Join the Military and Survive Bootcamp

Serving your country through military service can be very rewarding, educational, and a life-changing experience. This article attempts to educate the reader so s/he is better prepared for basic training, commonly known as bootcamp, and can get a square deal when enlisting.


  1. Talk to a military recruiter. A commonly held belief is that military recruiters will say and do anything to get your signature on the dotted line. To a certain extent this is true, however, your recruiter can also be your best friend and will generally bend over backwards to help you. If you are honest with them, they will play straight with you. In the end, though, they are salesmen, and you should stay on your guard in the same way you would with a car salesman: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Get all the benefits that the government is offering. There are many sign-on bonuses and guaranteed promotions that are available to you for enlisting. While you should enlist out of a desire to serve your country and grow as an individual, you may do that and get a sign-on bonus. Regardless of what your recruiter tells you, take the bonus. They will give it to you. If given an option between money and promotions, take the money. A minor promotion from E1 to E2 is meaningless when you arrive at your first chain of command. You will still be treated as low man on the totem pole, regardless of your rank. Remember that one third of your bonus is going right back to the government in taxes. If you can't get the guaranteed school that you want, don't sign anything. Thank the recruiter and tell him to call you if a spot opens up, but in the meantime, you're going to see if another branch (i.e. Navy) can offer a guaranteed school in your area of interest. The recruiter will call you several times and encourage you back, but hold firm. Before a month's time, they will guarantee your school or arrange to guarantee when a slot opens up.
  3. Do not lie about drug use and criminal records. The military will eventually find out if you do (urinalysis flushing drugs only last for a while, and eventually you will test positive). As long as neither are excessive, you can usually get a waiver. Do not, however, apply with drugs in your system. If they are detected, you will be forced out and unable to re-apply. Don't lie about an injury either, because you could suffer from it. (In the Air Force)
  4. Prepare yourself for basic training, a.k.a boot camp. Boot camp turns your life upside down and can be very long (three months if enlisting in the Marine Corps), but a little preparation before starting can make your time there easier.
    • Exercise. Run, do push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and crunches. The more physically fit you are before arriving at basic training, the better off you'll be. Not only will you need less time adjusting to the physical demands of basic training, but you'll make a good impression on your drill instructors. Arriving at basic training overweight and lacking strength can make you a target for drill instructors, and in extreme cases, add time to your basic training. You can't begin training until you meet military standards for weight and strength. If you don't meet those standards, you will be put on a physical training routine until you do. This means spending weeks or months more at basic training.
    • Study. If you ask your recruiter, he/she will give you books that you can study from. Knowing basic knowledge and military jargon before arriving at basic training can help you stand out from the crowd. That can be a good thing. The more you learn in a low-stress environment means you will have an easier time in the high-stress environment of boot camp. Try to absorb as much on rank structures, equipment such as the M16, and the 11 General Orders if possible—it will pay off later.
    • Practice basic training routines. Speed and motivation are everything in boot camp. Drill instructors will constantly test your ability to do things quickly and without hesitation. While at home, fill a laundry basket with 6 pairs of socks, 6 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of pants, 3 shirts, two notepads, all your hygiene gear, a couple of books, and two pairs of shoes. As quickly as you can, dump everything out of the laundry basket onto the floor and mix it up a bit by kicking it around a little. Now stack everything on your bed in a neat fashion. That means having the clothes folded, the hygiene gear aligned in a neat way, your books and notebooks stacked neatly, and your shoes sitting next to each other with the laces tucked in. Do this repeatedly until you can do it in under 15 seconds. You'll have a similar "test" in basic training, and you won't be given as much as 15 seconds to complete the task, but it's a good start.
    • Start sitting on the floor now with your legs crossed. Most of the time when you're sitting down in basic training, you'll be doing it "Indian style". While it doesn't sound difficult, it becomes hard when doing it for many hours each day. Practice sitting with your legs crossed, your back straight, and your hands on each knee. You'll have to do this without moving a muscle for long periods of time while in basic training. It gets easier with time, so it's a great benefit to get used to it before arriving.
    • Learn to swim. If you can't swim when arriving at boot camp, then you're going to have a real hard time when it comes time for swim qualifications. This is true for the Navy and Marine Corps, but not as much for the Army. An inability to swim can set you back in training and extend the time you spend in basic training.
  5. Demonstrate leadership qualities. Immediately, your drill instructors will be looking for the leaders in the group. You want that to be you. When you arrive, speak loudly, do the things you're told to do with speed and without hesitation, even if it makes no sense (and few things will). Speak to your fellow recruits you see doing things they're not supposed to, because if you don't, and you're their leader, you get punished too. Stand up straight, chin high, and don't be lazy. All these things will help you stand out from the crowd.
    • While it's important to be a leader in boot camp, don't alienate yourself from your fellow recruits. Having friends and buddies watching your back is very valuable during your training. Try to balance being a good leader with being a good friend. People who position themselves as jerks and outsiders will get no help from fellow recruits.
  6. Be motivated. It's all too important in basic training. Anytime you are responding to a drill instructor, do it with confidence and do it loudly. Get right to the point when speaking, don't stutter or stumble over your words. When "sounding off" as a group, try to be the loudest. If you are being lazy when sounding off, your drill instructors will notice and punish the whole group. Your fellow recruits will know the people who are not being loud and causing punishment. This will cause contempt amongst those people who you want to be your friends.
  7. Never make excuses or say "I don't know." In fact, in some boot camps, the words "I" and "you" don't exist. It's "this recruit" or "Recruit (last name)" or "Drill Instructor Sergeant Myers". Drill Instructors will ask you why you made a particular mistake, why you looked them in the eye, or whatever minor error you have made. Always say something straightforward, such as "I lack discipline" or "I lack focus". They may make you do a few pushups, but they will cut you some slack because you're not trying to make excuses.
  8. Learn to cooperate with people that you might not like, and may not like you in return. Teamwork is essential, because if the group fails, the group will get punished, regardless if it is only one man bringing you down. Likewise, help out the recruits that are struggling—they may be helping you out when you struggle later. Don't get angry at them for failing as long as they tried their best (and don't let the drill instructors pit recruits against each other). If you have a problem with someone, talk to them after lights out.
  9. Keep your cool. Many "tests" that you are put through in basic training are designed so that they're impossible to pass. Don't get frustrated when you fail. It's meant to happen. The drill instructors will initially make tasks so difficult that they are impossible to complete. With time, the task will become easy for you. That's the whole point. They will break you down and build you back up with more confidence then you ever had before. Just go with it.
  10. When in doubt, do what everyone else is doing. There are times when you may not understand the instructions given, or you may not have been paying attention. If you see everyone else moving to do something and you didn't hear what you're supposed to be doing, just follow everyone else's lead.


  • Do pull-ups with 5 to 10 lbs leg weights 3 days a week with one day off between workouts
  • Don't get frustrated. While things are designed to be difficult, they are doable. Everyone can make it through bootcamp. Everyone! Don't let the drill instructors get the better of you. The reason they tell you this is because it will give you even more motivation to graduate from boot camp.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Prior to arrival at basic training or boot camp, try going 24-36 hours or longer without sleep or rest of any kind. When fatigue sets in at about hour 18, start doing basic math problems, crossword puzzles, and physical exercise. All five branches begin training with an indoctrination and check-in period. You get very little sleep for the first three days. By the third day, you will be a zombie and probably not even know where you are. You should know how this feels in advance, so you don't freak out and do anything dumb.
  • Remember, speed and motivation are everything.
  • Do as many crunches as you can 3 to 4 days a week with one day off in between
  • Ask your recruiter to teach you basic marching and drill movements
  • Read books on Marine Corps history on your free time to better prepare you for training.
  • Pick a job specialty that will teach you something. When you leave active duty you will want to leave with a job skill. There are many jobs that can also translate into civilian skills (police departments like to take former infantry, for example).
  • Read up on the M16-A2 service rifle and memorize its components and it's successor the M16-A4, word in the recruiter's offices is they are said to be switching back from Beretta 9mm to .45 caliber, you might want to learn how to use those.
  • Be sure to buy The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook. Its helps tremendously when preparing for basic training ([])
  • Learn the Marine Corps Rank structure
  • If at all possible, practice drill movements before arriving at boot camp. It will be the absolute basics compared to what you learn later, but it will help a lot.
  • For Marines, it is suggested you do the following in order to prepare:
  • Read the literature that your recruiter gives you on General Orders and other Marine Corps knowledge, knowing your General Orders word for word will remove a lot of the stress of trying to remember when the drill instructor is right in front of you
  • Learn the Marines' Hymn word for word
  • It helps if you are a "military brat", since you will have been introduced to military life at an early age.
  • Callback into the reserves is happening more frequently now, at least for the Army. During additional reserve time, try to join a reserve branch near your hometown. If a deployment should arise, at least you will know the people you will be deployed with.
  • Start running at least a half-mile 3 to 4 days a week, building up to over {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} a day
  • Wearing boots and carrying a 60 lbs backpack go on weekly road marches on distances ranging from {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}}. Make sure to carry enough water and hydrate yourself properly the night before by drinking at least 1 to 2 quarts of water and bring a quart or two with you.


  • From the moment you raise your hand and take the Oath of Enlistment, you are bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. You could potentially be court-martialed for offenses such as Unauthorized Absence (Article 86), or drugs, etc.
  • Do not try to physically injure yourself to avoid training. You will be sent to a medical rehabilitation platoon and stay on the recruit depot for months longer than necessary. Likewise, suicide should never be considered. Nothing in boot camp is so bad that death would be preferable. The fastest way out of boot camp is graduation.
  • It's a commonly held belief that you can't get out of boot camp once you start. This is false. But before you think about doing something to get out, remember that the government has invested a lot of time and money into you, and they will get a return on their investment. You might get kicked out of basic training, but you aren't going home. You will work off your debt to the government, and often you will stay longer then you would have if you just sucked it up and kept training. The people who end up in this position are more miserable than they were before dropping out.
  • Be sure to find out from your recruiter how to ask to use the restroom. It varies from one branch to the next, and unless you ask, you may not get an opportunity to go. This may seem silly, but it can make those first few days of processing a lot more bearable.
  • All enlistments in the United States military are done on a 3+3 basis, 4+4 basis, etc. This means when you enlist for 4 years, you are actually enlisting for 8. You will do 4 years active duty, and 4 years Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Many call the IRR the inactive reserves. Being in the Individual Ready Reserve requires you to do nothing, except keep your uniforms ready and sometimes attend a once a year administrative drill and in most ways you are a civilian again. While in the IRR, you can be called back into active duty if the government needs you. It rarely happens, but it does happen.

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