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.