Army Basic Combat Training (BCT), or Boot Camp, is the first step of your loved one becoming a soldier. They will learn the standards and traditions of the Army as they are taught the basic skills necessary to continue to their specialty training. While there is a plethora of information on what men and women can expect going into BCT, there is little to be found on what their families should expect.
Basic training is an introduction to the Army for thousands of soldiers and their families. When my husband, Chris, told me his dream of becoming an infantry officer, I felt surprised but knew it was his calling. Your loved one making it to this point is already a tremendous feat that your family should be proud of. There are a few places in the country that host a basic training school, though most soldiers will be in Fort Benning, Georgia. Before leaving for basic, there are interviews and medical boards that need to be completed to make sure soldiers are in the best mental and physical condition. After passing this, Chris was given a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) report date. In February 2018, his family and I drove to Portland, Maine, for the swearing-in ceremony where we gave Chris one last hug and “I’m proud of you.” From there, Chris and everyone else sworn in with him that day got on a plane and headed to Atlanta. Chris had access to his phone until he got on the to Fort Benning. . This would be our last “normal” communication until his graduation. Going into these next 10 weeks, I had a million questions. When would I hear from him next? Will he be able to write letters? What kinds of things will he be learning? The unknown was the most challenging part.
A few days after Chris arrived in Fort Benning, we received a letter in the mail from the commander. The letter explained that the well-being of trainees is of utmost importance, as they’re being trained by the best drill sergeants to become the best soldiers. letter had the address and directions for sending letters, along with information on graduation. But graduation is not guaranteed, as some soldiers will not be cut out for the Army, or an injury will prevent them from graduating on time. Information on how to contact the Red Cross was also included, as it is the only way to communicate with your soldier in the event of an emergency.
I considered having to write letters to my husband a blessing in disguise. These letters are something we will always be able to look back on to reflect on the hardships of the time and how far we’ve come. Though it can be tempting to send a new letter every day, be mindful of how many separate letters you mail. It is rumored that drill sergeants make soldiers do pushups for every letter they receive. If you have a lot to say or a lot of news, consider putting multiple letters in one envelope. Photos are a great memento to include too, as they are a wonderful piece of home. Be mindful that soldiers must show their drill sergeants any photos they receive to make sure that nothing inappropriate was sent. Also, keep in mind that thousands of pieces of mail are sent to Fort Benning each day. Sorting through it and getting it to the right training area may take time, so if your soldier mentions not receiving letters, don’t fret, they will get them eventually.
Another helpful way to feel connected to your soldier is finding the Facebook group for their company. Here, cadre will post occasional updates and even photos. Looking through group photos can often feel like a game of “Where’s Waldo?” but it is an exciting surprise if you are able to spot your soldier.
Though every company is different, Chris was able to call home for a few minutes at the end of each phase in the evening. Basic training is 10 weeks long and is structured as follows:
- Week 0: Physical fitness tests
- Weeks 1-3: The Red Phase – fundamentals
- Weeks 4-5: The White Phase – self-discipline and combat skills
- Weeks 6-9: The Blue Phase – marksmanship and rifle training
- Week 10: Graduation Week – soldiers turn in equipment, clean the barracks, and end with a family day and the graduation ceremony
Even after a handful of letters and three phone calls, family day and graduation couldn’t come soon enough. Family day is when soldiers are released for the day to show their family around, enjoy a real meal and maybe a nap. You can always tell in downtown Columbus when it’s family day because there are lots of bald men and women walking around with their very proud families, enjoying their first taste of freedom. The next morning, soldiers graduate from CBT. If they are at Fort Benning, graduation is at the National Infantry Museum and is a full show that demonstrates the history of the Army. Everyone has the rest of the afternoon to enjoy being together before getting ready for the next chapter.
Basic training may be your first taste of the Army, but things are just getting started. The only guarantee is that there are no guarantees. Regardless of the journey an Army soldier is on, and wherever he or she may go next, there is always an Army family who has their back and is supporting them back home. A big congratulations to your soldier, and welcome to the Army family.