Recycling: Surviving Air Force Basic Training

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Recycling has a completely different meaning in Air Force Basic Training. It doesn't refer to separating bottles and cans from trash. It means being sent back to repeat an earlier part of your basic training. You may think that failing Air Force basic training is the biggest threat your training instructor (TI) can make, but you would be wrong. The biggest threat is recycling.

What Is Recycling?

When you are recycled in Air Force Basic Training, you are set back and have to repeat one or more training weeks. It means you will be reassigned to a new training group and a new training instructor. If you are recycled in week two, you have to join a different unit who is starting week two.

Recycling is very common. About 15 to 20 percent of recruits in AFBMT get recycled at one point or another. It costs the Air Force more money per recruit as you are in training for longer, but it ensures recruits have been fully and properly trained upon graduation.

How Is It Ordered?

Training instructors will make you think that they can recycle you for any reason. They don't like the way you look, they don't like the way you grimace, or they don't like your breath. In actuality, training instructors don't have the authority on their own to recycle you. That's up to the commanding officer. The commanding officer is limited by basic training regulations as to when he can and cannot recycle a recruit. 

It does not mean that you shouldn't take the recycling threat seriously. When deciding whether or not to recycle a recruit, the commander relies heavily on the recommendations of your TI. With as many as one out of five recruits being recycled at least once during their training, it shows it is a threat that they carry out.

The Reasons It Can Happen

Recycling isn't just used for disciplinary reasons. It's also used for recruits who fail a pass/fail requirement of basic. For example, if you fail to qualify with the M-16 rifle on the firing range, you will get recycled. If you fail the final PT test, you will be recycled.

You could also be recycled for medical reasons. If you miss more than two or three days of training because of a medical condition, you will likely be recycled to make up for that training. For example, if you are hospitalized during week three of training, when the medical folks let you out, and certify you as fit for duty, you would likely be recycled to a different flight who is just entering week three of training.

Failing Air Force Basic Training

Only 8.2 percent of recruits fail to make it through Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT). Most of these cases are not due to reasons of failing any aspect of basic. The vast majority are due to medical reasons, often pre-existing medical conditions that the recruit and Air Force didn't know about. Other causes are fraudulent information on enlistment documents or failing the arrival urinalysis due to illegal or prohibited drug use.