The New Basic?


Note: I don’t mean to offend anybody here, and admit some of this is what we in the military used to refer to as “barrack’s talk.” This conversation also focuses, exclusively, on Air Force Basic Training. At the same time, I speak with veterans of all branches on a regular basis and hear similar opinions. Also, in no way am I taking anything away from those who’ve made the decision to volunteer for the armed forces. The things they are asked to do are…well… they put their asses on the line, for sure. Nobody can know what goes through the mind of another, and we cannot judge until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes…or, in this case, combat boots.

I happened to stumble upon a group of United States Air Force recruits while passing through San Antonio a few months ago. There they were: in single file lines; large manila envelopes in hand – looking a bit nervous.

Upon initial glance I wondered “what the heck are those kids?” Then it occurred to me, mid-thought, they could only be in transit to Lackland Air Force Base — home of Air Force Basic Training School. Yep. Had to be. There could be no other explanation. Young folks arriving from points far and near to begin the process of becoming airman….the same journey I embarked on many years ago in 1988.

I snapped a photo and posted it on various social media sites, and sent it to a few fellow veterans for a laugh – “hey guys, remember this?” To a man, each knew immediately the content of the photo of which I had sent. The photo received more than 1,000 likes/comments, and sparked off a serious string of “I-remember-this-one-time” stories. The reminiscing then evolved into a story about how much times have changed.

For example, the recruits in the photo were much more relaxed than I remember….joking and chatting with one another. Many of them had cell phones in use, and there were even a few “helicopter parents” hovering in the vicinity. I clearly remember that our conversations were held to an absolute minimum. I also believe that, even had cell phones been in existence, they would have already been taken away from us by this point. And parents? Really?

Some of these rainbows (a term used to describe recruits still dressed in civilian clothes) had the same nervous and apprehensive look about them but, overall, most appeared very casual….as if they were off to summer camp.

I met with some fellow veterans in San Antonio later that week and brought this topic up for discussion. I’ve also discussed it with other veterans since. We all agreed that, as is inevitable, times certainly have changed. However, we also agreed that some of the particular cultural changes in military basic training we are hearing about are detrimental to the readiness of our troops.

For example, some of my “Lackland sources” mentioned that two drill instructors must now be present during disciplinary sessions, and that the wording must be 100% politically correct. Really? The DI’s must now worry about the feelings of the trainees? All of the groups with which I’ve discussed modern basic training also indicate that there is cannot be any physical contact whatsoever.

Flashback to 1988: I remember some of the older guys talking about “Back when I passed through boot camp.” Well, in 1988 I do remember a one guy…how shall we word this? As my mother would have said, he got “what for.” I also remember he deserved “what for.” I never got hit, but I once received a pretty good shove. I also got yanked out of one of those big, industrial sized dryers by ankles once while on laundry patrol…..don’t ask. And not one of us made it through without being verbally lambasted and insulted – there was no holding back…none whatsoever. Some of us could hack it while others could not. A few guys, literally, broke down and started crying on the spot. Others sucked it up, got better, and progressed through the program. One day a guy was there. The next, just an empty bunk. I don’t remember the exact math, but let’s just say there were about 25% fewer airman in the barracks by the time graduation day rolled around.

We veterans are still talking about this topic and we’ve come to a few conclusions. We also understand that many folks, especially those who have never served, will most likely disagree. But isn’t one of the purposes of basic training to weed out those who can’t hack it? And another purpose to prepare troops for life in the military – which means, ultimately, the possibility of any wartime situation imaginable?

As this conversation continued to evolve, we started equating the high rate of suicides among service people and veterans to the relative ease of which troops, apparently, are now passing through the “screening phase,” e.g. basic training. What if drill instructors still verbally insulted the troops in ways of years past? Believe me, I learned many new words and insults during my time in basic training…and none of it was PC. And, occasionally, what if a drill instructor slapped a trainee on occasion? Heck – do they still have KP duty?!?!

This is the military, for crying out loud. It’s not orientation for a job at IBM. These kids could very well be in the line of fire in 90 days, or so. If they can’t hack being yelled at, or perhaps even shoved or slapped, how in the heck are they going to be handle what might come next?

Yes – this might be “just barrack’s talk,” but it’s also abundantly clear that the so-called experts in Washington D.C. don’t have an answer. The bottom line is that the military has been forced to relax recruiting standards to boost its numbers thus allowing the sub-standard troops join its ranks.

War is hell. How can the troops be expected to cope when we coddle them during what is supposed to be the indoctrination period?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

Update 24 OCT 14: This post has been active for about two weeks and I’ve received plenty of feedback, both negative and positive. Some folks told me there is no way there was any physical contact, and others told me stories of airmen who did, indeed, get shoved, or even hit. I can only tell you about my own experience. One guy did get hit, and I was once on the receiving end of a pretty good shove. And, for the record, the yelling was far from PC…very far.

Regarding the fact that our numbers were reduced throughout basic training, please allow me to clarify. Some guys, no doubt, simply could not hack it. I believe it was best for everybody that these people were weeded out early. Others became ill, or were injured, and were simply re-cycled into other flights. There were some who struggled with the tasks we were asked to accomplish, but weren’t bad guys. They, too, were re-cycled and given the opportunity to repeat some of the training. In turn, while empty bunks appeared from time to time, we also had a few new guys show up who had been re-cycled into our flight. The fact is that there were fewer of us at graduation then there were on Day 1. I don’t know why people wrote to me debating this point.

Of all the communication I have with military folks, it’s the MWR people with whom I have the most contact. I’m told that the military struggles with physical readiness the same as the rest of society. Not sure why this was such a shock to some people. Coincidentally, I was a unit PT monitor many moons ago. We had other names for the program such as “The Large Sarge Program,” and a few others. Funny enough, they still even use this term…kinda like chow hall.

Thanks again for reading.


6 thoughts on “The New Basic?

  1. You’re entirely correct. Basic is just a long scout camp these days from what i get talking to new youngsters in uniform. Granted they have added more to basic, as they should have done years ago but, for the six weeks i was there starting in Nov 75, we “heard it all”. I had a Smokey Bear Hat brim mark in my forehead for the first two weeks (but thats another entertaining story). One person screwed up, we all ran. Some took up smoking just to get a smoke break like those of us who came in as smokers. and much more. Today, its a virtual walk in the park.

  2. I came through basic in ’72 and wondered about the same thing in ’85. We got new graduated recruit that hadn’t been to any school or even received his security clearance yet, so wasn’t allowed to do any work. The flight leader (E-7) to him that the squad room and bathrooms needed cleaned and pointed to the janitor’s closet.

    The recruit replied something to the effect that he joined to work on aircraft, not be janitor. I don’t know what he was taught in basic, but he was taught to respect his seniors real quick with some behind the dumpster counseling.

  3. I went through Air Force Basic Training back in 1986 and I could not agree with you more if I tried. It is really a society thing. That is how kids are raised these days. However, if you are really the “Gung Ho” type then you really need to join the Army or Marines. For each branch has its own mission in the fight. That means that some branches are harder in general than others. I did enjoy your article and the picture of the “Rainbow” did bring me back to the time of yesterday.

  4. i joined in 1981, we didnt get hit, but the ti sure yelled and wasn’t “pc” times have changed, i think for the worse. look at football, you can barely hit anyone now and they are calling penalties in 1986 i was at suwon, i had a run in with a brand new airman fresh from basic. long story short, i was taking his van, he was a command post runner during an exercise, when i advised him his van was also attritted and “out of service” he patted it on the hood and said “tell it to my van asshole” luckily the sgt from distaster prep was next to me to keep me from kicking his ass. even other branches has lightned up, the army has exodus, which is they close down boot camp during christmas and send everyone home for 2 weeks. its the new kinder, gentler military.

  5. On a recent trip I ran into a young female 2 striper. I engaged her in conversation as I hadn’t been in since 91. During the chat I waked about basic and much to my surprise she reported with a negative tone staying in her words that it was much too “feminine” now. I asked “the women’s basic?” And she said no all of it. Inquiring more she said it was all so very nice. I asked her if they knew we were at war and she shook her head and said she guessed so.

    I left a bit disappointed. Obviously she and her generation of basic airmen didn’t have the luxury of meeting a Ssgt Creacy or tsgt Lathrom not a short angry SSgt Hernandez who would make my 6’3″ self get on my knees so he could scream directly in my face… Good times…

  6. I went through BMT the summer of 89. I grew up an AF brat and my father chewed my ass on a consistent basis most of my life. AF BMT was a cake walk. Sure they screamed at you and called you every name in the book, but even in the 80’s, it was nothing compared to the 60’s. Some of the things the TIs said was down right funny to me and some of the other guys who joined in their early 20’s. Sometimes it was hard to not crack a smile. We had guys fresh out of high school that would break down and cry, but it was because they were mentally weak, not because it was difficult. The author of this article went through in 88 and I think exaggerates any physicality that existed in late 80’s BMT. A little bump, a smokey had tap on the forehead, a TI forcefully putting you where they wanted you to be when you were screwing up a drill, sure. But that’s not really being physical with anyone. At least I don’t see it that way.

    Each generation thinks they had it tougher than the last. I retired in 2010 after 21 years. While you may think this generation is soft, they are doing far more with far less than previous generations. Today’s AF is barely 300,000 strong and they are still cutting. They are smarter, stronger and more fit than previous AF generations. To imply that they are soft tells me you haven’t recently served. Don’t believe everything you hear about BMT. It’s two weeks longer than when you and I went in and they do field training we didn’t do in the 80’s. They would probably say our BMT was easier. The two TI rule is a direct result of wide spread sexual assault of trainees.

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