'Did I Make the Right Decision?' How to Take the Guesswork out of Army Basic Training

Army basic training Fort Benning
U.S. Army soldiers from the One Station Unit Training low-crawl while negotiating an obstacle course during their first week of basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, March 9, 2012. (Staff Sgt. Terry Wade/U.S. Army photo)

Hunter Kiser did not arrive at Army basic training in Fort Moore, Georgia (formerly known as Fort Benning), in 2013 unprepared.

He came armed with a maturity that most incoming recruits lack. Kiser, who was 23 years old at the time, was several years removed from high school and possessed a college degree.

Army recruiter staff sergeant Hunter Kiser

Unlike most recruits, he was not spooked by the horror stories of what basic training entails.

"It was difficult to see other people struggling mentally, asking, 'Did I make the right decision to be here at basic? I miss my family. I miss my friends. Is this something I still want to do for three or four years?''' said Kiser, now a staff sergeant and the 2020 U.S. Army Recruiting Command, or USAREC, Regular Army Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year. "It was difficult to see other people going through that.''

How Long is Army Basic Training?

Army basic training lasts about 10 weeks and is held at four sites. (Besides Fort Moore, Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and Fort Sill in Oklahoma are the others.) Regardless of the location, the goal of basic training is constant: to transform a recruit into a soldier. It's as much about constructing the proper mindset as it is building up the body.

It can be overwhelming, no doubt. Army basic training can seem like cramming the night before a big exam. The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. Just like waiting until the last minute to study is not a good idea, preparing for basic training can help alleviate unnecessary stress.

"Whenever you enter into the unknown, there's a bit of a fear there, an apprehension, and they rely on what they already know or what family members or friends have experienced, and usually that is pretty far back,'' said Ken Kispert, who is based at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and oversees USAREC's Future Soldier training programs. "They're used to the drill sergeants poking them in the forehead with their hats and screaming at the top of their lungs in movies like 'Full Metal Jacket' and that kind of stuff.

"Realistically, that's just not the Army anymore, so a lot of what we do is to familiarize them and tell them, 'Hey, this is the Army today. Look at these websites. Look at these videos. This is what you'll experience.'''

Get Ready for Army Basic Training

Myriad books have been written, apps developed and videos posted on YouTube about basic training. Some good resources are out there -- and some not worth the time -- but the Army brings the tools to you.

Consider it akin to an open-book test.

Those tools include:

  1. A future soldier backpack. Once a recruit enlists, they receive a backpack that is chock-full of information and includes "The Guide for Future Soldiers and Their Families.'' The book breaks down what to expect during basic training, Kispert said. It discusses good nutrition, proper running shoes, general orders -- you name it, it's likely in there. References and websites are located in the back of the guide.
  2. A pocket guide for physical fitness. Heading to the gym a few times a week, working out on the elliptical machine and doing some push-ups won't get it done. The guide provides inside information on new exercises the Army has implemented and even suggests a training schedule for how to prepare for basic, Kispert said. You have to be disciplined enough to do the hard work, but a sound game plan is behind each workout. Learn more about training for Army basic training fitness.
  3. Futuresoldiers.com. Answers to many recruits' questions can be found at this one-stop online shop. There are five main tabs: future soldier and spouse orientation, initial military training, education and benefits, health care benefits and family services. Each recruit is set up with a website registration after they enlist. "It's got a section called the future soldier training system, where they can log in and actually take 17 different classes, all designed to familiarize them with what they're going to experience in training -- everything from military time, rank structure, how to read a map,'' Kispert said.

Kiser, based out of the Army Recruiting Station in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Kispert emphasized the importance of recruits remembering their goals when things get tough, including why they enlisted in the first place.

They also said communicating consistently with your recruiter is beneficial. They are there for a reason. And during basic training, so are you.

"The only way that we, as human beings, can grow and become better at anything is to take that initial step outside of your comfort zone, to learn something new, to challenge yourself physically or mentally,'' Kiser said. "For a lot of those individuals at basic training, that first step was contacting a recruiter. And that's the hardest thing to do is take that initial step.''

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