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Memorable Moments from USAF Basic Military Training

Contents

Introduction

I’ll never forget the thoughts, emotions, and events from my time in basic military training, even though it has been many years ago. I suppose most individuals who have been through basic military training, also known as boot camp, would probably say the same thing. To say that my world as I knew it was turned upside down would be an understatement.

I originally contemplated joining the military as a reservist to help pay for college. I was able to complete my first two years of college at a local community college by working at McDonald’s over summers and working a job in the community college library year round. However, I would not be able to fund the cost of continuing my college education when transferring to a local 4-year university.

I don’t remember where I got the information, but I heard that you could get education assistance as a reservist in the military. So, I decided to see a U.S. Air Force recruiter because of all the military branches available, the Air Force appealed to me the most. The recruiter told me that reserve duty did not provide educational assistance as a benefit. The recruiter then asked if I might be interested in becoming active duty. I immediately told the recruiter no.

The recruiter asked me to just listen to what he had to say and I could always walk away if I wasn’t interested. After listening to the recruiter, I warmed up to the idea of joining the U.S. Air Force in an active duty role. I would have a steady job, a steady income, and free benefits like a place to stay, meals, healthcare, travel opportunities, and education assistance.

The U.S. had gone through an economic slump for a few years, so the idea of a steady job and income for at least 4 years and finally being on my own was very appealing. I decided to sign up for active duty for 4 years with the U.S. Air Force. The next step after going through MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) processing was basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base (now called Joint Base San Antonio) in San Antonio, TX.

Note: Some of the quotes used in this post have been edited to leave out profanity. Language used in basic military training was sometimes not language you would encounter in a church or Sunday school environment.

Except where otherwise noted, images used in this blog post are courtesy of USAF Basic Military Training.

First Night

I flew on commercial jets to Dallas, TX and then from Dallas, TX to San Antonio, TX. I had never flown on a jet airplane, so that was a new experience.

A U.S. Air Force bus transported new recruits from the airport in San Antonio to Lackland AFB. It was night time, rainy, and a little bit chilly. We were dropped off near a large concrete building and then led into a dining hall. I would soon find out that the large building was actually a multi-level dormitory (dorm), one of many on the base.

RH&T (Recruit Housing & Training) dormitories; image courtesy of Fort Wiki

We were fed a nice meal. Veteran recruits (recruits who had been in training for awhile) assigned to chow hall duty sat near us new recruits eating their meal and laughed once-in-awhile while looking over at us. One of the new recruits piped up and asked, “What’s so funny?” One of the veteran recruits replied, “You’ll find out.”

After eating, we were told to line up outside and wait quietly. The dorm building complexes had large overhangs at ground level, where I would later learn drill (marching) practice and PT (physical training) could be performed during hot or inclement weather.

The anticipation of what might come next and the chill of the air caused me to start to shiver a bit even though I was wearing a midweight jacket. After a few minutes of waiting, one of the metal doors suddenly flew open, banging against the concrete wall. Men with Smokey Bear hats (Training Instructors or TIs) walked out with a metallic clicking noise with each footstep they took. I would later learn that the clicking sound was from metal taps on the bottom of the boots or shoes. I’m not sure if the taps served any useful purpose other than to intimidate nearby recruits.

The TIs immediately began barking commands at us. We had to pickup and drop our bags repeatedly because some recruits did not react quickly enough after the command was given. After being put in the position of attention, the TIs began walking around looking at everyone. There was one individual about three or four lines in front of me who had long hair down to his shoulders. One of the TIs stopped in front of him and yelled, “Who do you think you are, Jesus Christ?!”

We were broken up into respective assigned flights, an organizational unit in the U.S. Air Force, and then we were told to get up into our dorms quickly. The TI directing the flight I was assigned to barked at my flight and said, “If anyone doesn’t think they can handle basic military training, come and see me in the morning.”

New recruits receiving initial instructions from their TI.

A full stomach, the anticipation of waiting for what was to come, and then finally experiencing the yelling and rushing left me in a shambles emotionally and my stomach was in knots as I lay in my bed. What had I gotten myself into? I thought about what the TI had said about coming to see him in the morning if anyone didn’t think they could handle basic military training. I kind of knew that wasn’t the wisest thing to do. I eventually fell asleep, but I don’t know how.

First Days

The first day of basic military training began with haircuts, in-processing (records check), and the first uniform issue. During in-processing, another TI asked the waiting recruits if anyone played an instrument. I played the trumpet in grade school and then the trumpet and baritone in marching band in high school, so I raised my hand and provided my name and instrument played when asked. I would find out a few days later why the question was asked.

Male recruits receiving their haircut.
Recruits receiving their first uniform issue.

Before entering the military, I was mesmerized with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon because of the possible biblical prophecy implications. I would eat my dinner at home almost every night during the week while watching the evening news on television during the invasion. However, after entering basic military training, there was no more television. I felt like I had been placed on a different planet. I had no idea what was going on in the world due to not having access to the news.

Each day of basic military training was a routine of hurry up and wait and activity. There were chow hall visits, classes to attend, physical training (a joke in my opinion when I went through), assigned and extra duties, drill (marching) practice, immunizations, and learning U.S Air Force history, customs, and courtesies. You were tested on U.S. Air Force history, customs, and courtesies near the end of basic military training. There was little time for yourself and not much time to think about things.

Recruits eating a meal in the chow hall.
Recruits receiving classroom instruction.
Recruits performing part of their physical training (PT).
Recruits practicing drill.
Recruits receiving immunizations.
Recruits receiving one of many inspections.
Immunizations when I went through – image courtesy of Jet Infectors.

I grew to enjoy marching, especially when the TI would have us sing out while marching. While marching, you were to keep your eyes straight ahead. Looking around while marching was forbidden and you would catch the ire of the TI if you were caught doing so.

All recruits were given an eye exam. If you needed to wear prescription eyewear, you were provided with military issue eyewear. One of my TIs affectionately called the military issue eyewear BC (birth control) glasses. He then told us they were called BC glasses because you were so ugly wearing them, no woman would want to come near you.

The People

There was a guy in a line of beds across from me in the dorm who would moan in his sleep at night. A guy from Massachusetts, with a Massachusetts accent, who slept next to him would make wisecracks about him when he moaned. It was all I could do to keep myself from busting out laughing.

You didn’t dare make loud noises, talk, or cut up during lights out at night. Each dorm had a two-way speaker system and night staff personnel could listen in and hear if there was any noise going on in the dorm.

Sometime between the second and fourth day, we were taught how to do a night display. Basically, there was a certain way that your laundry bag had to be tied to, and your shower towel hung from, your bed on the outer aisle side. There were some other things that had to be displayed a certain way for night display, but I can’t remember them now.

One of our TIs performed a surprise inspection the night after we were taught how to do a night display. I awoke when I heard him bang on the dorm entrance door. All entries to dorms were always kept locked, with a dorm guard (an extra duty for more senior recruits) stationed at the entry. The TI walked in with metal taps clicking as he made his way inspecting each bed down each row of beds in both dorm bays. He stopped at the bed of the guy who moaned in his sleep.

Dorm guard duty; rifles weren’t issued when I went through.

The TI performing the inspection was a stocky, muscular guy. He looked like he probably worked out with weights. After looking at the display for a few seconds, he reached down with one hand, lifted the end of the bed a foot or more from the floor, and then let it drop. The recruit awoke in shock, gasping. The TI immediately began berating him about his night display because he hadn’t done it correctly.

There were individuals in basic military training who were recycled. Being recycled meant that they had to redo their training for a number of reasons; e.g. sickness, injury, disciplinary issues, etc. My flight received a recycle a few days after I began basic military training. The guy was tall and slender. I can’t remember his name, but I can still remember his face somewhat.

One thing you were never to do when participating in physical training was to have any items in your pockets or socks. The day of, or the day after, our flight received the recycle, one of our TIs noted a bulge in one of the guy’s socks after we had assembled outside for our daily physical training session. Upon further investigation, the guy had either forgotten to remove, or didn’t care about removing, a pack of cigarettes. He left our flight that day and I never saw him again. I assume he was discharged from the military for disciplinary reasons.

I remember one day lining up in formation in the morning. The following evening one of the guys in my flight had injured himself somehow and was on crutches. One of our TIs noticed him and asked, “What happened to you?!” I don’t remember what the recruit said, but the TI responded, “I don’t want a cripple in my flight.” I felt bad for the guy. I’m not sure what happened to him, but I never saw the guy again after that morning. He may have either been discharged for medical reasons or was placed on medical leave until he recuperated, becoming a recycle assigned to another flight.

One thing that could disqualify you from being able to join the military at the time I went in was attempted suicide. One of the guys in my flight had attempted suicide once and it wasn’t discovered until he had been in basic military training for awhile, probably during a background investigation. I can still remember him walking around the dorm saying, “Do you know I’m crazy? I tried to kill myself.” He was gone a day or two after it was discovered that he had attempted suicide.

Later in basic military training while I was performing dorm guard duty for another flight, an announcement came over the two-way speaker system asking all TIs to report to a particular location. On each level of the dorms there was a ledge wide enough to walk on the outside that was accessible via the windows. Evidently, a recruit had accessed a ledge and was threatening to jump.

Again later in basic military training, I was performing chow hall runner duty. I was standing close to what was known to recruits as the snake pit. The snake pit was where the TIs would sit while their flights ate chow. The TIs would just wait and look for something a recruit had done, or was doing, wrong.

A new recruit walked by me and his uniform was clearly not on correctly and he looked a bit disheveled. I could tell that he was nervous. I overheard what must have been one of the young recruit’s TIs make a sarcastic remark to the TIs sitting with him and then he said, “Watch this.” The TI then proceeded to verbally shred the young recruit to the point that the recruit was visibly shaking. My heart went out to the guy.

Transfer to the Drum and Bugle Corps

One day while in the day room of the dorm, where some training was provided and where announcements were made, the TI called out my name and the names of a few other members of my flight. We were told that we had been selected for transfer to the Drum and Bugle Corps. I was dumbfounded. In spite of the stress of being in basic military training, I began to adjust and I also began to connect with the members of my flight. I raised my hand and asked the TI if we could get out of the transfer. I was told no. So, the selected members had to pack up their belongings and report to a dorm for the newly created Drum and Bugle Corps flight. We were transported on a bus to our new location.

I had been in what was considered a newer dorm when assigned to my first flight. When I arrived at the dorm for the newly formed Drum and Bugle Corps flight, I found out that it was a much older dorm. While searching for dormitory images for this post, I discovered that the older dorms dated back to World War II and were known as MOB (Mobilization Open Bay) barracks or dormitories.

Image courtesy of Fort Wiki

The MOB dorm was much smaller than the dorm I came from and it wasn’t as open either. I also found out that our flight was a co-ed flight, consisting of males and females. The females stayed in a separate dorm. The TIs were co-ed as well; the senior TI being a female and the junior TI being a male.

I quickly adapted to the new flight. One of the benefits of being in the Drum and Bugle Corps was that you didn’t have to perform many of the extra duties that most of the other flights had to perform; e.g. chow hall duty and grounds maintenance duty. Our duty was to play music for graduation flight parades and playing taps during the lowering of the U.S. flag at the end of each day.

Graduation parade

The instrument I was assigned to play in the Drum and Bugle Corps was the flugelhorn, a brass instrument with the same fingering and similar sound as a trumpet. It had been about three years since I last played the trumpet, but I quickly came up-to-speed since I had played for so long in the past.

Images courtesy of USAF 33rd Fighter Wing
My Most Embarassing Experience

Two or three days after transferring to the Drum and Bugle Corps, I either volunteered for, or was assigned, the duty of chow hall runner. A chow hall runner was responsible for reporting their flight for chow and directing flight members to an assigned seating area after obtaining their meal. I awoke early the following morning, dressed, and left the dorm to report my flight for breakfast at our assigned chow hall.

Because my flight was temporarily housed in an older dorm, we were required to march to a chow hall located in a nearby newer dorm. During the first two to three days of going to and from our assigned chow hall, I didn’t pay any attention to how we got there. My inattentiveness came back to haunt me the first day of being the chow hall runner.

It was still a bit dark when I left the dorm. The air was chilly and it was raining. As soon as I left the dorm, I realized that I didn’t remember how to get to the chow hall. I can’t remember which direction I went initially, but it had been the opposite of the direction I should have went.

I soon became disoriented and lost since all of the newer dorms looked the same. I stopped at least twice to ask where my flight’s assigned chow hall was located, but one group of two recruits stated that they didn’t know and I believe the second group of recruits I asked intentionally misled me.

I was getting anxious because I knew I was late reporting our flight for chow. I was heating up from running and my body heat combined with the chilly air caused my glasses to fog up. I finally found my flight’s assigned chow hall and went in to report our flight for chow. I was wet, hot, and my glasses were fogged up. I stood at attention and reported my flight for chow to the chow hall monitor, a duty assigned to TIs.

The TI looked at me and yelled, “Where have you been?!” I replied, “Sir, I got lost.” The TI’s eyes bulged, he leaned forward, and he shouted, “You what?!” I replied, “Sir, I got lost.” The chow hall monitor began chewing me out stating that they had considered reporting me as AWOL (absent without leave). I was flustered about getting lost and now being chewed out and somehow mistook the chow hall monitor’s request to bring the flight immediately with bringing the flight in fifteen minutes. Needless to say, after arriving again with my flight and reporting my flight for chow, I was chewed out again for waiting fifteen minutes.

In the military there’s a saying that stuff rolls down hill, meaning that if you do something wrong, you usually aren’t the only one who gets berated for your mistake. Evidently, my senior TI was chewed out for my getting lost, so I was called into her office later that morning.

My senior TI chewed me out. She stated that since I couldn’t go to the chow hall on my own without getting lost, a fellow female recruit would be assigned to go with me to make sure I didn’t get lost again. At the end of chewing me out she said, “Do you understand me Airman Meyer.” I was so flustered that I replied, “Yes, sir.” She yelled, “You Bozo!” in reference to Bozo the Clown. “Are you trying to insult me?!” I replied that I was not.

The TI of the senior Drum and Bugle Corps flight was present and chuckled at the end and said, “Airman Meyer.” I replied, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Today just hasn’t been your day has it?” I replied, “No, sir,” and he chuckled again.

Fellow recruits in my flight came up to me afterwards and tried to console me. After about the second or third attempt to console me, I broke down and cried. I had never been so humiliated in my life and I was so embarassed that I would have a female recruit accompanying me to make sure I didn’t get lost.

Conclusion

I don’t remember when, but eventually I was able to report our flight for chow on my own. We later moved to a newer dorm, so we just had to travel a few flights of stairs down to the chow hall. I successfully completed basic military training, earning the USAF Basic Military Training Honor Graduate ribbon. In fact, there were a number of members of my flight who also earned the USAF Basic Military Training Honor Graduate ribbon.

Image courtesy of AFNEWS/PAND

At the end of basic military training, all members of my flight boarded their respective buses for the trip to an assigned technical training school to begin training for their career specialty. I was assigned to the accounting and finance career specialty and at that time the training for accounting and finance was held at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, TX.

I’ve never forgotten my time in, nor the events of, basic military training. Although life was stressful during the time I was immersed in basic military training, I can now look back and smile or laugh about my experiences.

My flight (I’m in the back row); image courtesy of USAF BMT Flight Photos

Post header image courtesy of skeeze at Pixabay.

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Updated on 2020-09-18

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