Get a Female's Perspective of Air Force Basic Training
Surviving Air Force Basic Training
Arriving at the Military Reception Center at the San Antonio Airport did not have any TIs there waiting for us, or any military personnel whatsoever. I arrived early afternoon, and the next bus to Lackland AFB was not coming until 1700. I was one of the first few people to sit in the pews and made small talk as more and more people started arriving. The bus did not arrive until around 1800, and it was just a civilian driving a commercial bus.
We all were getting a little nervous as we came closer to Lackland. All of us were expecting TIs to suddenly swarm around us the second we arrived and start screaming in our faces about how stupid we were and how dumb we looked.
When we finally did arrive, an NCO stepped onto the bus and told us to grab our bags and get off, but he wasn't yelling or anything. There were a couple more outside who rushed us into a trainee processing building, but still no screaming. We all filed into a room and sat down at little desks. Another NCO proceeded to brief us, then we filled out a bunch of papers for in-processing. One of the things they told us to write down was 331 TRS -- that's when I found out which training squadron I was assigned to. I had forgotten what I heard about it, though, so I did not know what to expect. There were some males from the 319 TRS there doing details (the 319th is where med holds and discharges go), and a couple of them were outside with us after we had completed the paperwork and fell out into the formation.
We were then bused over to our squadron -- the lovely 331 TRS, located all by itself, as opposed to Hotel Row, where 4 TRS are located, and right next to the little BX with the Burger King (which was forbidden). We were herded upstairs the dorm on the 2nd floor and were told to stand next to a wall locker.
Each wall locker had a corresponding bed (locker 12 to bed 12) and so forth. We locked up our valuables in our security drawer. There were already several females who had arrived who were already sleeping. We took showers and got ready for bed, then the lights were out. At 0445 the OJT dorm guards (trainees or airmen weeks ahead of us performing dorm guard and keeping us in line and telling us what to do during the night hours until we learned to do dorm guard) woke us up. But it was not that bad -- one of them just turned the lights on and said: "get up." But not all mornings were like that. And it was that day, our first actual day, that the screaming and shock and terror started. Our TIs let the games begin.
You will need toothpaste, toothbrush, body wash, deodorant, etc. However, on our first BX run, they told us everything had to be the same, and one of our TIs, in particular, favored the small travel-sized shampoo and certain razors and stuff. So we had to buy that stuff all over again at the BX. Most of us started using our other stuff (stowed away in our security drawer in our "personal belongings" containers) after the first couple of weeks. It didn't really matter as long as your drawer was in order.
Oh well. At least all that stuff I bought beforehand I can use at home now. You may choose to do it either way. They're always messing with you and different TIs will give you different instructions, so everything conflicts and gets frustrating. Your civilian luggage will be locked up in a closet in the dorm, so make sure you take everything out that you need. You won't be able to get into it again until right before graduation.
In the beginning, the TIs will try to rip your flight apart and ground it into the dirt. They will try to pit everybody against everybody so that it's impossible to be a team. That's when you have to unite and create the determination and resolve you are going to so desperately need for training. They are set on breaking you all down; it's up to you and your flight to build yourselves back up.
One of the TIs' favorite things to do is threaten. "You're recycled! You better be packing your bags tonight!" "Hell will freeze over before I see you graduate!" And they seem deadly serious. They might go so far as to have a trainee pack his bags and head out before they so compassionately decide to keep him or her in the flight. But their threats created a lot of frightening moments during BMT.
AETC (Air Education and Training Command) Form 341 is referred to as simply a 341 (three forty-one) in basic. These little slips of paper have your name, rank, roster number, flight and TRS written on them. They record excellence on your part or discipline administered and for what reason. It is rare that a TI will take one from you for display of excellence. 99.9% of the time a TI will take one from you for doing something wrong - failing to salute an officer, executing an improper facing movement, incorrect reporting statement or loss of military bearing. Anything and everything they can take a 341 for. They are folded into fourths lengthwise, and 3 must be kept in your left cargo pant pocket at all times. If you are Reserve or Guard, a copy of your orders must be kept there also. And when you earn your Airman's Coin, that too will be placed into that pocket. Anyone can take a 341 from you, even some civilians are given authority to do so. They are returned to your TI usually by the end of the same day or sometime soon after. But just remember, the only time 341 counts is if your TI has you sign it. I had one pulled during the entire time, along with several other females. One of the Blue Ropes had us stocking coolers with Gatorade for the Warrior Challenge event. He gave us instructions on how to do it: "These Gatorade in those boxes are new, but the ones in the closet are the old ones, but you only want to use these over here, and one of this one and one of that box" and so on. We were all so confused that we didn't really know what to do. He left and we ended opening up 2 more boxes than we were supposed to. He ripped us for that and pulled a 341 from each of us. He asked who told everyone else to open more boxes, but no one did, we all just kind of did our own thing. He asked each of us to explain, and before we even got done with our reporting statement he'd be like, "No. Whatever. Next." So we didn't even get a chance. But oh well. None of us had to sign the 341s.
Your personal hygiene items are kept in your security drawer in a specific order and arrangement. Your security drawer also holds your valuables and anything else like letters, stationary, appointment slips, whatever. You have 2 keys to your drawer, and wear them around your neck just about every moment in BMT. Always have them tucked into your shirt; you'll get into trouble if you have your keys hanging out. You have the right to brush your teeth every morning and night, and to take a shower every night. At Warrior Week a lot of us showered once or none at all because it was so cold and there was seemingly no time for showers. There was, but the prospect of freezing made us hesitant. The showers were hot, but it's just difficult getting showers in at Warrior Week.
Zero week, by far, is the worst week of BMT. You can't do anything right. I broke down the third night and during several nights after. I hated it with a passion and was hoping I had some disease or something that would get me discharged. There are tons of in-processing and appointments you go to. Luckily, my flight got uniforms issued the second day, so we did not have to wear civilians long. It's hard to eat at first with all the TIs rushing you and in your face in the chow hall. There's even an entire set of procedures to follow in the chow hall, which we had been briefed on the night before. Of course we couldn't remember everything, and of course, you can't really do facing movements right yet so they'll get you for that in the chow hall. (As you progress through training they have you do facing, flanking and saluting in the chow hall for practice purposes.)
Attention to detail is stressed. There are tons of papers and rosters to sign. If you put punctuation or write illegibly or screw up because you did not do it EXACTLY the way the TIs said to, then you get reamed. Of course, there was always at least one screw up every time. It gets to be so nerve-wracking just writing your name or a number down. Lots of briefings - how to maintain your wall locker, make your bed, use reporting statements, facing movements and marching, etc, etc, etc. Within the first few nights, the TIs will pick a dorm chief to be in charge of the entire flight, and 4 element leaders, one for each row of beds. They said they usually select these student leaders by who stands out, maybe even just because they're quiet but get their stuff done, or those who are more assertive and confident, or older and mature. Or just because they want to pick a person out of the blue. It all depends on your TIs. Student leaders have tough jobs demanding a lot of accountability and responsibility. Like if someone in the flight screws up something, the dorm chief may have to pay for the mistake. If someone does not have their reporting procedures straight, their element leader will get busted. And sometimes the TIs would make the screw-up drop their leader, and that would make it all that much harder on both of them. You are always carrying around your canteen with your TRS and bed number (the phrase "1/2 to 3/4 a canteen per hour, not to exceed 12 per day" will become burned into your brain), and that wonderful black portfolio with a pen, notebook and BMTSG (Basic Military Training Study Guide) so that you can study at every possible moment -- outside chow, appointments, in the dayroom. Pretty soon you are going to have to know your entire chain of command, from the President to your Dorm Chief, and their rank insignia and paygrade. Learn them left to right, the right to left, diagonally and every which way, because you will be drilled on it, especially at the snake pit where all the TIs sit in the chow hall. Learn it, and know your stuff backwards and forwards.
We actually did not do details or dorm guard (which I'll explain later) until the 1st week of training. Everybody was assigned details during an evening briefing (after chow, a time when you all get into the dayroom and go over stuff with your TI; it's usually pretty informal - an end-of-the-day thing). They would ask who has confidence, and people would raise their hands, and he would select a dorm guard monitor (an extremely tough job, particularly during the first couple of weeks). Or who had sighted a rifle -- and there you have your bed and shoe aligners. Questions like that so they can put the most capable people in each position. Or, if you tick them off, or just because they want to, they can assign you to any detail. The worst ones are road guard and chow runner. In the beginning, our TI picked those out because they kept messing up or just ticked him off. (In the end, however, one of them was chosen for honor grad.) And if you don't raise your hand and volunteer, you will get some of the worst details. Like I tried to stay in the background and was one of the last ones to get picked for something. I was put on latrine crew, which was nasty, but not all that bad (interestingly we later found out our TI was latrine crew when he went through BMT). And for each detail, a "chief" is chosen to head up the rest of the crew - latrine queen, bed aligner chief, utility room chief, etc. They are usually the ones to get reamed when something isn't right with their detail, so they don't fail to get on their crews to have their stuff done right.
On another note, some of you may be wondering about laundry and dry cleaning. Your TIs will assign a laundry crew. They'll be responsible for collecting and handing out laundry. Hanging on your end-of-bed display is a green drawstring laundry bag with a zipper opening at one end (use the zipper opening because it's much easier than taking apart the drawstring end, which has to be kept a specific way). Inside are 3 white plastic bags with twist ties and 4 white zippered mesh bags. The plastic bags are for wet laundry like towels (and for those wet BDUs if you fell in the water at the confidence course like 97% of us did). The mesh bags are for your underclothes. Black wool and cotton socks and other dark items go together, and white bras and underwear and like-colored clothing are placed in another bag. Keep them separate if you don't want your whites appearing strange brown and gray colors. Laundry crew will periodically collect and return all laundry items, but don't be too surprised if stuff turns up missing. It's just a matter of fact with laundry at basic. The washing/drying machines at basic are junk. You get your clothing back and it looks just about the same, perhaps a bit better. At least it smells a little better. BDUs and blues are always dry cleaned. There's a dry cleaner located on the bottom floor of every squadron. Right now it's $4.00 for a BDU set, $2.65 for a blue blouse, and if you want other specific prices, I actually have my receipts still. But anyway, it all adds up. They tell you, in the beginning, to wear your BDUs (and later on your blues) no more than 2 consecutive days. Of course, we followed the rules tightly in the beginning, but as you progress, you learn the tricks of the trade. There's no way we were spending so much money on dry cleaning if we did not have to. Some of us wore our BDUs for almost 2 weeks. That may sound pretty gross, but hey, it's basic training. You get used to nasty things. As for our blues, we would not exactly dry clean them every second time; most of us would simply iron whatever we needed the next day. By the way, at first, you have your night display with a BDU set on the hanger hanging on the front of the wall locker (and your portfolio and a 341 on your chair). By the end, you will start hanging the BDUs as a day display too because you will have your blues on night display. I have detailed descriptions of all this in my BMTSG and the order of items for inspections is still fresh in my mind. Ask any questions you want, but you will learn this material well while there.
Early on your flight will learn how to conduct "dust drills." It's pretty much dusting your dorm top to bottom with your hands and on your hands and knees. Good stuff. One of your flight members will yell out the commands, and the rest of the flight will echo the command as they do it. Echoing is something you learn to do really well and really often in BMT. On a side note, we actually don't sound off to the TIs unless we are specifically told to do so (on rare occasions) or reciting our motto or singing the Air Force song or something of that sort. But anyway, during dust drills you will hear commands like, "Top of your wall locker! Windowsill! The side of your wall locker! Top baseboard! Bottom baseboard! Between the wall lockers! Chair! In front of your wall locker! End posts! Bed rails! Vertical rails! Horizontal rails! Between your bed and your neighbor's bed! Beneath your bed and your neighbor's bed!" And so on until "Center aisle, center tile! Prepare for the first sweep!" Then the sweeper comes down to collect all the dust and dirt and junk. I seriously don't know where all the huge dust bunnies come from throughout the day and night in San Antonio. They probably rig the dorms that way so they're harder to clean. Then it's off for a second exciting dust drill.
Your wall locker is kept a very specific way. We had things we did to make our delightful stay in BMT a little bit easier. Your left side of the wall locker holds your BDUs, field jacket, and PC clothes among other things. We learned to keep 2 sets of BDUs untouched in our wall lockers. They would be dry cleaned, then we'd clip all the strings, remove the dry cleaning stickers and properly place the uniform on a serviceable hanger. That way we wouldn't have to mess with them anymore and they'd always be ready for inspection. (But always do a double-check just before inspections to make sure the uniform has not shifted on the hanger or more strings haven't popped out). And your clothing drawer has towels, underwear, bras, pantyhose, brown t-shirts and socks. Everything must show signs of use (except the pantyhose), so use them as little as possible, preferably once if you can, then wash it and properly fold and place it in your drawer so that you can leave it like that for inspections. Some people in other flights told us that they actually used and then folded everything in their drawers all the time, but we saw it as a waste of time. Correctly folding and tweaking and grounding and making flush towels and brown t-shirts alone takes hours upon hours. Make wise use of your time.
Taps sounds at 2100 Sunday through Thursday night and reveille blasts at 0445 Monday through Friday morning. I thought reveille was kind of cool before I arrived at BMT. I quickly learned to hate it. On Friday and Saturday nights taps were at 2200 and on Saturday and Sunday mornings reveille was at 0545. Same goes for holidays. But if a holiday is on Monday, then the following Saturday is a regular duty day with regular duty hours because you already had weekend hours on Monday.
Most weekday mornings your flight has to fall out into formation downstairs under the overhang. From reveille, you have around 10-15 minutes, maybe less, to get dressed, fill your canteen, grab your portfolio and stampede down the stairs. Once in formation, there is accountability (when the TI or dorm chief yells out to whoever is taking accountability, usually another TI or NCO, "Sir/Ma'am, flight ___ all present and accounted for!" Sometimes it ends at that and you fall back upstairs. But usually, we would have the "briefing of the day," which somehow managed to be the same thing every day -- "Drink 1/2 to 3/4 a canteen per hour, not to exceed 12 per day. Use the handrails when ascending and descending the stairs. Salute all properly marked staff vehicles. Blah blah blah." Then we'd sing the first verse of the Air Force song, followed by the 3 core values - excellence, integrity, service before self. And sometimes after that, we would shout out our squadron's motto chant thing (I am not sure what it's called. Not every squadron has them. They would ask, "What is a 331st Trainee?" We would yell back, "Sir/Ma'am, a 331st Trainee is Motivated, dedicated, can't be stopped, Untouchable, invincible, rising to the top..." and so on as ours goes. It helps build team morale and enthusiasm and competitive spirit.
The first week, it is still really stressful -- still, a time when you just have to survive. So much information is crammed into your skull that sometimes, even when you know your stuff, you get it wrong because your mind is swimming and you get too nervous. You're also getting used to your flight members. Rooming in close quarters with 50-60 other people can get on your nerves really quickly. Starting this week, we integrated with our brother flight. We would separate into A Bay and B Bay, and the males who slept in A Bay of their dorm would integrate with the females who slept in A Bay of their respective dorm and for B Bay the same, so we would be 2 flights with males and females in each flight. We would march everywhere together, eat chow together, go to appointments, etc. The only thing we did against each other was complete for honor flight. But even then points were split.
Cadence was quite interesting. Each TI had his or her own unique way of calling cadence. And then there were the ones who were in training that would constantly get us out of step by calling cadence on the wrong foot then yell at us for being out of step. But it sounds awesome. I don't know how they learn to do it in MTI school or anything, but they make these sounds in their throat, kind of like guttural sounds or something to chant off cadence. But it sounds awesome. And Jody calls are always fun. Our flight made up some of our own and were allowed to use them at the end of training.
The 2nd week is not too bad. You know how to do your job now, you will have to endure your first inspections. The first one is a free inspection, which is not counted. Ours, fortunately, went pretty well. It's funny how the ups and downs are so fast. We will make our TI proud one moment, then screw up and tick him off the next. It's all about attention to detail. One speck of dust in the latrine can put a TI in the state of fury. Everything has to be perfect. Try as best as you can, because it can be done. Strings pop out everywhere, especially after dry-cleaning, so make sure you inspect them meticulously. Groups are assigned to the FTX site, Confidence Course, KP, Reception Center and other various locations. Pretty much you work all day, but you don't have to eat in the chow hall like every other day. Either you get to use vending machines, or if you're on KP, you get more time to eat and get the privilege of eating snacks and desserts. However, you earn them by being on your feet from long before dawn to the late evening. We had to get up around 0215 and march over to another squadron's chow hall. We were on our feet (I had the excitement of being assigned to pots and pans -- scrubbing, washing, rinsing, spraying, sanitizing all day long) until we returned to our squadron around 2030. You learn to appreciate all the work that goes into preparing meals and what goes on behind those double doors in the kitchen. I hated it, but at least I could eat a lot and was able to have sweets.
3 WOT is classes and more classes. Lots of academics. Make sure you study and pay attention because you are going to need to know the information for 4 WOT. More of those wonderful inspections are conducted. You get fitted for your blues! And you also get those lovely BCG's issued.
You do endure a "Hell Week." It's really not that bad, as long as you have studied well, pushed yourself to meet the PC regulations and can set up your dorm right. This week holds the inspections, PC evaluations and EOC test that will decide whether or not you graduate. It can be stressful. Having a diligent academic monitor (someone who's responsible for making sure the flight knows their memory work and test material) really helps. Our flight and our brother flight had 0 failures for the EOC test and over 40 outstanding grades (90 or higher).
Warrior Week -- preparing us to handle war conditions and embracing the Aerospace Expeditionary Force concept. You will shoot an M16-A2, go through the gas chamber, do the confidence course, always have a mock M16 and kevlar on your person, live in tents, eat in a mess tent and eat MREs (which I think are pretty good, except for the nasty bean and rice burrito, especially when cold), take Anti-terrorism classes, self-aid and buddy care, war games, and a big exercise at the end where you put to practice everything you have learned. You earn the Airman's coin and complete the transition from trainee to airmen in the culminating ceremony.
Prior to deployment, we inquired about the road march during Warrior Week. We were informed that there would be no march. There was lots of marching, some lengthy ones, but not an official "road march." The TIs told us that there used to be a 2-mile march; (Editor's Note: Actually, it was a 5.3-mile march), however, a male had died during the march at one point. His death was completely unrelated to the march, but they eliminated the road march from Warrior Week anyway. So, as of this time, there is no road march being conducted during Warrior Week. I don't know if they'll bring it back or what, but it doesn't exist right now.
If you have good TIs, they earn your respect. And if you are doing your part, you will earn theirs. We missed our TIs at Warrior Week because we have an entirely different set of instructors. Not individual ones assigned to flights, but lots of instructors each with his or her own duties - teaching the anti-terrorism class, being IDMT, conducting muster (a briefing conducted every evening), etc. There were 16 flights total at our Warrior Week, 4 female and 12 male. We were then separated into 4 different AEFs, each named after an important person. Like our brother flight and our flight, as well as 2 other flights, were assigned as "Airey AEF," after the first CMSgt of the Air Force. Each AEF was assigned to different activities throughout the week. FTX, CATM (M-16 training), NBC training and classes were all conducted at different times for each AEF. My AEF had FTX first off, whereas another AEF had that as their last activity at the end of the week. It was tough, but it's preparing you for deployment conditions.
Your flight can start designing a flight t-shirt. The creative and the artists in your flight, with suggestions and advice from all the others, can create your flight's own unique t-shirt. A design is sketched out and given to the local BX design store so they can put it on a t-shirt. All flight shirts are black with a small logo on the front and then a large one on the back. All the flight members' and TIs' names, as well as flight number and TRS, are on the back with any slogan or motto that you want. It's up to your flight to do whatever, at the discretion of your TI. Let your shirts' design represent the essence of your flight. You can also have the design put onto a coin. At the end, the flight almost always buys an extra shirt for their TIs. The TIs then put the shirts up in their flight office (their office in the dorm) or wear them. After BMT, you can wear black t-shirts under your BDUs instead of only the brown ones.
Graduation Week is awesome. You're so proud to be an airman and walk with your head high. Some let it get to their heads, but try to be humble too and help out the others below you as much as you can. You learn how to wear your blues and get to wear them everywhere. They look sharp but are a hassle with the gig-line and garter straps and everything. The day you have been waiting for is so close, and seeing your family and friends is just days away. It's an exciting time, but don't forget that it's not over yet. Don't relax too much or get complacent, because in your blues you're a target. TIs will try to trick you into making mistakes. You better know your memory work, how to properly wear your uniform and render customs and courtesies -- everything you learned over the past 5 weeks should be put into practice and maintained. You can still get recycled, even after graduation, and you can have your Airman's Coin confiscated. Just don't do anything stupid and follow the rules. The TIs aren't always hounding you, though, they will lay off quite a bit. Just be sure to know your stuff. But be proud, because you've earned the right to be called an Airman in the United States Air Force.
In the beginning, I had 5 TIs - the team chief, 2 others, and 2 in training. One of the ones in training screwed up on something and was no longer being considered for a hat, the other, SSgt Wallace, switched to another flight in the same TRS early on but marched my flight at graduation when he got his hat. SSgt Shatto was my main TI, and he was awesome; I couldn't have asked for a better TI. He trained our flight extremely well. The other TI, SSgt Mathews, was hardcore and made our lives a living hell during the first couple weeks of training. He became a Blue Rope while we were there and was assigned to supervising flights in the squadron rather than pushing them. Our brother flight's TI, SSgt King, marched our A Bay flight. Then we got another TI, SSgt Ristau, about halfway through training. He conducted inspections, marched us and was with us quite a bit except towards the end. Then towards the end, we got another TI in training who kept getting us out of step but got better over time. We went through quite a few TIs; I don't know if every flight does or what. I think some have only 2 or 3.
Dorm Guard is a big thing at basic. It's an entire set of procedures designed to be followed for the security of the dormitory occupants and their possessions, fire prevention and conservation of utilities. Everybody does it. There are 2-hour shifts, and during the night hours, two people take each shift. There's a certain way to authorize entrances and announce entrances and exits into and out of the dorm. There are hourly checks to be done and specific steps to follow in a fire, gas or bomb drill. This is what gets a lot of people in trouble. And if you allow an unauthorized entry in your 4th week or beyond, you will be automatically recycled. The safety of the flight is extremely important. OJTers and TIs will conduct briefings early in training to show you how dorm guard is done. They love you to trick you and make you lose your military bearing when you are on dorm guard, so watch out and be careful.
It can be extremely difficult just holding the flight together. All the mind games and integrity issues almost made my flight fall apart. Without trust, it's hard to work as a team. And females can get surprisingly bitchy. But eventually, we did pull together and learned how to cope with all the stresses and demands of basic training as well as build up team spirit and cooperation. I was lucky to have such awesome females in my flight. There are always a few in every flight with attitudes, however; just don't let them get to you. Stay focused and concentrate on the tasks at hand.
Right after we returned from Warrior Week, my flight switched dorms. We went downstairs so we could be right across the hall from our brother flight (our older sister and brother flights had graduated a week earlier and their dorms were empty).We moved into a previously male dorm, and was exactly the same except the layout of the dorm was a bit different. So, I am assuming the latrines and bays are the same for every dorm. The latrines have a tile shower room with 8 shower heads, 4 on each side. Immediately outside the showers is a drying room with benches, then a large open area with 10 sinks, 7 stalls and 3 urinals. Sometimes it got a little chaotic when we got a 2-minute latrine break for 50-something females and only 7 toilets. With all the water they make you drink to prevent dehydration, using the latrine is almost a constant need, at least for us females. Seriously, every 5 minutes we felt a need to use it. It's crazy how much you have to go in basic. A lot of the time you will just have to hold it, because you might be marching, in formation, in class or the TIs will just tell you that you're an adult and can hold it. Of course, they allow latrine breaks, and if it's an emergency they will let you go but yell at you for it. Sometimes the breaks don't quite seem often enough, though. At Warrior Week it's really hard because you have an assigned latrine building you can use, and none other. If you're on one side of the camp and need to use the latrine, good luck getting to it before it's too late. It wasn't uncommon for "accidents" to occur. Make sure you utilize every break you get. I was pretty self-conscious before basic training, but immediately got used to showering and changing with 50 other females. Before long females were walking around the dorm during showers/changing butt naked and didn't even care. No one else did either. You get used to it.
As for the PC program we did, it was tough. They usually alternate running days with callisthenic days. Stretches and cardiovascular exercises are always performed before PC, with stretching afterwards also. For running, we would either run 2 miles or do a 3-part running exercise. For that, we would do "Last Trainee Up," where there's about 10 trainees in the same running ability group running in a line around the track. The lead trainee would be the pacer, and the one directly behind would raise one arm and yell, "Last Trainee Up!" The last trainee would then proceed to sprint from the back to the position right behind the lead trainee. The trainee who just yelled from putting his arm back down and the trainee who just sprinted up would then raise his or her arm and yell the same thing. And you go on and on for 15 or 20 minutes. Then there's the run-at-your-own-pace run for around the same amount of time, then the last exercise is 6 sets of sprinting for 30 seconds, then walking 2-minutes. They go easier on you in the beginning and give you a few walking breaks, but pretty soon you're going to have to run the entire time through these exercises. Just don't stop. TIs will be right out there with you, some running, some watching, and they'll yell at you if you're walking. And if you are dehydrated and faint or something, or complain to the IDMT (Independent Medical Technician), or have any problem other than a serious injury, expect no sympathy from them. They will scream at you for being weak. Calisthenics is lots of sit ups, countless pushups of all types, flutter kicks, leg lifts, shoulder presses, partial squats. All in repeated sets until you think you are going to cry and you can't even hold your arms up anymore. Fun stuff, but it's good for you.
Church was awesome. They allow all trainees 2 hours a week of religious activities: 1 hour for church services, and 1 for religious instruction, i.e. a Bible study. They hold many different kinds of services for different types of beliefs. I attended the Protestant services, which happens to be the most popular one. It was contemporary and upbeat, comforting and encouraging. It's just what trainees need. I bawled during my first Sunday at church. I was just so emotional -- so homesick, so frustrated and stressed out. But with time, I got over it. The best thing about the church is that TIs aren't around. No one's going to yell at you or play mind games with you. On the way there you're told to smile and relax; you're at church. It's a great way to destress and go back to training a little bit refreshed. A lot of times as classes or church is ending, you're told to get back into the "training mode." "Get your game faces back on." After you're released, you have to put your mind back into gear.
Letters and Phone Calls
A patio break is a time when trainees are allowed to go outside on the patio and eat snacks and candy from the vending machines and make phone calls on one of the many payphones. It can range from a couple minutes to a few hours. Keep in mind that every TI has a different set of rules for these. Some flights are allowed some or all of these privileges right off the bat, while some flights may never get a chance to have any of them, save for the mandatory phone call or two and some letters. Our TI was never fond of patio breaks. Another flight in our squadron had their 4th patio break by their second week. We got our first and only one the night before Warrior Week, which was almost our 5th week. Luckily we were given a 10-min phone call every weekend. And that meant 10-minutes for each bay, so we had 20-25 people wanting to use the limited number of payphones. Sometimes your calls have to be cut short. And the first few times don't be surprised if a TI, dorm chief or element leader is in your face yelling at you to get off for the next person, or just because they told you to. You can't hear what the voice on the other end is saying because you're getting yelled at, and you've only been on a minute or two, and you can't hear them saying goodbye. It gets frustrating, but it eases up after a while. The first phone call is usually an emotional one. I cried, and just about everybody cries or at least gets teary-eyed when you hear the voices of your loved ones. You have only enough time to spit out your address and that you're not dead (yet) and that you love them. Then it's goodbye. It's tough, but usually, by the next couple of times you're more relaxed and can speak clearly enough for them to hear what you're saying. But then sometimes you're so excited and so full of information and interesting things to say that you speak too fast for them to hear you. Right after my first phone call I accidentally ran into a Blue Rope on the patio. Not fun. Just watch out where you're going. =)
Letters were a big issue in my flight, and I'm sure every trainee in every flight looks forward to letters. You need that source of comfort and connection, that tie back to the familiar and your loved ones. Mail call is normally conducted during evening briefings on weekdays. Sometimes things get busy and a week might pass by with no mail call. It's really disappointing, but all the mail that comes at the end is worth it. We were not given permission to read or write letters until the end of our 1 WOT. We had actually been given letters a few days beforehand but were told to lock them up in our security drawers. It was torture to have those letters just sitting in there but not being allowed to open them up. We were ecstatic when we were finally given permission to read them. We were never actually given real personal time by our TI until the very very end. Before that, he would leave it up to our dorm chief and element leaders. They would have us get all of our stuff done and help each other out before we got a little free time. And during the times when we would work on our personal areas, we would sometimes be able to read and write letters then. Or after lights out there might be a little time to do so. If we didn't have our stuff straight or had screwed up somehow, our leaders would revoke privileges. They have been given authority to do that, and once our dorm chief took away all letter privileges for 3 days. But then we made it up to her by performing well as a flight and got back the privilege the next day. Remember too that your TIs can take away your privileges at any time for any reason, and in certain cases, your student leaders can do the same also.
Honor Grad PC requirements held to the new standards for our flights. For the females, you needed an 18-minute run, 27 pushups and 60 situps (from the 19-min run, 22 pushups and 50 situps) to be eligible. For flights with the new PC program, trainees attained the title "Thunderbolt" if they met the minimum standards stated above (males have higher standards except for sit ups). With that title, one would receive an extra Town Pass and a certificate. If you met even higher standards, I can't remember exactly what they are, but in addition, it's 3 pull ups or chin ups for females and 10 pull-ups for males, you can earn the title of "Warhawk," and get a Warhawk t-shirt, certificate, and extra Town Pass.
Recently added to BMT is the new Warrior Challenge. If you are a fitness buff or love stuff like running, pushups, sit ups or pull ups and other physical events, including tug-of-war against the TIs, then you'll love Warrior Challenge. It's during the first Saturday of every month, and trainees and airmen from every squadron come together and compete. The best physical performers in every flight have a practice session after every regular PC session. Lots more pushups, sit-ups and running. Then they take the top 10 from each flight to compete. We weren't able to be spectators during the first one that occurred while we were there because we were only first weekers, but we attended the second one when we were airmen. I think they let everybody but zero and first weekers go. And being a spectator is a good thing. Beforehand they'll let you buy tickets pretty cheaply, and you can buy soft drinks, candy, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, chips, etc (all served by the TIs). They held Warrior Challenge on the PC pad next to Hotel Row. A lot of the VIPs come too -- squadron commanders, the TRG commander. It's a big thing. There are some pretty high numbers. 2-minute sit ups and pushups were in the hundreds, and for the 2-mile the males' times were in the 10:00s and the females' times were in the 12:00s. It's a lot of fun to watch the events, cram down junk food and mingle with other trainees and airmen.
Our TI kind of put us on cruise control by 2nd WOT. If you know your stuff and keep your dorm straight they will gradually lay off you. They're still around a lot, but they don't get on you nearly as much. It's great when you're used to everything. Stuff that seemed impossible in the beginning now seems like second nature. Our TIs were all male. Thank God, because they couldn't stay in our dorm overnight and torture us more. Of course, they could send a female TI over, which happened a couple times, but it was nice just being by ourselves during the late evenings and nights. One of our TIs once crawled through a window to a males' dorm in the middle of the night and sat on top of one of the wall lockers. He just sat there, waiting and watching. And he's not small -- muscular and around 6 1/2 feet. When the dorm guard did his hourly check and was passing by, the TI said something and freaked the living daylights out of him. Stuff I am glad I did not have to deal with. It was funny, though. And they'll play lots of humiliating games with trainees who did not do something right. Fortunately, my flight never got our dorm torn apart. We had some of the same Blue Ropes and TIs who had a rep for doing that kind of thing, but since we kept our stuff in order, they didn't do it to us. We were spared from stuff like soap containers, toilet paper, and paper towels streaked and strewn across the entire latrine, bed frames unscrewed and thrown on the floor, beds ripped apart and put into the hallway, wall lockers dumped over, 60 sets of key chains put into a bag and shaken. And an hour to put everything back in place and clean it all up before they come back or they'll do it all over again. Or, they may rip a dorm apart just because, even if everything's perfect. It all depends on how wicked your TI is feeling that day. And eventually, you see more of a human side to your TI. Sometimes they let a little humor show (but tell you to shut up if you start smiling or laughing). And you find out that they're really on your side. Every single member of the flight and all of your TIs are on the same team. If any one of them screws up, it's the whole flight's fault. If we look good, our TIs look good, and vice versa. We all represent each other. We felt miserable whenever we disappointed our TIs. We always wanted to make it up to them and have everything perfect. But it's a good feeling to know that even though your TI may be hardcore, never show emotion or seem like he's always on you, he's really just training you to succeed. He stands up for you and behind his flight.
In my flight, we lost only 3 trainees, all of them early on in training. The first one couldn't handle the physical demands of BMT at all. I think she had asthma, heart problems, and other ailments. Not sure how she got there in the first place. They sent her to the 319 TRS. I don't know if she's home yet. Another hurt her ankle and was sent to the 319th, where they do details if capable or have patio breaks and sit around with other med holds and discharges, like people who are pregnant, very ill, have a disease, or just plain mental. She was put back into training a week behind us but had a panic attack upon return. She was discharged and sent home. The third tried taking a lot of pills because she supposedly couldn't handle it in BMT. She was sent down to CQ (Charge-of-Quarters) to recover and for observation. They gave her a dishonorable discharge and sent her home. Amazingly, those were the only 3 we lost. No recyclees or anything later on. That's good and bad. You like your flight members and hate some, and there are the few that have to be carried through or they won't make it. Some people just aren't military material. But hey, we're a team and we help each other out.
CQ is a hallway downstairs in the main part of the squadron with lots of offices in it. Your TIs will hang around here some, and a lot of your commanders and higher ups have offices here. Dorm chiefs report here for accountability every night, trainees report emergency drills being conducted in their dorms, TIs monitor the dorms by video and sound, etc etc etc. It's like the headquarters of the squadron. And like a version of the snake pit because TIs are everywhere. If you're waiting in the bench area, stand up at attention when an NCO or TI walks past or you'll get busted. Correct facing and flanking movements are required at all times.
Video cameras are positioned in the hallway outside every dorm's main door. It monitors all entrances and exits. There's an intercom in every dorm also. It where reveille and taps sound, dorm guards report for accountability during the night hours, CQ calls up for any reason, to report emergencies, or for TIs or CQ to give instructions or uniform of the day or whatever. And they can flip a switch so they can hear sounds coming from the dorm. Be careful with what you say.
Always remember that things will start looking up. It was hell at first, much harder than I expected, but after the initial shock passed and everything started setting into your brain, things improve. And I was really emotional. I didn't show it (never show any sign of weakness in front of your TIs) but it really got to me. Like the first time a TI ripped me, and the first time someone got dropped, I felt like crying. But then I got over it. Some say it gets better, but not easier, and others say the opposite. And some say it doesn't get better or easier. I say it does. As you learn more and more and how things are done, it gets easier to do. Of course, they pile more things on top of that to learn and start doing, but it's coming easier. I liked the marching, the discipline, the order. As you start becoming accustomed the military way of life in basic training, it does get better. It's all about attitude. If you keep a negative outlook, you are going to get depressed and easily discouraged. But if you're positive and look back on what you've survived through and what you've achieved and looked forward to your goals and graduation, you'll stay focused and be able to cope with the hardships of basic training.
Basic Training is really is a lot of hurry up and wait. We'd be rushed somewhere then have to wait forever until we actually got inside or were able to do whatever we needed to do. Weekends usually weren't crammed with activities, at least during the later weeks. Usually just study time, details, working on personal areas. Not too bad.
Remember that it's all a big mind game. I never took that literally when I heard it. I was always like, whatever. I never realized what it meant until I endured the mind games myself. They really do mess with you. But I would tell myself that sometimes, that it's just a mind game, just to comfort myself and my flight mates. I went from hating it to missing it. It's an intensely interesting and wonderful transition that occurs. Keep your head high, your hopes up, and never say "I can't" or "I give up." Push yourself to your limits and beyond, and you will be trained to become the best Airman possible in the United States Air Force. Be proud in all that you do and strive to adhere to the three core values.