Surviving BEAST Week During Basic Military Training
The BEAST is a weeklong training simulation at Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT). This is where basic trainees get to put everything they've learned so far about combat situations into practice. The name may sound intimidating, but it's actually an acronym for "Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training."
At the beginning of week six, the entire Air Force basic training class, consisting of about 800 recruits, is marched to the BEAST, which is a field training site on the Medina Annex at the west end of Lackland. It's designed as a simulated combat deployment site.
The BEAST site consists of four camps (called "zones"), named Vigilant, Sentinel, Reaper, and Predator. Each camp consists of 10 green canvas tents used for sleeping. There are also two tents, one used for a field hospital and the other for a command post. In the center of the ring of tents is a three-story tower (where instructors keep watch so they can chew you out for doing things wrong), and a hardened building which is used as an armory and as a bomb shelter. Each zone also includes five defensive firing positions, and an entry control point (ECP).
Each zone is a self-contained unit responsible for operating and defending itself.
The BEAST starts on a Monday, and recruits spend that day with the instructors, setting up camp, and reviewing all the combat lessons and procedures that they learned during the previous five weeks. The next day, the war starts, and it doesn't end until Friday afternoon. Under the previous "Warrior Week," recruits only spent two hours in a simulated combat exercise.
The "war" is actually run by the students. Before departing for the BEAST, instructors choose one zone leader and 10 small unit leaders for each zone. These student leaders are responsible for the day-to-day "war" operations in their zone, and schedule manning for the defensive firing positions and ECP.
Recruits sleep in their tents and wake up at 4:45 each morning, where they are given an intelligence briefing on the current threat. Throughout the remainder of the day, recruits endure simulated attacks and take action accordingly. Some attacks are chemical/biological, and others are conventional attacks. Attacks can come from the air or from hostile ground forces, or suicide bombers. Attacks can take place at any time, day or night. T.I.s and folks in the 3E9 Emergency Management career field act as the bad guys and throw everything they have at the airmen.
Throughout the day and night, recruits pull two-hour shifts as camp guards in the ECP.
Each recruit is required at all times to wear body armor and helmets, and carry a rucksack loaded with three MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat), MOPP Gear (Chemical suit, gloves, boots, and gas mask), as well as carry two canteens and an M-16 rifle. This is 24 hours per day, for four days.
During the war, the instructors don't "teach." Student leaders and trainees are expected to complete assigned tasks on their own, and respond (on their own) to the various attack scenarios that are thrown at them. Instructors then debrief about what they did wrong and praise what they did right.
The BEAST site includes a 1.5-mile improvised explosive device (IED) trail littered with simulated roadside bombs (can you tell an IED from an old soda can?). Recruits learn to spot IEDs and then use the trail in training scenarios. For example, under one scenario, recruits make their way down the "lane" in tactical formation, trying to identify IEDs from the other debris. Get too close to an IED, and it goes "BANG," and you're dead (the instructor will emphasize this point with plenty of yelling).
At the end of the trail, recruits are broken into teams of two "wingmen," and negotiate a combat-obstacle course (low-crawl under netting, hide behind walls, roll behind bushes and timbers, strike dummies with the butt of your rifle, high crawl through deep sand up a 40 percent grade, etc.).
When someone is not trying to "blow them up," or "kill them," recruits can enjoy three meals per day. However, these three meals will be in the form of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE). However, you never know when an attack will come, and even your meals will be interrupted (as well as your sleep).