Saturday, September 25, 2010

Life at Basic Training (written by Derek)

Because we are so loved and blessed by our friends and family, each week I have several people ask how Derek is doing and what he's been up to. We do write letters and we talk on the phone every once in awhile, and though I would read about things he's been up to here and there, I didn't have a good idea of what the whole picture was like... or how to tell other people about what he's been doing.

So, a few weeks ago (communicating via snail mail is very slow process) I sent him a "survey" of specific questions so I could learn more about what he has been up to and what life is like.  He graciously filled it out so that I could pass it along. He responded knowing that this information would be shared, so I'm not violating his trust or anything. It's a pretty long post. He said it took him about four hours from start to finish to get through it all! Even though I've been in communication with him this whole time, I really learned a lot! So, here's a glimpse of basic training has been like for him!

Question: Describe the organization of the army, in terms of platoons, company, etc...

There are four squads (12 guys), in a platoon (50 guys). Then 4 platoons in his company (200 guys). [Fort Benning does not process women in their basic training, so it really is all guys. Not being sexist.] You go through basic as a company. I am in delta company. There are other companies, but they are on a different schedule. Alpha graduated last week, bravo is on the same schedule as us. Charlie is on week 5 of training right now, etc. All of the different companies make up a battalion. We are in the 3rd battalion of the 47th infantry. The structure continues to get bigger, but nothing higher is relevant to me at this time.

Each platoon has two to three drill sergeants. Then there is a 1st Sergeant in charge of the company and he is an officer, but you don't want him to know who you are because it means you messed up if you end up in his office.

Question: Describe your average day. 

On an average day, we wake up at 04:00 hours. The first thing I do is hit the bathroom, shave, and brush my teeth to get personal hygiene done. Then I get dressed in the uniform of the day (usually PT's first) and then make my bed. Then, if I had laundry done the night before, I put my clothes away in my locker. I have to make my locker and boots look nice for inspection. Then, we clean the bay. Then, we have formation in our bay at 04:45 and the drill sergeant will inspect the lockers, bays, and bathrooms.

Next, we head downstairs and form up for the first formation with all the platoons and the 1st sergeant. Then we head out to PT, which is usually 45 minutes to an hour. We either have running days or core body exercise days, pretty much. Some days are easy and some are hard. When we run, we will run 2.5 to 3.3 miles in about 20 to 24 minutes. After PT we will go take a quick cold shower to cool off (called heat dump). Then we will get dressed and go to breakfast.

After breakfast, we get ready for the main training of the day, which may last from a few hours to the whole day. The days also usually have an hour or two of down time where we sit around and wait (but sometimes we have to look busy). We eat lunch around noon and dinner is at 5pm. We are usually done with everything by 6:30 or 7:00. We do minor training in the bay or clean until 7:20. And then at 7:30, we take showers and then personal time starts at 8:00. Lights out is a 9pm.

You get 7 hours of sleep a night, unless you have a fireguard [one hours shifts of watch duty throughout the night] or a laundry shift. You will usually have a fireguard shift every night with a night off once very 5-8 days. So you get used to 6 hours of sleep. I usually go to bed 10 to 15 minutes early and it helps out.

Question: Describe some of the PT activities besides running.

Road marches are hard and long. Obstacle course was tiring. We did battle team tactics, which was running form barrier to barrier and firing live ammo while wearing body armor. 

Question: Describe the food and eating process:

 Food is called chow in the army. It is treated more like a chore that just has to be done three times a day and gets in the way of training. Chow happens one of three ways.
  1. The majority of the time we eat in the dining facility (DFAC). The food is usually decent--sometimes really good and sometimes not to good. We go through the chow line and must stand at attention/parade rest and side step through the line. We have to sit a certain way and can only use one hand to eat, and you have to eat fast. We usually get about six to ten minutes to eat, but we average 4 or 5. We have gotten 50 guys through in 12 minutes before. 
  2. Hot chow is where DFAC food is brought out to the field and we get paper plates and silverware. The food is okay some of the time, but it is hard to get good portions because it is served by other people.
  3. MREs [meal, ready to eat] are actually pretty decent, some are kind of sucky. They come with heaters to heat up the main and side entrees, but we aren't allowed to use them so we eat them cold. 
After a few weeks, you aren't really picky about food [he has actually admitted to eating, and liking, vegetables- even broccoli!!]. It is just fuel to recharge until next chow. MREs will stop you up for a day or two, or for some guys- they will destroy the bathrooms within a few hours. [uhm.. thanks for sharing!?!] 

Question: What have been some of your favorite foods?

We had steaks a few times, which are pretty good. I usually get cottage cheese every day. Vegetables and rice are staples every day. Cereal is good at breakfast. Spaghetti is usually pretty good.

Question: What has been the hardest part of basic so far? 

The hardest part of basic training is the mental aspect of it. The physical part is hard sometimes and easy at other times, but your body adapts. Mentally you have to transition to being away from your family, living with 50 guys, and getting in trouble on a daily basis due to the group- even though you didn't do anything wrong. The drill sergeants are always right even when they are wrong. You have to do a lot of tasks that don't make logical sense and there is a lot of arguing in the platoon. There are quite a few guys I can't wait to never see again! So a lot depends on your mental attitude and moral. Sometimes a letter can really just make your day. But definitely, toughening up yourself mentally is the hardest part.

Question: What are things that you miss, but didn't really expect to?

Chairs. I miss sitting on chairs. We sit on the floor and ground all of the time indian style and it's not comfortable at all. I also miss civilian clothes. I miss being able to go to the store whenever I want. I miss the freedom from a very detailed routine. I miss the movies. We all really miss music. I miss homemade food. It's a lot of little things that you end up missing.

Question: What's the coolest thing you've done?

Hand grenades, machine guns, and shooting M16s with night vision lasers.

Question. What are have your PT requirements and what have your been your scores so far?

The PT requirements are based on your age [here's a link to a chart]. To pass basic, you have to get 50% on all three events [push-ups, sit-ups, 2 mile run] to pass. Each percent is worth 1 point, so the best score you can get is 300 and the lowest is 150. I scored a 198 the first PT test and a 203 the second. My running and sit-ups are in the 70-80%, but my push-ups are about 58%. I have passed every PT test so far, but I am still working to improve my score though. [He actually participated in his third and final PT test today, but I haven't heard the results. Honestly, it doesn't matter, only to improve his scores. The requirements are only that you pass one PT test during basic and he has already done that. Though I am sure the he did improve all of his scores.]

Question: What are you most looking forward to after basic?

I am looking forward to seeing you and Jackson. I look forward to having my cell phone back. I'm looking forward to junk food, sleeping in, watching tv, football season, sitting on a couch, sleeping in my bed, and having the freedom to do what I want.

Question: What are you most looking forward to never doing again?

Wearing body armor. Road marches. PT at 5am every day. Rolling in the sand. I hate the sand and never wish to go to the beach again... at least for a few years.

Question: What are most frequent conversation topics (keep it appropriate)?

Mostly food, sex, music, movies, life on the outside and rumors of the day.

Question: What is a team leader and how did you earn that role?

Team leader means that I am "in charge" of 6 guys in the squad. Basically, I ust repeat the orders form the squad leader and check my guys to make sure they're ready for the day. I got the job ecause I am squared away. I am always on time, have my gear, and don't get into trouble. My drill sergeant just learned my name in week six, so I am doing good.

Question: How many push-ups do you do on any given day (aside from the ones you do to receive mail)?

Not that many. In red phase [first three weeks] we did a lot. We do about 20-50 push-ups during PT each day. Sometimes 100-200 on running days.

Here are some pictures from his company's facebook page (which is a totally awesome thing that a few drill sergeants keep updated-- just for us people back home.) There are lots of pictures on the site, and even though Derek isn't in but only a few, it still gives you an idea of what he's been up to!

I should know what kind of gun he is working with, but I forgot. Maybe the AT-4?

Prepping for PT test, number two. He's yellow (first platoon) #33.

So this was definitely a long read, but I think it's totally worth it. A big thanks to the cooperative hubby who spent a good portion of his personal time writing this! And a big thanks to you for actually reading the whole thing! :)

Have a question? Please ask! I will pass it along and find an answer! It would be super fun to send another survey with questions from you guys!


  1. that is *so* cool! thanks for sharing! and tell Derek thanks for filling it out! i thoroughly enjoyed reading through that!

  2. Love this post! Thank you so much Derek for serving this country and being out there doing what you're doing. You are incredible!!

  3. This is awesome and super informative. So what is the plan after basic? Will he be back home? Will you guys move? Will he go to another training?

    My brother went from basic straight to Texas where we still didn't get to see him and he said it was very similar to basic... only got his cell phone once in awhile, no internet, etc., from April 15 - August 6. Then FINALLY after that he came home for 1 month, got married and reported to duty at Ft.Hood where he can live with his wife now.

  4. Good to hear he's doing well. The hardest part of basic for a lot of people was the mental aspect.

    @D.P. The secondary training you're referring to is called AIT (Advanced Individual Training). Some of them are fairly long; mine was about a year and a half at Ft Gordon, GA. Definitely some fun times.

    @Amy Hard to tell from the picture, but it looks like Derek's holding a M16 (or possibly M4) with a M203 (40mm grenade launcher) mounted underneath. The sand, road marches, running around in sand were all fun things... after the fact. We still do PT almost every day, but I'm sure Derek could tell you it's not at all bad after you're used to it. Going on six years now.

    Not to nitpick, but it's "Sergeant". :]

  5. Ask him if he's gotten to use night vision or infrared systems yet. My dad makes all those systems/equipment/technology for the Army, but never let us "play" with them when we were little! :( And still doesn't let us play with them now!


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