Basic Combat Training (BCT) is the first experience of anyone's official US Army career, unless you are going through a One Site Unit Training (OSUT) MOS. BCT is followed by Advanced Individual Training (AIT), at which point most soldiers' Initial Entry Training (IET) status is complete and they begin their stint in the real, functional army.

The most common locations for BCT are Fort Jackson, South Carolina and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

My experience with BCT was in the so-called "new army". This new army is the "Army Of One", as opposed to the old "Be All You Can Be" Army. I've been told how different things were back in that day, and I cannot begin to understand or explain to you that old army. The following is BCT as I know it.

BCT is 9 weeks long. The concept is simple: Soldiers come from all walks of life. Mentally and physically break down everyone to the same scum-of-the-earth level and build everyone back up into fine, upstanding soldiers. These soldiers will be the model of efficiency, uniformity, and mental and physical strength.

There are three phases in BCT, designated Red Phase, White Phase, and Blue Phase.

Red Phase begins the minute you get off that bus or plane. Drill Sergeants (the guys with the funny hats and loud voices) live up to everything you know from Major Payne and Fox's 'Boot Camp'. Stepping off that bus, when your feet hit the ground, they had better be running. You'll be told to hold your bags over your head, or stuff your faces in your bags, or anything degrading. Where am I headed so fast, you may wonder. The answer: Shakedown.

Shakedown is designed to scare the shit out of you. Every Shakedown is different but I'll outline mine for reference. 200 or so new soldiers are rounded up into a gymnasium and stood in what we soon learn is a military formation. The first thing I actually noticed was the voice of a loud annoying Drill Sergeant on an amplified microphone. The voice would have been smooth and tonal if not for the raspy edge and monotony of it.

"Keep em up. Keep em up at shoulder levelllllllllll. Keep em up. Get em up. Up, up, up."

What the hell is he yelling about? Well looking around I saw everyone standing with their arms out at shoulder level, much like they were trying to execute an iron cross without the benefit (or hindrance) of the rings. What ensued was what seemed like an hour of standing there with that inane voice always as the background noise and other Drill Sergeants walking up and down our ranks. When you put your arms down (I say 'when', not 'if', since it was humanly impossible not to, for as long as we had them up) you were suddenly surrounded by screaming Drill Sergeants with their hats in your face. Somehow there were more hat brims than Drill Sergeants. I still don't know how they pulled that one.

In that gym we were taught the basics of how to let ourselves be punished - for instance, the military method of doing pushups. They abide by the principle that if you mentally and physically break someone down, the two play off each other and it is more effective. After the shake down, there are still 3 weeks of Red Phase to look forward to.

During the rest of Red Phase, the main foci were physical training, obedience, and uniformity. Little sleep, little food, and constantly getting yelled at and degraded for stupid crap someone else did all help break you down to where they can start building you up again.

White Phase is the start of building you up. You are taught soldiering tasks and aren't responsible for everyone's actions anymore - it's common to get smoked with your platoon instead of with your whole company for doing something wrong. The thought behind that is that everyone needs to help out their buddies and speak up when something is wrong.

Blue Phase brings with it the end of Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM) and desserts at the mess hall. BRM is a hurdle many people have trouble with, having never handled weapons before. In Blue Phase, accountability for your actions is more on each individual than on the group. That means you don't lose morale when you get in trouble for some dipshit who stole a pie from the chow hall.

Graduation from BCT is a wonderful thing. While I feel that I did pretty well in keeping my nose clean and keeping my morale up no matter what, BCT is not a place you want to stay. For the first and only time, the Drill Sergeants congratulate you and may even tell you a few things you did correctly or well throughout the course.

After BCT comes AIT.

Okay. Mr. pihwlook did a pretty decent job of describing what BCT is like from a simple overview, but there's a little more to it than that. Let me give you a brief look inside of basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma (which I couldn't help but notice was left out of the major training sites):

The first few weeks were the worst. I knew practically nothing about the military prior to enlisting. Nothing about rank structure. Nothing about military history. Not even the difference between an officer and an NCO (non-commissioned officer). Nada. So, as you can imagine, I was already trying to ice skate uphill.

As has been mentioned above, BCT is roughly divided into three phases: red, white and blue. Each lasts approximately three weeks, and more 'freedom' (read: basic human rights) is given to you at each phase. Not that you can really notice any difference; the different phases really just serve as reminders that you are making progress, and not trapped in purgatory for all eternity. And not a nice purgatory. This is a purgatory where angry men with personality disorders hold absolute power over you. And they do not like you.

Ahem. Sorry, PTSD kicked in there. But seriously, most of basic is like a stretched-out, very painful root canal. It sucks, seems to last forever, but often gives you interesting stories to tell later. For example, we were out at the rifle range one day towards the end of basic. We were very strongly cautioned to keep our weapons aimed downrange, since nobody wanted an accident. Of course, somebody had to screw it up. We were in our firing postions inside of sunken concrete tubes, which were appx. three feet across and five feet deep. The soldier in question turned to ask the drill sergeant something, apparently forgetting that he had a loaded weapon with the safety off pointing at the drill sergeant's face. About three minutes later, two other drill sergeants were able to pull the first off of the now-severely beaten soldier. What happened? The drill sergeant (DS B. for short) jumped into the tube with the soldier, grabbed him by collar and belt, and began hammering him against the concrete walls. Fortunately, the foolish bastard was wearing his helmet, and was able to stagger away with no major injuries.

Similar incidents occured, of course. Now, drill sergeants aren't directly allowed to injure you anymore. They will, of course. They're just more creative about it. They can either make you hurt yourself through intense physical fitness training, or "teach you about applied self-defense". These were both favorites of my platoon drill sergeant, a black belt in aikido. The latter usually consisted of him picking a soldier who had been pissing him off, and then proceeding to throw said soldier around like a rag doll until he was tired of it.

Now, add in sleep deprivation, intense physical and emotional stressors ( bad food, constant physical exercise, bad men yelling at you, 108 degree weather) and you might have some inkling of what a "good" basic training experience is like.

Of course, there is a continuing trend these days to "integrate" male and female BCT programs, and there is a lot of contreversy over it. Most males that have been through it complain that it felt too "watered-down" or was run at too slow of a physical pace to challenge them. Or, if you prefer to experience it yourself, we're always hiring :) Just ask for Fort Sill or Fort Benning if you want a "real" basic training experience.

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