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United States Army Basic Training (also known as Initial Entry Training or IET) is the program of physical and mental training required in order for an individual to become a soldier in the United States Army, United States Army Reserve, or Army National Guard. It is carried out at several different Army posts around the United States. Basic Training is designed to be highly intense and challenging. The challenge comes as much from the difficulty of physical training as it does from the required quick psychological adjustment to an unfamiliar way of life.
Basic Training is divided into two parts: Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training.
Basic Combat Training (BCT) consists of the first ten weeks of the total Basic Training period, and is identical for all Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard recruits. This is where individuals learn about the fundamentals of being a soldier, from combat techniques to the proper way to address a superior. BCT is also where individuals undergo rigorous physical training to prepare their bodies and their minds for the eventual physical and mental strain of combat. One of the most difficult and essential lessons learned in BCT is self-discipline, as it introduces prospective soldiers to a strict daily schedule that entails many duties and high expectations for which most civilians are not immediately ready.
Advanced Individual Training (AIT) consists of the remainder of the total Basic Training period, and is where recruits train in the specifics of their chosen field. As such, AIT is different for each available Army career path, or Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). For example, if an individual has an MOS of Human Intelligence Collector, they would be sent, following completion of BCT, to the Intelligence School at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. If an individual instead had the MOS of Army medic, they would be sent, after BCT, to the Army Medical Department School at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. AIT courses can last anywhere from 6 to 52 weeks. Although many AIT schools don't center around combat the way BCT does, individuals are still continually tested for physical fitness and weapons proficiency, and upon MOS, may be subject to the same duties, strict daily schedule, and disciplinary rules as in BCT.
Drill sergeants are the instructors responsible for most of the training that takes place in Basic Training. They accompany recruits throughout the training process, instructing and correcting them in everything from firing weapons to the correct way to address a superior, and are also largely responsible for the safety of recruits. They are recognizable by their distinctive headgear (campaign hats), often called "Smokey Bear" hats, as they resemble that character's round park ranger-style hat.
Most AIT courses have begun using platoon sergeants in an attempt to implement the chain-of-command by having the trainees respect military rank rather than merely recognizing the drill sergeant's hat.
"Battle buddies" generally refer to partners in a combat scenario. However, throughout Basic Training, the term is used to describe a disciplinary principle whereby recruits are generally prohibited from walking anywhere alone. When traveling away from the platoon or a drill sergeant, recruits are expected to travel in pairs, known as battle buddies. Battle buddies are sometimes assigned, or can be chosen by recruits when the need to travel arises.
A typical day in Basic Training generally follows this schedule. Times can change depending on location, commanding officers, or when drill sergeants see a need for variation.
|0430||First Call||Wake up and perform personal morning tasks. For males, shaving is mandatory every morning.|
|0500||Physical Training (PT)||Line up in company area, perform morning physical training (calisthenics and running).|
|0630||Training||Begin the day's scheduled training exercises.|
|1230||Training||Continue the day's scheduled training exercises.|
|1730||Drill sergeant time||Time for drill sergeants to talk to the recruits about any subject they may think requires attention.|
Mail call is also performed during this time.
|2000||Personal time||Time for recruits to engage in personal activities, such as writing letters, doing laundry, showering, or simply relaxing.|
Recruits may also catch up on platoon duties during this time, such as barracks cleaning or wall locker organization.
Every night, at least two recruits from the platoon must be awake at any given time, patrolling their barracks area, watching for fires, cleaning the barracks, and watching for recruits attempting to leave the barracks area. They wake the next pair of recruits at the end of their two-hour shift. This duty is called fire guard.
Fire guard stems back to the days of wooden barracks and wood-burning stoves. The fire guard would watch the stoves to make sure that the barracks would not catch fire. Since open flames are not generally used to heat sleeping areas anymore present-day fire guard during Basic Training is more an exercise in discipline than a practical necessity, although if the weather gets cold enough some groups conducting overnight outdoor training will still use a kerosene "pot bellied" stove which must be watched to prevent accidental fires.
Charge of Quarters, commonly called CQ, functions in a somewhat similar manner. CQ shifts rotate throughout the entire company, with just two recruits from the company staying awake per shift. The actual Charge of Quarters is the drill sergeant, and the pair of recruits staying awake are the "runners", meaning that they perform tasks for the CQ. They perform some of the same duties as the fire guard shift. Only the CQ on duty is permitted to open the barracks doors, and the runners must alert the CQ if someone else attempts to enter or leave the barracks.
For many hands-on instructional sessions, recruits are transported to other locations on-post that specialize in the given subject. For instance, a class on the use of the Claymore anti-personnel land mine is given at a location where a field is already set up with the appropriate props for the simulation, including fake claymores that recruits can practice on. Classes are also given in the use of the AT4 shoulder-fired anti-tank missile launcher. For this class, recruits are brought to a mock battlefield riddled with decommissioned tanks and other vehicles. Each recruit fires a trainer AT4 weapon, loaded with tracer ammunition, at various targets on the battlefield. For weaponry training that involves only the use of fake weapons, one real demonstration of the actual weapon is usually performed. For example, at claymore training, one real claymore may be rigged and remotely detonated; and at AT4 training, one recruit (usually the one with the highest rifle qualification score) is chosen to fire a live AT4.
Those who enlist in the National Guard or Army Reserves can select split-option training (called Split-Op for short)
The location where a recruit is sent for Basic Training depends on his or her chosen Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS, which is selected upon enlistment. Recruits requiring air transportation to their training locations are flown via commercial flight at the US Army's expense.
With some MOSs, both the BCT and AIT phases of training are accomplished back-to-back at the same location, with the same instructors, as well as with the same fellow recruits. This is called One Station Unit Training, or OSUT. For example, the Infantry MOS consists of the usual BCT followed by five weeks of AIT, all within the same location. A similar program is followed for Cavalry Scouts, Tank Crewmen, Military Police and some Engineer MOSs.
The U.S. Army has four sites for BCT:
Female Army recruits are sent to all basic training sites as of 2013.
AIT is held at the corresponding school for the recruit's MOS.
For more information on the different AIT schools, see Advanced Individual Training below.
Reception Battalion (RECBN) is the period that begins when the recruit arrives at the Army post where he or she is to undergo Basic Training. It typically lasts 4 to 10 days, and is where initial preparations for training are performed, including:
The recruits who fail the physical assessment test can be held back at Reception Battalion, where they are placed in Fitness Training Company (FTC), sometimes referred to in slang form as "Fat Camp." FTC involves daily, rigorous physical training and diet monitoring by Master Fitness Trainers (MFTs). Recruits in FTC are given 2 chances each week to complete the physical assessment test, and upon passing are allowed to move on to the next phase of Basic Training. Recruits that spend 4 weeks in FTC without passing the physical assessment test (failing the test 8 times) may be discharged from the Army via an Entry Level Separation (see Discharge from Basic Training below).
Recruits that sustain injuries during Basic Training, such as a broken arm, may also be assigned to a FTC for rehabilitation.
Basic Combat Training, or BCT, is a ten-week training period that teaches identical skills for all MOSs (Military Occupational Specialties). This is because the Army believes that no matter the soldier's specialty, they should all be taught the same basic procedures and skill set so they are ready to properly work together and defend themselves, as well as their fellow soldiers, if/when necessary.
BCT is divided into three phases. The three phases are each represented by a color: red, white, and blue, for Phase I, II, and III, respectively. BCT trainees are progressively allowed more responsibility, privileges, and independence each time they achieve a new phase of training. Whereas trainees in Phase I are constantly monitored and led around by their drill sergeants, Phase III trainees are largely responsible for making sure tasks are completed correctly and on-time, and keeping themselves on-schedule.
At some Basic Training stations, the current phase is denoted by the color of guidon carried by the platoon. Following the recruits' successful completion of the Field Training Exercise (a final exercise just before graduation), the Phase III blue guidon is sometimes traded for a tri-color red, white, and blue guidon that symbolizes successful completion of all three BCT phases.
During Phase I or "Red Phase", also called the "Patriot phase" recruits are subject to "Total Control", meaning their every action is monitored and constantly corrected by drill sergeants. Recruits are often subjected to group corrective action for even minor infractions, the purpose being to develop an acute attention to detail and foster a sense of common responsibility among the unit.
Week 1 begins with the recruits meeting the drill sergeants who will be responsible for their training throughout BCT. The drill sergeants pick up their recruits from Reception Battalion and either transport or march them to their company area. The company area is the common area for the entire company (200 recruits), and is surrounded by four barracks — one for each platoon (50 recruits each) in the company.
Upon arrival at the company area, recruits are subjected to exercises such as the "bag drill". This is a training exercise in which all the recruits' duffel bags are dumped into one large pile, and the recruits are told to find their personal duffel bags simultaneously, and within a set time limit. The exercise is designed so that the soldiers fail in their task and must keep trying again, until they realize that they must work together in order to complete the task within the time limit. Following the bag drill, the recruits are divided into platoons.
Drill & Ceremony training begins during week 1. This refers to correct procedures for marching, and body movements such as standing at attention, "facing" (right-face/left-face), "at ease", "to the rear" and others. For this and many other exercises, soldiers are sometimes issued fake rifles known as "rubber ducks", so that they can become familiar with the proper handling and added weight of their weapon before they have actually been trained to use it. More recently, recruits have begun to be issued fully functional M16A2/A4s during the first week of BCT to allow for early familiarization with the weapon.
Classroom instructions are given in each of the seven "Army Core Values," which include loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage (meant to spell out the mnemonic LDRSHIP, or "leadership"). There are also classes held on subjects that involve day-to-day personal life in the Army, such as sexual harassment and race relations.
During week 2, recruits begin unarmed combat training, also known as hand-to-hand combat, Combatives, or Ground Fighting Technique (GFT). The training often culminates in a competition where each platoon chooses one recruit to compete. At gender-integrated training stations, the platoons each choose one male and one female.
Recruits are also instructed in map reading, land navigation, and compass use. These skills are put to the test at the Compass Course, where recruits are divided into groups and must navigate their way to a series of points throughout a wooded area.
Recruits will also tackle Victory Tower and the Teamwork Development Course during week 2. Victory Tower is an exercise where recruits must navigate through several obstacles at extreme heights, including climbing and traversing rope ladders and bridges. They must then rappel down a 50-foot wall (back-first, with rope harness). In the Teamwork Development Course, squads must negotiate a series of obstacles, with emphasis on working as a team rather than as individuals.
First aid training, known as Combat Life Saver (CLS), is also given during this period. Recruits are trained in evaluating and properly treating casualties, ranging from dressing a wound to application of a tourniquet and dehydration treatment.
Recruits begin training with pugil sticks, methods for carrying an unconscious or immobile person, and physical problem solving, such as finding a way to carry equipment from point A to point B given specific obstacles and constraints.
Recruits are also commonly sent to the "gas chamber" during this week, which is a large, sealed chamber where soldiers are subjected to CS gas while wearing their protective masks. The gas chamber is the culmination of a series of classroom instructions on gas mask use. Recruits are forced to unmask just before exiting the chamber, so that they can briefly experience the effects of the gas. Drill sergeants will usually ask each recruit to recite information while they are unmasked, such as name, social security number, or the Pledge of Allegiance, so that the recruit is forced to open their mouth/eyes and/or take a breath while demonstrating continued focus. Recruits that answer incorrectly are sometimes sent for another trip through the gas chamber.
Week 3 is also when the recruits are introduced to their standard-issue weapon, the M16A2 assault rifle or the M4 carbine. This does not yet involve the actual firing of the rifle. It does include Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM) fundamentals training (instruction in marksmanship techniques without firing the rifle), as well as maintenance tasks, including "field stripping" (quickly disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling) the rifle. Many of these tasks are now done during Week 1 as a part of the initial round of classroom instruction.
Phase II, called the "White Phase" or "Gunfighter Phase", is where soldiers begin actually firing weapons. With the service rifle (M16A2), they will fire at various targets, which are progressively further downrange, making each successive target more difficult to hit, with additional pop-up targets at long range. Other weapons the soldier becomes familiar with include various hand grenades (such as the M67), grenade launchers (such as the M203), and machine guns (such as the M240, M249, and M2). The second week of Phase II involves familiarization with anti-tank/armor weaponry and other heavy weapons.
There is also an obstacle course which the soldiers are expected to negotiate within a certain time limit, known as the "confidence course", since the main objective is to build self-confidence. There is also the expectation of working as a team with the assigned Battle Buddy.
Additionally, there is continual, intense physical training, as well as drill and ceremony training. At the conclusion of Phase II, soldiers are expected to demonstrate proficiency with the various weaponry in which they trained, using numerous "go or no-go" (pass/fail) exercises, prior to being allowed to move on to Phase III.
Phase III, the "Blue Phase" or "Warrior Phase" is the culmination and the most challenging of all the training phases. During this phase, there is a PT final. At some locations, soldiers that fail are not allowed to go into the field with the rest of the platoon. The Final PT Test consists of the Standard Army Annual PT Examination. A minimum of 150 points is required to pass US Army Basic Training. Those that pass will move on to "Bivouac" (camping) and FTX (Field Training Exercises), such as nighttime combat operations and MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) training. There is no access to the dining facility during these exercises, so meals are given in the form of either MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) or "hot alphas". Drill sergeants will make much of this an adversarial process, working against the recruits in many of the night operations, trying to foil plans, etc. Other BCT companies also in their FTX weeks may join in simulated combat scenarios, generally at night, with intense competition to prove their particular company the better trained.
Week 2 of Phase III (the 8th week of Basic Training) culminates in a special tactical FTX (Field Training Exercise), during which the drill sergeants will advise, but allow recruit platoon leaders and squad leaders to exercise primary decision-making. They attempt to make virtually every one of these exercises different. Because being a soldier is potentially an extremely hazardous job, recruits must demonstrate extreme aggression and fearlessness, tempered by intelligence and common sense. Only those that demonstrate these vital attributes will be permitted to move on to AIT (Advanced Individual Training).
Following their FTX, recruits then move into the final week of training, often called "recovery week". At this time, soldiers must service and/or repair any items they are not taking on to AIT including weapons, bedding, issued equipment (helmet, canteen, gas mask, etc.) as well as ensuring the platoon barracks is in good order to receive the next platoon of trainees. This week also includes a final fitting of the recruit's dress uniform as well as practice for the graduation ceremony which takes place at the end of the week.
Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, is where new soldiers receive specific training in their chosen MOS. The length of AIT training varies depending on the MOS and can last anywhere from three weeks to nearly two years. The current longest AIT training lasts 84 weeks (1-year and 8 months).
Just like in BCT, AIT progressively allows trainees more privileges and independence. Trainees begin AIT in Phase IV. After a varying length of time and satisfactory performance, trainees are awarded Phase V. Phase V often includes the privilege of applying for off-post passes or use of a cell phone. Phase V+ is awarded after a similar length of time and continued good conduct. Phase V+ trainees may walk about the base without having a battle buddy present, be able to drink alcohol on weekends (provided one is of legal drinking age), and even stay off-post overnight on weekends. These privileges vary.
Army AIT schools include (not a complete list):
A recruit can be discharged from the Army before the conclusion of Basic Training. Discharges that occur before the completion of 180 days (approximately 6 months) of training are considered uncharacterized, which are neither honorable nor less than honorable.