Packing Light for Air Force Basic Training

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Your journey to Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT) should start in advance to getting on the plane. You'll want to pack the right stuff. Your recruiter should have given you an official list of what you are allowed to take with you to basic. If it ain't on the list, don't take it. Don't even try to think that "this item," or "that thing" will be the exception. That list has been around for a lot of years, and there are no exceptions. One of the first things you'll experience at Lackland is a complete search of your personal possessions.

Anything not approved will be confiscated and stored until after graduation.

While the good folks at Lackland Air Force Base have prepared this "official list" of items you'll need at basic training, any good recruiter will tell you that one of the first things you should do with this list is lose it. Air Force Training Instructors (lovingly called "T.I.s") at basic training love it when everyone in their flight looks the same; acts the same; talks the same; owns the same stuff. Conversely, they hate it when someone tries to be different from the herd. A day or two after arrival, you'll be taken to the Troop Mall, which is a small BX (Base Exchange) dedicated to basic training recruits.

The Troop Mall has absolutely everything (for the most part) you'll need to purchase for basic training, and you'll find that your T.I. likes you a whole lot better if your stuff looks just like everyone else's stuff. Additionally, the lighter you pack, the better you'll like it. When they first meet you, T.I.s love to play their favorite T.I. games, which often involve your baggage.

Another reason to pack light is that when you graduate, you will only be allowed three bags (one carry-on and two bags that can be checked). This is true, even if your technical school is going to be at Lackland. One of those bags will be your duffle bag full of uniforms. The other will be a garment bag to carry your dress uniforms, and the third bag will have the civilian clothes and personal affects you brought with you.

Here's what I recommend you bring with you:

  • College transcripts, Civil Air Patrol Certificates, and any JROTC Certificates. Actually, you won't need these at basic training, but you'll want them with you during your final trip to MEPS because college credits and/or JROTC can give you advanced enlistment rank.Driver's license. You won't be driving while at Air Force Basic Training, but some Air Force jobs require a driver's license. If you can't prove that you have one, you will not be eligible for consideration for any of those AFSCs (jobs).
  • Banking Information. You'll need the name of your bank, the bank routing number, and the account number. If you bring a blank check or blank deposit slip, this will have the required information on it. This is required because the military requires your pay to be "direct-deposited" in a bank account. You'll also want to bring an ATM card for the account so that you will have easy access to your money.
  • Cash. No more than about $40. You'll be allowed to keep cash in your security drawer, but you will have to record the serial number in a notebook and keep that list up-to-date.
  • Prescriptions. You will not be allowed to continue to take any prescription medication that you may bring with you (this is because there is no way to tell if you've substituted a prescription for an illegal narcotic). However, your prescription will be examined by a military doctor after arrival, and -- if necessary -- you will be re-issued the medication from the military pharmacy. Ladies, this applies to birth control pills as well. You may continue to take birth control pills during basic, but your prescription will be re-issued by the military pharmacy. Over-the-counter medication is not allowed in basic training. If you bring any with you, it will be taken away.
  • Toothbrush, toothbrush tray, and toothpaste/powder. Your toothbrush tray should be the square kind. If you get the round kind, and it rolls when the T.I. opens your drawer to inspect it, it will be out of place, and you'll get a demerit. For toothpaste, get the "flip lid" kind. The "screw top" is almost impossible to keep clean.
  • Shampoo.Again, this should be a square-type bottle or tube, so it doesn't roll around in your drawer.
  • Soap (bar or liquid). Note -- Liquid soap is a whole lot easier to keep in inspection condition.
  • Soap tray (if bar soap is used). (Bar soap is definitely not recommended.)
  • Deodorant.
  • Ball-point pen (black). The "official" list says "black or blue," but you'll find out that the Air Force likes official documents signed with black ink.
  • Notebook and paper. Bring only a small notebook to take notes for the first couple of days. This is one of the "standardization" things. The T.I. is going to want everyone to purchase the "Air Force Style" notebook at the BX.
  • Laundry soap. Only take laundry soap if you have allergies and require a specific brand. Otherwise, it's traditional for all the recruits in the flight to contribute money and purchase one gigantic box at the BX for use of the entire flight.
  • Shaving Equipment. You can bring/use an electric razor, but -- man, oh man, are those hard to keep clean enough to pass inspection. Gals, you won't do much shaving in basic until the 6th week of training.
  • Civilian Clothes. Enough to last three or four days. You'll receive your initial uniform issue on Thursday or Friday of the week of arrival. After that, all your civilian clothes will be locked up until after graduation. Don't wear/bring anything outlandish. You do not want to "stand out" from the crowd during basic training.
  • Civilian eyeglasses. If required to see, you'll wear your civilian eyeglasses until your "military" glasses are issued, which takes about two weeks for most people. Once you receive your "military" glasses, you'll be required to wear them for the remainder of basic training.
  • Contact lenses case. If you wear contacts to basic, you'll need the case to store them until after basic training. For safety reasons, you will not be allowed to wear contact lenses during basic training, so you'll need to bring your civilian glasses, as well.
  • Envelopes. To write home. Here's a neat trick. Bring about ten or so envelopes, pre-stamped. Then, when you get a chance to write home, you never have to worry about running out of stamps.Stationary. To write home on. Although, before you'll have a chance to write your first letter home, you'll have already made your first "shopping trip" to the BX, and they have some pretty neat "Air Force" stationary that you may wish to purchase to "impress" the folks back home when you write your first letter.
  • Pre-paid phone card. Periodically through basic training, you'll get a chance to phone home. Bring a card with lots of minutes on it (you can always use it after basic, as well). If you forget the phone card, don't worry. They are readily sold at the BX.
  • Brushes or Combs. More important for the females. Guys, you'll only need a comb for your first day. By the second day, you won't have any hair left to comb.
  • Underwear (guys). Enough for three or four days. By Thursday or Friday of the first week, you'll be issued six pairs of boxers or briefs (your choice).
  • Underwear (gals). Ladies, you'll be required to purchase your underwear at the BX (too many different styles/sizes to issue it). However, you'll receive a monetary allotment in your paycheck to cover the cost. If you are a "hard to fit" type, you may wish to purchase your underwear before your arrival, as I'm told the selection at the BX for females isn't all that great. You'll want a couple of white sports bras and about four regular (white) bras. You may wear any kind/color of panties you wish, but remember the rule about "standing out." Be conservative.
  • Sanitary supplies (gals). Napkins or tampons, your choice. I would recommend only bringing a few (if you expect your menstruation within the first week), as there will be ample opportunity to purchase these at the BX.
  • Makeup (gals). Ladies, you are not going to be allowed to wear makeup during basic training until graduation day. At that time, you'll be given an opportunity to purchase what you need at the BX, and given instructions on how to wear makeup properly (conservatively) in military uniform. I recommend you leave your makeup at home, and buy what you need at the BX at the appropriate time. Any makeup you bring with you will be locked up with your civilian clothes and not returned to you until just prior to graduation. However, remember, if you don't bring it, the T.I. can't dump it out in front of everyone and yell at you for having it.
  • Hair bands, bobby pins, etc. (gals). Gals don't get their hair cut (unless they want to) during Air Force Basic Training. However, while in uniform (most of the time), you must wear your hair in such a style that it does not protrude past the bottom of the uniform collar, and does not interfere with the wear of the hat. For most gals with long hair, this means tying it up in a "bun." Hair bands, bobby pins, etc., must closely match the color of your hair, or be clear.
  • Nylons/pantyhose (gals). You won't need these until the final week of training, so unless you're "hard to fit," I would recommend purchasing these at the BX. If you bring your own, purchase the "nude" color.
  • Watch. Not mandatory, but nice to have. You can't wear it all the time during basic, but you can wear a conservative watch most of the time.Anything on the "official" list that I've not mentioned above, can wait until after you get to basic.

Packing Tips

Don't bring your own running shoes. The Air Force used to allow you to bring your own running shoes and wear them during basic training PT. However, this policy changed a few years ago. Recruits are now required to wear the "issue" standard, New Balance, plain white running shoes, that you'll purchase at the BX, shortly after arrival. Recruits may only wear their $200 "Nikes" if they have a  medical waiver from the base medical clinic.

Take care with what you pack. One of the very first things that's going to happen when you first meet your T.I., is that he/she is going to dump out your belongings in front of everyone, then he/she and his/her buddy T.I.'s are going to make fun of anything "unusual" you may have brought. Even items as innocent as a book or magazine ("What do you think this is, a library? Answer me!") If you bring a book or magazine to read on the flight, leave it in the Reception area of the Airport. Try to pack clothes that have no writing, slogans, or pictures on them.

This includes that neat "Air Force" T-Shirt the Recruiter gave you. (" How dare you wear a shirt that indicates you're a member of my beloved Air Force? You have NOT earned the right to wear that, yet, scum ball, and you probably never will. Answer me! ")

Two things to remember when packing: Everything you bring (shampoo, razors, toothpaste, etc.) is going to have to be kept spotlessly clean for inspections. Choose items/containers that are easy to clean with Q-tips, such as a liquid soap container with the little spout on top. Secondly, anything you need will either be issued to you (uniforms, flashlight, etc.), or you will be taken to the BX (Base Exchange) and instructed what to purchase (soap, shampoo, shoe shine kit, etc.) (NOTE: When you get to boot camp, you will be issued a debit card with about $300 credit for such purchases.

The amount debited is taken out of your first paycheck.)

Casey, who recently graduated Air Force Basic Training, gives this advice:

"As far as the packing list goes, I would highly recommend clear toiletry items such as clear body wash, clear gel deodorant, etc. The reason for this is most T.I.s make us use the white towel for the security drawer. I made the mistake of getting blue-colored body wash and constantly got a "D" (dirty) demerit for my towel. If it's clear, no stain. I would also recommend the toothpaste in the flat bottles because they don't roll. Get foam shaving cream because the gel stuff likes to ooze out after you have wiped it off. I once got nailed for a demerit on shaving cream because it oozed out after I had cleaned it 30 minutes prior to the inspection."

Here's another tip from Casey:

After initial clothing issue, you have to lay out everything you brought with you to basic on your bed. The blue ropes and section supervisors come in and go through your stuff checking for contraband, etc. prior to locking up your civilian luggage. The tip is to leave your pictures at home until after the "shakedown." After that, have your girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other send you their picture, once zero week is over. That way, only your T.I. has to see it, and not all the blue ropes and section supervisors when they do the shakedown. They gave some guys in my flight a hard time when the went through the pictures. "Is this your girlfriend?! You know she's at home dating someone else right?!"

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