Unlike the Marine Corps, which sends officer candidates directly to Officer Candidate School, the Army requires all officer candidates (who are not prior service enlisted) to attend Basic Combat Training (“boot camp”) prior to moving on to OCS. At present, BCT is a 10-week program that focuses on basic fitness, elementary soldiering skills, and military discipline. Basic Training sets a common foundation for all Soldiers regardless of their follow-on training.
Dispense with whatever you’ve seen in movies. Basic training isn’t particularly hard if you apply yourself, stay motivated and focused, and take it as a chance to learn everything you can about the Army and Soldiering. If you find Basic Training to be hard, you should reconsider your decision to attend OCS.
If you want to thrive in Basic, the first thing you should do is shut up. Nobody cares if you are heading to OCS after graduation day, and you certainly won’t endear yourself to your drill sergeants if you think you are a big deal. You aren’t even an officer candidate in Basic, and the more you try to take charge or strut your stuff, the harder your life will become. Your fellow recruits will mock you and your drill sergeants will make sure you have plenty of assignments and extra physical training if you really insist on being that special person.
The second thing you should do is recognize that your drill sergeants are smarter than you. Some of my drill sergeants held post-graduate degrees. Your ability to respect a non-commissioned officer (NCO) will determine your success or failure as a future junior officer, and if you can’t recognize that your drill sergeants are technical and tactical experts with a deep reservoir of knowledge that you can tap into and learn from, you are lost in the sauce.
The third rule for success in in Basic is applying yourself in everything thrown your way. None of it is terribly hard, but if you barely pay attention during land navigation training, refuse to push yourself during morning PT or on road marches, and don’t take warrior tasks seriously, you’ve suddenly made your life that much harder during OCS. You won’t emerge from basic training as a super soldier, far from it, but if you pay attention you will learn things that will come in handy during the more intense training that takes place in OCS.
The final important thing to remember is that it takes a team. If you aren’t a team player, the team won’t help you and you will fail. The Army is a team sport and passing any school will require teamwork. Help your battle buddies, pay attention to detail, and work together. The reason there is a lot of confusion in the early weeks of Basic is because a bunch of individuals are slowly learning that the only way they will make time hacks and meet standards is if they help one another out.
Stay motivated and enjoy Basic. The hardest part is not talking with family and friends (get used to writing letters with pen and paper) and standing in line. No joke. You will spend a lot of time standing in line, it’s called “hurry up and wait” and it teaches patience.
Apart from a freak physical injury or accident, recruits don’t wash out of Basic training, they quit of their own accord.
The author is currently a 2LT in the Army National Guard. He’s a recent product of OCS and he’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. Hit him up at Twitter.com/BrianSikma or check out his blog here.