many things to fix on my own so I called over two more guys who had finished up their own lockers and we busted it out in the knick of time.

Later that day he pressed a twenty into my hand and I started to protest, but he looked at me with tears in his eyes and insisted that I take it. When a lot of people were more concerned about their own needs, I was willing to step up and help out someone who was in need and rally the support of others to get the job done.

Sometimes doing the right thing is rewarding enough, other times you end up with a few extra bucks in your pocket.

5. Break a few rules. What is there to gain with no risk? I admit it, I broke a few rules while in Basic Training. There are a lot of stupid rules and some that make sense that are worth breaking for one reason or another. I’ll tell you what, I hate whitey-tighties but that’s what you gotta wear when you’re in Boot Camp, no if’s and’s or butts! (Pun intended.) When you first arrive they make you dump out all your possessions on your bed and then they lock up everything that isn’t allowed, boxers included. I’ve always been a boxer man, myself, so I did what any ardent defender of testicular freedom would do, I smuggled some in. That’s right, I had a contact on the outside send me several pairs that I hid in my wall locker, tucked tightly into the perfectly folded gym shorts, sweats, and towels. The next thing was candy and jerky and other items that could be conspicuously hidden without discovery. I won’t tell you how I managed to dodge confiscation. You’ll have to figure that out on your own. But selling items you’ve managed to smuggle in can be quite profitable. Just be careful who you trust. And if you’re the only guy wearing boxers, make sure you don’t flaunt it.


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Egads, Man! You can't be serious!?

Okay, okay.. for clarification for any of you who may get confused.. this is pretty much a humor piece based on experience. It's still a great hub if you're looking at what you might be up against in Basic Training, but I can't say I'm a huge advocate of these methods, or the idea of going to boot camp with the idea of making money off your fellow trainees. Should you dump hours of effort helping them through Basic without expectation of fair return? I don't know. This is a complex question. In the military you learn to not leave a man behind and yet basic is also a mechanism for separating the chaff from the grain, so to speak. So the environment itself is an interesting dichotomy of positive and negative feelings toward someone who may be lagging behind.

Everyone will tell you that standing out is the worst mindset for going to Basic Training. You're not supposed to play the hero. You're not supposed to make a name for yourself. You don't want to be the first one in line and you don't want to be the last. If you don't believe me, go to your local recruiter and ask them for tips on making it through Basic Military Training.

Do what it takes to get yourself through and try to help the people you can along the way. That's really the best advice I can give you! Good luck, and thank you for supporting our nation and protecting the American ideals that made this country the great nation it is today.


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    • DanielleCherise profile image

      Dani Norris 

      5 years ago from Virginia Beach

      Loved this! Very funny and interesting. I went through Navy basic Training in December. great experience. Thanks for sharing!

    • BradyBones profile imageAUTHOR

      R. Brady Frost 

      6 years ago from Somewhere Between a Dream and Memory

      We can agree to disagree, diamon1mo.

      Article 90 - Assaulting or willfully disobeying superior commissioned officer [No]

      Article 91 - Insubordinate conduct toward warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer [No]

      Article 92 - Failure to obey order or regulation [No]

      Article 94 - Mutiny or Sedition [No]

      Article 109 - Property other than military property of United States—waste, spoilage, or destruction [Really?]

      I couldn't specifically find 69.1, though after a few Google and Bing searches I admit to giving up/

      Webster defines a profiteer as "one who makes what is considered an unreasonable profit especially on the sale of essential goods during times of emergency."

      I don't think a perfectly folded shirt or tucked hospital corner really applies here unless someone was interfering with the ability to achieve said products.

      If you really think someone who can't fold clothes ought not be in the military, I suggest you send your congressman or congresswoman a letter without delay. In the meantime, I'm sure there are plenty of us willing to help with that responsibility during our own time for a fee: monetary or otherwise.

      Either way, you miss the real point of the hub, to inform people in an interesting way the type of things they can expect in basic training.

      I know a better word for what you were aiming for, but I can argue that as well. Let's let this one go before I start having to deny and report your comments. As a disabled veteran, I would like to thank you for your service to your country and I hope you find fulfillment and joy in your retirement. Best of wishes to you.

    • diamond1mo profile image

      KE Morgan 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      And I missed adding Art. 69.1, Unlawful profiteering.

    • diamond1mo profile image

      KE Morgan 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      Profiteering is the act of making money by unethical methods. If recruits follow your advice, they could possibly be in violation of MCM punitive articles 90, 91, 92, 94, and 109. Your wrote bad advice disrespecting the Air Force Core Values.

      Retired AF First Sergeant

    • BradyBones profile imageAUTHOR

      R. Brady Frost 

      6 years ago from Somewhere Between a Dream and Memory

      I would love to discuss this with you. Can you please state the article of the UCMJ privateering is addressed in and how being a pirate-for-hire (basically) applies to this hub?

    • diamond1mo profile image

      KE Morgan 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      Are you aware that profiteering is against the UCMJ? This is horrible advice for anyone that really wants to succeed in the military.

    • profile image

      Judy Razon 

      6 years ago

      I have 6 months to learn sewing and proper folding! Thanks for sharing.

    • hrymel profile image


      6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I love this. I leave for AF BMT in 5 days, and I'm a little nervous, but I love hearing past Trainies experiences and advice. Thanks for sharing and passing on all the hints.

    • ns1209 profile image


      8 years ago from UK - England

      Interesting to learn about basic training and making a little money!

    • cjmo75 profile image


      8 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

      Wow! I never though of these things when I was in basic. I guess I was too scared!

    • BradyBones profile imageAUTHOR

      R. Brady Frost 

      9 years ago from Somewhere Between a Dream and Memory

      Hello Tater Bug. You can definitely expect to have your hair cut, and the barbers that did it when I went through weren't very nice about it either.

      My best advice to you is to pick your job before you go to the MEPS center. They will try to convince you to go and accept any job that they want to give you, but that is not very beneficial for you and it is quite beneficial for them. The job you select will impact everything about your career and your time in the military. If you pick one that they offer you because the one you want is currently full, your experience may end up being very different than if you just waited until a slot opened up.

      Also, consider the officer programs they have that will help get you through college with a service commitment afterward. The military is always in need of well educated officers to help fill its ranks.

    • profile image

      Tater Bug 

      9 years ago

      Hey Brady Bones :)

      My Name is Jade,

      I may only be fourteen... *but*,

      I'm dead set I really want to join the Army,

      As My Mother watches too much telly she's terrified I'll get front line in 'the' war!

      and has requested I receive as much personal experience information you could suply Me... and, Will they cut My hair? :)

      I hope to hear from you soon, See ya!

    • BradyBones profile imageAUTHOR

      R. Brady Frost 

      9 years ago from Somewhere Between a Dream and Memory

      Going to basic training can be scary for some people, I hope this story helps to alleviate some of that anxiety.

    • BradyBones profile imageAUTHOR

      R. Brady Frost 

      9 years ago from Somewhere Between a Dream and Memory

      Thanks Jena! I tried to make it fun. ;)

    • profile image

      Jena Isle 

      9 years ago

      I like how you recounted this. The style makes the reader clearly associate with you- the writer. Nicely done Brady.


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