Success In Army Basic Combat Training (BCT)

Turning Civilians Into Soldiers

Text reads: "Tips for surviving boot camp: study the ranks, general orders, and core values for your particular service; if joining the marines, learn at least the first verse of the marine's hymn; work out for a few months before joining boot camp; learn to do push-ups for a full two minutes; practice running sprints and long distances; know how to swim if you're joining the navy, coast guard, or marines; quit smoking beforehand"

Image by Elise Degarmo © The Balance 2019

Army Basic Combat Training (BCT) is basic training or boot camp for civilians who want to join the military. Army BCT turns civilians into soldiers and teaches them marching, shooting, survival skills, and prepares them for life in the Army. 

The Army has several training base locations including Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina; Fort Knox in Louisville, Kentucky; Fort Leonard Wood in Waynesville, Missouri; and Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. Where you attend is primarily dependent upon the location of your follow-on, Advanced Individual Training (Job Training). In fact, if you enlist in one of the Combat Arms MOS's, you very well may receive basic training and Advanced Individual Training all at one location: Fort Benning for Infantry; Fort Knox for Armor; Fort Leonard Wood for Combat Engineers, Military Police, and Chemical.

Things You Can Do Before BCT


Watch Now: 7 Tips for Surviving Military Boot Camp

A significant portion of your nine weeks at Army BCT will be taken up with marching, drill, ceremonies, and standing in formation. Your arms will thank you if you take some time before arriving at boot camp to study about and practice the basics of the drill. It's also a good idea to start ahead of the game by memorizing Army officer and enlisted ranks. You will also want to memorize the Army General Orders.

There are seven Army Core Values that will be continually hammered into you during your nine-week training. You will live, eat, and sleep about Army Core Values until you think they are part of the Constitution. Memorizing these seven core values in advance may give you a little extra breather time while others are trying to commit them to memory.

Each new recruit is issued a copy of TRADOC Pamphlet 600-4. You can give yourself a head-start in learning some of the things you will need to know to graduate boot camp by studying this pamphlet in advance.

Physical Preparation

Do not forget to work out and prepare physically for the rigors of running, pushups, load-bearing exercises and rucking with 40-50 lbs in a backpack for many miles. You will have to pass a basic fitness test of pushups, situps, and a 2 mile run as well as a more advanced Army Combat Readiness Test that involves some new exercises such as deadlifts, a 250m (drag, carry, sprint) shuttle run, hanging knee ups, an overhead medicine ball power throw, T-pushups, and another 2 mile run. 

Reception Battalion

The good news is that will in processing the Drill Sergeants do not yell at you (that much) except for the ones assigned test you with the Initial PT Test. Consider in motivation. If you fail this test, you will get to spend some time in remedial training where brand-new Drill Instructors get to practice on you for a while.

While in the Reception Battalion, you will get your shots, process your paperwork, be issued your uniforms, and that very favorite of all -- the haircut. Between times, you will go to chow (three times per day), and you will wait. You will know your group is getting close to getting out of Purgatory when the Drill Sergeants start to notice you.

The First Few Weeks After Reception

From Week One to Week Three. The first thing you will notice about your new drill sergeant is that he or she appears to be a different species from the ones hanging around the Reception Battalion. He/she will appear to be much larger, much meaner, and very much louder. Army Drill Sergeants absolutely love push-ups. "Drop and Give me Twenty" is a favorite phrase (shouted, of course). On this first day, pretty much everyone will get "dropped." You will be dropped individually, in pairs, and as an entire platoon. Consider it time to work out and relieve some stress. 

Week one is best characterized by a term known as TOTAL CONTROL. Total control is where the soldiers only do what they are told to do by their Drill Sergeants. The first few weeks of Basic Training is definitely NOT the time to find a better way of doing things. Soldiers arrive at the Basic Training Unit from the Reception Battalion and are immediately immersed in an environment where every move they make is scrutinized by the Drill Sergeant.

During the first week, you will start Physical Training and typically first thing in the morning. The typical day throughout Basic Training runs from 0430 (You got to get up very early in able to "do more before 9 am than most people do all day"), with lights out at 2100 (9:00 PM).

During the first week or so, nobody will be able to do anything right. However, by the end of the first week, you will be able to do what you are told, when you are told, and exactly how you are told to do it. The word, "why?" will be surgically removed from your vocabulary before that first week is finished.

Standing Guard Duty 

The Army uses "Fire Guards”. It amounts to the same thing: two-hour shifts of walking around the barracks, keeping watch in case someone tries to steal it, or worse yet, set it on fire.

Total Control continues the second week, along with courses on Army Core Values (including classes on sexual harassment and race relations), and other military-related subjects (such as the fundamentals of bayonet fighting, and first aid training). During the second week is also where you get to practice hacking, coughing, and crying in the "Gas Chamber." This normally occurs in the afternoon, shortly after lunch. No matter how hungry you are that day, eat a very light lunch. While in the chamber, you'll take your mask off two times (once, you merely lift the mask to state your name, rank, and social security number). If you can get away with keeping your eyes closed and not breathing this nasty stuff, go for it. However, it's far more likely that the Drill Sergeant will make sure you open your eyes and take at least a small breath before you are let out of the chamber.

Also during the second week, you will be introduced to your rifle. It is a rifle. More specifically, it's an "M4 Rifle." You don't get to shoot it during the second week. Right now, you get to learn how to hold it, point it, take it apart, clean it, and repetitively put it back together, take it apart again.

During the final week of Phase I, the Drill Sergeants will (very slowly) start to move the emphasis of training away from the individual, to "team." You will be assigned a "Battle Buddy. Your Battle Buddy is like your Siamese twin. You will go everywhere and do everything together. Of course, as with all weeks, physical training and drill continue during week three, as well as more training/practice taking your rifle apart, and putting it together.

Weapons and Combat Training Time

During the weeks 4-6, you will spend most of your time on various ranges. You will start with basic M4 shooting (just try to hit the targets), and move on to farther targets, pop-up targets, grenades, grenade launchers, and more. You will be surprised at how many different ranges one Army post has.

During the 5th week, you will get practice using bayonets and an introduction to anti-tank weapons and other heavy weapons. Also, you will get practice negotiating the obstacle course. You will also get to run the obstacle course carrying your new friend (The M4 Rifle). You and your Battle Buddy will also be expected to work as a "team."

Sometime during the 6th week, you will notice that the Drill Sergeants aren't yelling as much as they used to. In fact, at times, they seem almost human. You will continue daily PT, as well as practice basic drill and ceremonies. By now, you should be able to shoot straight and navigate basic combat obstacles. 

Going Into the Field

Week 7-9, while challenging, this is the most fun you will have during Army Basic Combat Training. During the first week of Phase III, you will take your final PT Test. The Final PT Test consists of the Standard Army Annual PT Exam. You'll need to score at least 150 points to pass Basic Training.

You will learn how to set up tents, go on night patrols, and perform night operations. You will also learn to appreciate Army Chow Halls, as all your meals in the field will consist of MREs.

Week 8 of Basic will culminate with the field training exercise (FTX) with a special tactical field exercise. Recruits then go through Victory Forge, a final three-day field journey prior to graduation. This exercise ties everything you have learned in basic together. The Drill Sergeants will advise (and keep you from getting hurt), but tactical decisions will be made by the platoon leaders and squad leaders. While they differ in scenarios, all Army Basic Combat Training Programs include this Final Event. At the end of the Field Event, you will return to a short, informal ceremony marking your transition from civilian to soldier.

The Final Week is spent preparing for the graduation ceremony. Basic training in the Army is designed to lay a foundation for discipline and basic combat. Your real training, however, will begin after basic when you transition to Advanced Individual Training (AIT).