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Top 10 Things to Expect When Preparing for Basic Training

Since I have published The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook, hundreds of people have asked me for advice. Most of the questions are the same, and served as the inspiration behind this article, in which I rank the top 10 things you should expect when departing for basic training. I have attempted to put this top ten list in order, with number 1 being the most important. So, without further hesitation, below are the Top 10 Things to Expect When Preparing for Boot Camp:

10. Expect to get sick
It’s inevitable. Just about everyone gets sick at basic training. Whether it’s a head cold or a sore throat, you will most likely not be at your physical best in boot camp. Basic training is too crowded and too fast paced for your body to get enough rest. Your body will be stressed for a long period of time, thus causing your immune system to break down. I personally had such a bad sore throat at boot camp; I was unable to swallow sometimes when I woke up. Further aggravating the sore throat was the Drill Sergeants’ relentless obsession with having their recruits yell everything they say at the top of their lungs. To reduce your chances of getting sick, drink lots of water and always wash your hands before you eat. Often you will be eating in the field, so always carry a wet nap in your pocket.

9. Expect homesickness
Everyone at basic training is missing his or her loved ones. Keep reminding yourself basic training is only a couple of months long. Bring a few wallet-sized pictures with you and a notebook. To ease your homesickness, write letters often and encourage letters in return.

8. Expect the worst
Here’s a quick story: Every year a company gives a $500 bonus to each of its employees. Jerry never expected any bonus, and Randy counted on that $500 bonus as a part of his salary. This year, the company had an unprofitable year, their employees received $250 each. Jerry was very excited and Randy was very upset. The point of this story is that Jerry expected the worst, which was no bonus, so he was happier in the end. Basic training is the same way. Maybe you will be awarded a 2-hour pass, so you can go see a movie, but don’t count on using that pass until you’re at the movies — chances are your Drill Sergeants will revoke that pass because of someone else’s poor performance.

7. Expect drama
The Drill Sergeants will make a big deal about everything. You need to be punctual, fast, efficient, etc. To add to this drama, you will be surrounded by scores of stressed recruits. Some of these recruits won’t deal with the stress well. Observe how your fellow recruits deal with stress — you don’t want to push one of them over the edge by saying the wrong thing.

6. Expect friendship and enemies
Upon graduating basic training, it will be scary how well you know your fellow recruits. Most of them you will like, but I guarantee you there will always be one or two you wish you never met. You will need to rely on your fellow recruits often in basic training, so be as polite and helpful as you can.

5. Expect long days and short nights
Your Drill Sergeant will have every second of every day planned. Expect long days with little sleep. Prepare for this circumstance before you leave for basic training. Spend the week before you depart for basic training waking up early (about 4:30am). It sounds like a lot of work, but if you’re not a morning person, this exercise will help tremendously.

4. Expect stress
I touched upon this subject in number 7. You will be under physical and mental stress the entire duration of basic training. To combat this, I suggest you learn as much as you can about what happens in basic training before you go. It’s amazing how much you can actually learn before ever seeing a Drill Sergeant. I might be biased, but reading through resources such as and The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook is the best preparation you can do. In the 6 short months since it was published, the book has become a bestseller, for a reason.

3. Expect mistakes and failures
Let me tell you this right now: you will fail. If you don’t personally fail a task, a fellow recruit will, and that means you fail too. Always try your hardest, but don’t be upset at someone because they aren’t as fast or as smart as you. Everyone has his or her strengths and weaknesses. Basic training is designed for you to know what failing feels like, so you can form trust in your fellow recruits.

2. Expect the unexpected
Strange things happen at basic training. Some recruits can’t handle the stress, some recruits try to get away with too much, and some recruits just like negative attention. Whatever the case, be prepared to wake up in the middle of the night and do push-ups in the mud because a Drill Sergeant found a candy bar in someone’s locker. It’s going to happen. The night before graduation, a fellow recruit put shaving cream in my battle buddies mouth as a joke. It wasn’t so funny 20 minutes later when all 200 recruits were doing push ups in the snow at 3:30 in the morning.

1. Expect to be deployed
This is the number one question I get e-mailed. “SGT Volkin, my recruiter said if I sign up for [insert MOS here] that I wont get deployed — is that true?” My answer is always the same: “Dear [Name], thanks for considering joining the military, but why would you want to join if you don’t want to get deployed? What do you think the military is training you for? Have a nice day.”


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

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