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Surviving Basic Training: The Dreaded Red Phase

Since the recent release of my book, The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook, I have had countless e-mails from new recruits asking me if I am a recruiter. If you read my book, it will be obvious that I am not. Recruiters, although honest, will tend to paint a more upbeat picture of basic training. I do not. I will tell anyone that basic training is tough, but it is much easier if you are prepared, hence the reason I wrote the book. This article, part of an ongoing series, will provide some more tips (I am betting your recruiter did not tell you) on how to survive basic training.

Basic training can be divided into three phases: the Red Phase, the White Phase and the Blue Phase. The Red Phase has many nicknames, none of which are pleasant. It also happens to be the hardest phase.

During the Red Phase, which lasts 2 weeks, you will begin the process of becoming a soldier. This is known as the hardest phase only because you are in a new environment. In actuality, it will be your easiest phase physically. You will get acquainted with your morning fitness routine, which actually gets harder as basic training progresses. Also, you will not have any long road marches in the Red Phase. Many will not be able to make the mental adjustment from civilian to soldier — however, with a few key pointers, the Red Phase will be over before you know it.

First and foremost, understand that the Red Phase is all about failure. Your platoon will fail at just about every order given to you during this time. Now read that last sentence again.

Don’t go into basic training thinking you are going to impress everyone with how fit you are and how well you pay attention, because it doesn’t matter in the Red Phase. The purpose of the Red Phase is to break down your civilian attitude and realize that in order to accomplish the tasks your drill sergeant gives you, you will have to work in a team. In order to break you down, your drill sergeants will purposefully give your platoon tasks that they cannot possible accomplish. Why would your drill sergeants do this?

The reason is simple and important: With failure comes learned knowledge. Think of it like this: let’s say you want to open a lemonade stand. You get all your equipment ready and open up your shop. Customers buy your lemonade, but you notice after a while that you’re not getting repeat business. After asking around, you discover that people think your lemonade is too sweet. After adjusting your recipe, your sales skyrocket. That first failed recipe taught you what kind of lemonade people like. So during the Red Phase, don’t get mad when you fail. Try your hardest, but expect to fail.

Another great tip to surviving the Red Phase would be to establish your personality. The Red Phase is where you’re judged the most by other members of your platoon. Be sure to make that extra effort to help people out. Also, try to see if any of your fellow members are having a particularly tough time, and make an effort to alleviate their stress. A little attention in the Red Phase goes a long way. You can never have enough friends in basic training.

Lastly, speak with confidence. When you are asked to say something to your drill sergeant, say it with confidence even if you’re not confident about your answer. Speak loud, firm and with motivation. Your drill sergeants will notice, trust me. Drill sergeants like to pick on recruits who aren’t confident.

If you have a particular topic regarding basic training that you would like me to address, please e-mail me at [email protected]


Mike Volkin is the author of the Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook, available at

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