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Surviving Basic Military Training - Air Force
Before we start off with how my BMT experience was, I'd like to give a bit of background information. I decided to join the military later in life. I was 26 years old when I swore into MEPS, which made me significantly older than most of the people I went with. If you read my hub about swearing in to MEPS, I've stated before you should not go in "open general" for a job. I held out, and got the job that I wanted. There was a catch, however. If I wanted that job, I had to come from Cleveland, Ohio to San Antonio Texas in about 24 hours. I had 1 whole day of notice from being a civilian to becoming an Airman. If I can handle that kind of stress, I'm sure 90% of the people reading this can handle BMT.
Day one (more like night 1, I arrived at 9 PM at night) is probably the most hectic night. I arrived at the San Antonio Airport at around 7-8ish. We sat in the USO room and watched TV and ate snacks until the bus came to pick us up. While we sat there, a man walked in wearing a TI (Air force calls the instructors "TIs" while Army calls them drill sergeants) hat and that's when it all became real. He didn't yell at us right away, but he did make smart remarks. There were about 5 of us, and he asked the guy standing next to me if he had called his parents to tell them he was in San Antonio. He replied "no" and was immediately scolded and was asked if he loved his parents or if they loved him, and that he should call them RIGHT NOW. He then asked me, and I lied and told him I did.
We hopped on the bus and were taken to Lackland Air Force Base which was about 20 minutes away. Now, here is where my experience may differ from yours. I arrived a day late, due to the fact that I was a replacement for some girl who got pregnant or something. There were maybe 5-7 of us, and I guess there are normally hundreds. I could be wrong, though. We lined up inside some building and were asked our names, and a few other questions. One of the questions was "Do you play an instrument?" I said no, because I thought it was a trick, but they really have band flights that play instruments. I didn't have a choice in the matter, since the other few people with me DID play one, I had to play one too, and I was assigned a base drum. Luckily, weeks later when we started doing band, I changed to trumpet, which was what I played 10 years ago in high school. I highly recommend joining a band flight, it's a unique experience and will get you out of doing a lot of work that you otherwise would do. It's not as fun as high school, but it's better than hard labor.
After they asked the questions we were taken to a room with foot measurements, and we were given a book, and a few other things, I forget what was given, and we were fed some crap food. That was probably the only night we had crap food because the chow hall food is actually really good. From there we were split into our "flights" which is just the group of people you'll be staying with for the next 2 months or so. Also, when I went, basic training was 8 weeks long. There's been talk of shortening it back to 6 1/2 weeks, but I don't know if that's official. When we arrived at our dorms, my other flightmates were sleeping. There's a bunch of single beds and some bunk beds, but you take whatever is open. Anyway, your TI will have you throw almost all of your civilian stuff into a closet and you'll be able to keep some clothes and cleaning items. They'll also take your phone and put it into a locker. After a bit of paperwork and talking (my TI was rather calm since everyone was sleeping already) we went to sleep.
Holy.... Freakin'.... Crap.... The TI will shoot the lights on and start screaming to wake up. I don't remember what all the rush was about but we had a lot of stuff to get done, and that's all I knew. Again, since I was a day late, everyone starts rushing to make their beds that are extremely tight and perfect with "hospital corners" and stuff. I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, your flight mates will help you, and there's also a book in your locker that helps as well. Anyway, the first day is just a bunch of yelling and freaking out for no reason. Since I was older, I kept calm pretty much my entire basic stay, since I knew it was probably illegal for them to kill me. Still, basic training has a way of making the easiest tasks some of the most difficult things you've ever performed.
I can't remember much about day 1, but that whole week (also known as 0 week) was mostly learning to march, marching around in your civilian clothes looking like an idiot. The dorms we were in had these really loud generators outside so it was hard to hear our TI at times, and it sucked because we couldn't march to save our lives. I believe in 0 week was when we were given our "details" which are just jobs you have to do every day. These consist of things like laundry crew, latrine crew, bed alignment crew, the people that shine the chrome on the floors, and the people who sweep the stairwell (which was my job). There were a few others, but the worst one would probably be the latrine crew, as that bathroom was "never clean enough" according to our TI.
Every morning from day one until you graduate, you'll get up, shower, shave, get dressed, wipe down dust (dust drills) around the dorm, do your job (most likely you'll do it wrong) and make your bed. Pretty standard, but repetitive and boring.
Also, they'll assign leadership for the flight. The dorm chief is the person who will be crapped on by the TI the entire time. It's a good job if you can handle it. They have to do push ups, sit ups, etc. every time someone in the flight messes up. It can be a huge pain, but if you can handle it, go for it. I personally, wish I would have done it. The other leaderships are the "element leaders" which are essentially line leaders when you march. Most of ours were losers, but we had a couple really cool ones. They are the ones that make your job much harder than it has to be, and I'd rather have 4 more TI's in my face than deal with 4 element leaders. They are the people that tell people in their line (element) to shut up and don't move, etc. but then turn around and BS with each other. I, for one, don't like double standards, so naturally I hated my BMT leadership. Don't get me wrong, there are certain times where a leader has to lay the hammer down, but these guys were 18-20 year old kids, and I had a hard time being told what to do by some immature kids. I did my job every day in BMT and I did the best I could. Anyway, I should quit venting. My leadership sucked.
The last thing about 0 week is that you are a target. You still wear your civilian clothes and everyone recognizes that you are brand new. Your TI will give you crap, as will every TI that walks near you. Everything you do will be wrong, be it how you step, where you step, how you talk, how you fold your clothes, everything. 0 week sucks, but the best advice to give is that it only lasts so long, and it does get better. You'll hear it from other flights, too. BMT gets better as the weeks go on.
After 0 week, things still tend to suck, but hey, at least you're out of your civilian clothes and in your ABUs. You look like an Airman. Kind of. You are still wearing your sneakers instead of boots, so you look like an idiot, and your ABU blouse (shirt) has no name on it. You're easily identified because of this. This week isn't so bad as much as it is boring. You're semi-used to getting up in the wee hours of the morning (I believe it's 0445) and NOW you get to do PT every morning. It's not incredibly hard. You basically do pushups, a variety of sit ups, flutter kicks, arm rotations, etc. Our flight was told not to do as much as we could, we were to work our way up.
PT is done as a squadron, so there's probably a couple hundred people out there. You'll do a set of 30 of whatever, then do some sort of cool down exercise, then another set of 30, another cool down, and a last set of 30, and a last cool down before moving on to the next exercise. We started out with 10 instead of 30 and worked our way up by the end of BMT. That was (I believe) 3 days a week, and we ran on the other 2. I can't remember if we had PT on Saturdays, but I don't think we did. Sometimes, PT was cancelled in lieu of some appointments we had (getting our uniforms, getting our pictures taken for our CACs (your ID card), but this was relatively rare. PT, however, was nothing to fear. If you suck at running, don't stress it, the running part was actually pretty easy, you run at a fixed pace and since you're with so many other people, you're pretty motivated to do decent. There was a few people that couldn't keep up, and they had to run in the fat people group, but in my flight, everyone passed. I'm a horrible runner, and I did fine.
Anyway, first week consists of your new PT schedule, a bunch of briefings (classes about the Air Force, DO NOT FALL ASLEEP), and staying in your room, rolling t-shirts and other clothes. It's extremely boring. As I said before, you're used to being yelled at for everything, kind of. It's the fact that you're in your room and going to briefings all day that sucks. And it continues into week 2. So much so, that we'll just skip that week, because it's essentially the same, except you wear boots instead of sneakers.
Week 3 was when things actually got to get pretty cool. We got our blues, so one day was spent at the clothing issue place, getting sized up and fitted. We also got our name tags. I believe it's usually week 4 that you get your name sewn on your uniform, but we were a band flight so everything happened a week early for us, I have no idea why. There's really not too much to say about week 3. I think week 3 we did basic survival skills, where we got issued our blue M16, which really was kind of lame besides practicing taking it apart and putting it together. By the way, later on, you'll have to do that, but it's not timed and you can do it as fast or slow as you please. To push yourself, you should try to take it apart and put it back together in under a minute. It's really not hard.
Again, week 3 was basic survival skills. You rub your face in the sand doing crawls and learn how to use your weapon in hand to hand combat. It's nothing too serious, and it's kind of boring (see the theme?) but at least you get out of the dorm. Your TI's don't teach the classes, it's usually ex-TI's but they are really cool, they rarely act all TI-like. They share their Air Force stories and are genuinely interesting people. I also believe this was the week we learned some medical training. We just wrap each other up in bandages. There's a lot more to it, but it's really not too hard.
I wish I had written this right when I got out of BMT because I feel like I have my weeks mixed up, but week 4 was the week we did the obstacle course. Week 4 is amazing. Your TI starts to warm up to you a little bit, but just enough for you to realize he's human. The obstacle course is really fun. You're in relatively decent shape, and you do the whole thing at your own pace. You can look up videos of what you have to do, as explaining each obstacle would be a pain, but if I were you, I'd save it as a surprise. I loved it. It's a confidence course, which is fairly difficult but everyone can complete it. When you're done, you feel so accomplished. There were 2 or 3 obstacles involving water, and we had a few people fall in, but most of us finished with no problems. Once you're done, you feel like you're on top of the world.
Also, week 4 was the gas chamber. I really want to write as much detail here, but there's really not much to write. You go into a gas chamber with your mask on, you'll do some jumping jacks, they'll tell you to take off your mask. Once done, you yell your social security number and your reporting statement "Sir trainee whatever reports as ordered" and get the hell out. My eyes were burning so bad, which is the worst part. Breathing wasn't much of an issue for me, but others struggled, and the snot that comes out of your nose is disgusting. It lasts a good 5 minutes or so, but it's not too bad.
Week 5 is combatives. Kind of. You hit each other with sticks. It's exhausting. There's really no winners or losers, you just have a minute to beat the hell out of each other. Also, you get to call out someone if you don't like them, which, without a doubt, you will hate someone in your flight. The guy I fought was actually really down to Earth. I recommend looking up some videos and seeing what gets done. It may look fairly lame from the outside looking in, but it's fun.
Also week 5 is when you get to shoot your M16. You sit in a class all day with a gun learning exactly how to prepare it for shooting. After a few hours, you go out to the shooting range and show off your skills. You shoot a total of 50-something shots, and only 24 count. If you want to earn your marksman ribbon, you have to hit 21 of 24. I'm not one to brag, but I did it. My advice would be to take your time. You have 1 small, 1 medium, and 1 large target. Shoot the largest 2 first, and take your time on the smallest. As much time as you need.
Beast week. It sounds terrifying. It's not. Week 6 is basically a recap of all of your training. You go to a simulated warzone. You practice your medical skills, your bomb seeking skills, and your guarding skills. And you do this over, and over, and over. It's boring, but in the same breathe, it's nice. You have no TI's for an entire week, you don't have to march everywhere, and you get to BS with other trainees. In one sense, it sucks because it's so repetitive, but in another, it's a much more relaxed atmosphere that you love every minute of it.
Apparently there are "chalk walks" where you go on missions and rescue dummies, but we had a ton of rain the week before that it was too dangerous to go. Speaking of danger, nothing in BMT is too dangerous. Since you are in training status, they will not risk you getting hurt. When you go operational (see SERE training), it's a different story. Yes, people sprained their ankles, got stung by non-poisonous scorpions, and had nervous breakdowns, but it's nothing to be scared about. But I digress, BEAST week has ups and downs, but try your best to enjoy it. Besides, there's a sweet ceremony at the end (which I won't give away), and you get your dog tags.
Week 7 is pretty stressful. You're all done with the fun stuff, but now you have your final PT evaluation, your drill evaluation (marching), review of your Air Force knowledge, and reporting and courtesies. It's stressful because you'll want to become an honor flight, which does nothing but boost your ego for, like, a week. It's really something to strive for, I shouldn't downplay it, but it really doesn't do anything. However, to make the most of your Air Force BMT experience, you should strive to be the best at everything you do.
Again, week 7 is stressful, with all of the evaluations, plus you'll be having briefings all week just like you have been the entire time you're there. Just try your best, it's not physically demanding, just kind of mentally tough.
So week 8 is finally here (it may be week 6 coming soon, I've heard rumors of BMT going to 6.5 weeks instead of 8), and you're looking forward to having your friends and family come home. For us, week 8 was a breeze. You're given base liberty nearly every day, which means you can go do whatever you want on base. You can drink soda, eat junk food, and just go nuts. The catch is that you have to be back in your dorm by 8 PM, and you have to be with a wingman. Your family will come in on Wednesday or Thursday, and you'll be able to see them those days as well as Friday and I think Saturday. To be honest, I did not want my family to come when I left. I thought it was a waste of a plane ticket and money. However, I would have regretted it ENTIRELY had they listened. I loved that they came. It was so nice seeing them. You get to leave base with them, go to Sea World (it's free for military!) and go wherever they want to take you so long as you don't leave San Antonio. You cannot go drinking, though, and your TI will be taking the day off, so don't test it by going out on the town and maybe running into them.
This week includes a coin ceremony where you get you Airman's coin, the Airman's Run, as well as your regular graduation ceremony. It's pretty cool stuff. I was a bit numb to it, because throughout the weeks I had already seen 3 or 4 of them, being in the band. But this signals the end of hell for you. It's such a weight off of your shoulders. You're a human being, and a better one. It's done, and now you have the rest of your career ahead of you. It's up to you now to make the most of it.
I just want to point out a few more things, and maybe some tips to know before you go. First thing is that you should know what an officer is, and learn a bit about customs and courtesies. No, you will not see a lot of officers in BMT besides your commander, and he or she is going to be cool as hell, but you should know the proper respects to give to them. Know to salute them outdoors, and to stand when they enter the room. Learn what their uniforms look like. A hint is to look at their hat instead of their arms. Their hat has their rank on it, whereas your enlisted folks don't. I know this sounds stupid to people who know about this stuff already, but you should do a little bit of homework before you go.
Also, I failed to mention KP duty (kitchen patrol), where you just wash dishes and stuff all day. It sucks, but volunteer to do it, it's a day where you don't get yelled at, plus you get ice cream at the end, usually.
The worst part of BMT? The other trainees. Seriously. I can handle a TI yelling at me all day, that's fine. The trainees literally lose their mind and can drive you insane. I blame this on the fact I went in as an old man, though, and seeing a bunch of 18-20 year olds try to boss you around was irritating to no end. I understand now, as I have Lieutenants and Captains who are about my age who outrank me by a mile, and they can boss me around as they please. However, in operational Air Force, they don't abuse their power (at least not so far) like the morons in BMT. That was the worst.
The best part of BMT? It was an awesome experience. I got to do so many cool things that I never thought I would or could do. It pushes your limits, and makes you question yourself, and you become a better person because of it.
So, that's about it! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I'll answer whatever I can. Good luck and have fun. Don't be scared of BMT, be excited of the experience.