Joining the military is a profoundly impactful event for most people. Regardless of the branch, it shapes your first few impressions of the military. As a result, there are handful of things you can do to get more out of the boot camp experience that will positively impact the future of your military experience.

 

Choose Your Crowd

A common mistake for new recruits of each branch is to fall in with the same crowds they ran with before they joined the military. This isn’t always a bad thing, of course, but depending on your background, moving into a new sect of personalities can have a profound impact on your success in the military.

Don’t mistake the military as being a big social event – it sure as hell isn’t. But as nearly every psychology and self help book written in the last 50 years will tell you:

You become your company.

If you’re coming from a background which greatly enjoyed defying authority and causing trouble, chances are good that those people in the military will continue that kind of behavior. If you enlisted to experience something outside of all that, find associates who focus on something other than acting out – they’ll hold you back.

It’s an awkward experience, being uprooted from what you’re used to, but don’t try to duck out of the unfamiliarity by trying to stick with what you’re used to socially. Embrace the awkwardness and discomfort because it won’t last that long. You may as well start developing new habits while you’re at it.

 

Volunteer for Any Job You Can Handle

During basic training, there is a lot of marching involved. In some branches, such as the Navy, the person calling out marching orders is not always, in fact, the proverbial drill sergeant or recruit division commander. Instead, that responsibility is given to a recruit. This role is given a measure of respect, and since everyone at that point is on the same playing field, it is on a voluntary basis. The one who strikes the RDC or drill sergeant as both competent and capable of leading gets the job.

Other boot camp jobs are available, and though they’re not pretty, they are important. Volunteering for these positions as jobs are being assigned is an outstanding way to make your mark on your division or company, garner respect, and exercise some measure of additional discipline.

Why is this important? Awards are handed out for performance at the end of basic training, for one. If you’re not interested in this, you may be interested in knowing that some can even result in earlier promotions in the right circumstances. Again, basic can set the stage for the remainder of your military experience.

 

Be Loyal to Your Colleagues

Sometimes, basic training sucks. Sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, the cutthroat bullshit characterizing Hollywood depictions of the military experience isn’t just unethical, outside of basic, it’s also lethal. Boot camp is an great point in time to start finding things in common with the people you’re serving with, regardless of your personality differences.

There are going to be douchebags in the military. There’s no way around that. Some of them may even be your boss. Some aspects of the military attract incompetence and the type of people obsessed with arbitrarily exercising authority. This is just the nature of it. Nonetheless, find what ways you can be of assistance to your equals, and you’ll find yourself being repaid. In other cases, learn to distinguish between your equals and colleagues and the ones who are more interested in playing the cutthroat game – and avoid them.

Once you’re on the outside of basic, you’re bound to experience a whole new environment – it’s equally important to attempt at least to find common ground with individuals in your day to day company. Doing this makes the entire experience way less unpleasant.

 

Avoid Drama

There are literally thousands of people in basic training across each branch on any given day, everyone has a different story, everyone has a different set of motivating circumstances which led them to enlist. Undoubtedly, you’re going to interact with some who have no interest in doing anything other than starting shit and stirring up drama.

Males, females and everything in between are guilty of this. While in basic training, don’t fraternize – which is to say, hit on, flirt with, imply anything which can possibly be taken as ‘unduly familiar’ with a member of the opposite sex. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t work, and there’s more than a pound of flesh to pay if she/he complains about your behavior as being sexual harassment. In other words, it’s not worth it.

Outside of fraternization, avoid anyone who tends to need to complain non stop. On the one hand, everyone in boot camp has to bitch about boot camp. That’s a luxury new recruits enjoy which civilians don’t have, but there’s a line. There’s the bitch and moan sessions everyone participates in as therapy, and then you have the kind of complaining which serves absolutely no purpose, other than to revert everyone listening to a state of negativity which impedes decent performance.

 

Dealing With Politics and Bureaucracy While in the Military

This is a warning post regarding something everyone in the military deals with, but is rarely discussed prior to enlistment – military politics. The aim of this post shouldn’t be confused with what was discussed in BJtM’s last post, which talked at length about national political concerns and how it affects people in the military. Here, we’re discussing how life in the military will expose you to some concepts, behaviors, and personalities you may not otherwise come across as a civilian.

Politics in the military is a pretty vague notion, so it makes sense to narrow it down a bit. When joining the military, you subject yourself to one of the oldest hierarchies still in use. This system of authority has its place and comes with a number of positives, but it also subjects you to a few negatives that you may not have thought to consider as a civilian. Decisions will be made in spite of your contributions, and at levels where your voice may be completely drowned out, regardless of how logical your input may be. This is the nature of the military hierarchy.

Generally speaking, when you ship off to basic training, most of us know enough to expect to be treated like the lowest man on the totem pole. A lot of times, however, recruits leave basic training for the fleet or the field expecting different treatment. Very often meeting with a rather disappointing reality. For some time after BMT (basic military training), you can expect your opinion to be ignored and occasionally (or constantly) criticized. This is also deeply written into the nature of the military and shouldn’t be taken personally. However, once you spend a little time in the trenches or out at sea or wherever, you’ll begin to notice your expertise is taken a little more seriously and as you advance, you can expect to experience what it means to be a leader.

While many books have been written about these topics, what you don’t find are many discussions about the politics that come with that leadership. Many of us joined, worked to be promoted, worked our asses off to earn the respect of colleagues and subordinates only to discover a whole different aspect of leadership that had never been mentioned. Again, politics – which is generally short for dealing with the personal/professional agendas of your peers or seniors – is all but inevitable, and it makes sense to at least be aware of it.

As a junior military member, you’re bound to be on the brunt end of any number of political agendas – from your immediate ‘supervisor’ to your senior enlisted leadership to your executive officer and commanding officer and beyond. There are only a handful of approaches to dealing with this sort of game, and if you’ve worked in a corporate setting prior to enlisting, this all may seem quite familiar.

 

1) Be flexible.

In basic training, you’re pretty much at the mercy of your division commander/drill sergeant/etc – now is certainly not the time to try to play games.

Once you’re on the other side of boot camp, things change a bit, but this advice is still sound. Historically, you’re not customarily in control of when and if you’re deployed. Times are changing though, and it appears that even this is up for debate. Nonetheless, it’s wise to manage your expectations when it comes to your military experience. Your time will largely be spoken for, and the best practice when planning thing like college plans, leave/furlough, second jobs, and the like is to not be discouraged (irritated is fine) when your command’s needs take precedence over your agendas.

 

2) Be resilient.

You’re in it for the long haul. Ultimately, persistence will get you what you want, assuming it’s not in opposition to your command’s mission.

A hypothetical – your immediate supervisor claims that you will be busy with exercises/training/mess cranking and refuses to approve a vital part of your Tuition Assistance. You can get mad, get discouraged, bitch to your colleagues about how big of prick he is or whatever. Or you can adopt the more sound, rational strategy:

1) demonstrate how you’re capable of handling the responsibilities of school in addition to your job duties and

2) don’t be afraid to negotiate with his supervisor. The chain of command is there for this reason. More on this type of scenario at a later date, but for the time being, this illustrates how a situation requiring these attributes might play out.

 

The higher up the food chain you get, the more political your professional career becomes. On the brighter side, there are more approaches you can take. It’s also wise to acquire knowledge about how and why some of these games are played. for reference, I strongly suggest picking up a copy of Robert Greene’s book, The 48 Laws of Power

Obviously, education has become arguably more expensive than it’s actually worth. Contrary to many traditional arguments, a college education seems to be going the way of exceeding it’s marketplace value – at least when you consider student loan interest rates, the cost of tuition, and the likelihood of picking up a job right out of school.

This is undoubtedly one of the most compelling aspects of enlisting in the military – the enormous number benefits associated with education while in the service and after you’re discharged. A great many of the factors that non-military college goers have to consider are minimized or go out the window entirely.

There are quite a few military education programs in place – Tuition Assistance (making an appearance in the news quite recently for being eliminated, then brought back almost immediately), scholarships, Montgomery GI Bill (aka, MGIB), VEAP, and to say nothing of credits for school while you’re in the military – more on all these a bit later.

In short, GI Bill (both the MGIB and Post 9/11) programs pay for you to go to school. Both programs are markedly different from one another, and it’s very important to decide which one is better for you and your education goals. Here, we’ll just glimpse briefly at the most popular GI Bill program known as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which you may have heard something about – it’s easily one of the biggest recruitment selling points.

 

The Post 9/11 GI Bill

Easily one of the best things to happen to active duty and veterans in a long time just shy of coming home from a deployment. This program has changed the way we pursue and pay for education, in my opinion, for the objective better. Here are a few facts to keep in mind.

-100% of tuition is paid up to $17,500/year for private facilities. State schools? It’s even better – 100% tuition is covered. If you do attend a private school that will end up exceeding $17,500 a year, though, many are called “Yellow Ribbon” schools, which have opted to continue allowing you to take classes and GI Bill funds even after exceeding the maximum. Which is pretty cool.

-Payments are made directly to the school, so you don’t even have to worry about bothering with much of the administrative stuff. Take it from me, this is a good thing.

-Book and education expenses stipend (i.e. book payments, etc.). This is paid directly to you once you get enrolled and happens several times per year. It caps out at $1,000 each year you’re doing the college thing. (I can’t overstate how helpful this is, as colleges are world renowned for nickel and diming students at nearly every opportunity all in the name of “it’s part of your educational investment!”)

-Living stipend. Possibly one of the coolest aspects to the New GI Bill is the fact that you’ll be paid an additional monthly amount (during months when classes are going on – Christmas time, for example, usually only renders about 50% because classes usually wrap up halfway through the month) to cover rent, meal, time not spent working, etc. This money isn’t monitored and it’s not a loan, so you can spend it wherever it needs to be spent!

 

There are some definite perks to military service for anyone who’s career-oriented enough to investigate their options. The assumption is that you’re pretty driven in making a successful career if you’re on this site, so chances are good that this applies to you.

Tuition Assistance has been around for a while now, providing 100% tuition college for active duty personnel in every branch, alleviating the need for soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to tap into their GI Bill funds before they leave the service, or are ready to take advantage of that benefit. This is a awesome program that many veterans wish they’d taken greater advantage of while they were active duty (myself included). Nevertheless, it’s something to look into as soon as you get to your final duty station – it’s not an option during basic training because you’ll be too busy, and although it is possible during technical training, it’s generally frowned upon. Your command expects you to first learn your craft before embarking on your extra-military education.

Each year, you’re allowed as much as $4,500 dollars to expend on tuition. Most of the time, the check is cut and sent directly to the school, so you won’t be handling that money yourself, very similar to the post-9/11 GI Bill structure. Trust me, it’s much better that way.

Recently, as a result of the sequester – a clever budget cut was made to reinforce the (supposed) evils of budget cuts – and the powers that be placed that right where it hurt the most – military personnel. Incidentally, Air Force One costs approximately $180,000 per hour to operate, and yet we cut out military benefits in the name of (supposed) fiscal responsibility. Again, this isn’t a political blog, but there is bound to be overlap when you blog about the military. For more about this overlap, read my post about politics and the military.

Fortunately, Congress has overruled that decision as of March 23rd, restoring Tuition Assistance to those branches who had been forced to discontinue it (Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and the Marine Corps).

There’s some disparity from one branch to the next on what TA covers and what it doesn’t, so keep it in mind what your limits are and plan you course load accordingly. It’s also wise to consider whether course work is a viable option based on your job and command’s time constraints – especially if you end up attached to a highly mobile unit like a ship, any kind of special warfare team – the truth is, it may not even be possible if you anticipate being out at sea for months at a stretch.

Below is an overview of each branch:

 

Navy

Tuition and Fees: Navy Tuition Assistance covers 100% tuition and fees not to exceed:

  • $250 per semester credit hour
  • $166.67 per quarter credit hour
  • $16.67 per clock hour
  • Limit of 16 semester hours per fiscal year

What is covered: The Navy Tuition Assistance covers the following fees:

  • Tuition
  • Lab Fees
  • Registration/enrollment Fees
  • Miscellaneous Fees
  • Computer/technology Fees

Who is eligible: The following categories of Navy Personnel are able to use the Navy Tuition Assistance:

  • Active Duty Navy
  • Active Duty Status Navy Reserve personnel

Air Force

Tuition and Fees: Air Force Tuition Assistance covers 100% tuition and fees not to exceed:

  • $250 per semester credit hour
  • $166 per quarter credit hour
  • $4500 total for the fiscal year

What is covered: The Air Force Tuition Assistance covers the following fees:

  • Tuition
  • Lab Fees
  • Registration/enrollment Fees
  • Miscellaneous Fees
  • Computer/technology Fees

Who is eligible: The following categories of Air Force Personnel are able to use the Air Force Tuition Assistance:

  • Active Duty Air Force
  • Air Force Reserves

 


 

Marines

Tuition and Fees: Marine Corps Tuition Assistance covers 100% tuition and fees not to exceed:

  • $250 per semester credit hour
  • $166 per quarter credit hour
  • $4500 total for the fiscal year

What is covered: The Marine Corps Tuition Assistance covers the following fees:

  • Tuition
  • Lab Fees
  • Enrollment Fees
  • Special Fees
  • Computer Fees

Who is eligible: The following categories of Marine Corps Personnel are able to use the Marine Corps Tuition Assistance:

  • Active Duty Marines

 

Coast Guard

Tuition and Fees: Coast Guard Tuition Assistance covers 100% tuition and fees not to exceed:

  • $250 per semester credit hour
  • $166 per quarter credit hour
  • $4500 total for the fiscal year

What is covered: The Coast Guard Tuition Assistance covers the following fees:

  • Tuition
  • Lab Fees

Who is eligible: The following categories of Coast Guard Personnel are able to use the Coast Guard Tuition Assistance:

  • Active Duty Coast Guard
  • Selective Reserve
  • Civilian Employees

 

Army

Tuition and Fees: Army Tuition Assistance covers 100% tuition and fees not to exceed:

  • $250 per semester credit hour
  • $166 per quarter credit hour
  • $4500 total for the fiscal year

What is covered: The Army Tuition Assistance covers the following fees:

  • Tuition
  • Lab Fees
  • Enrollment Fees
  • Special Fees
  • Computer Fees

Who is eligible: The following categories of Army Personnel are able to use the Army Tuition Assistance:

  • Active Duty Army
  • Army Reserves on Active Duty Status
  • Army National Guard on Active Duty
26. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Miscellaneous Military Stuff · Tags:

There’s not a lot of call or interest in poetry these days compared to generations gone by, but I do think there are times when it’s appropriate. I came across this not long ago, and wish I’d read it when I was in the military. There’s a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from it, and as you progress in your military career, you’ll piece together how true it is.

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling

 

07. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Politics · Tags:

Disclosure: This post is more than borderline opinionated.

Before Joining the Military is not by any means a political sounding board for my own political affiliation, so don’t get the wrong idea. But by its very nature, people who join the military are directly affected by politics, in 100% of cases. Regardless of your personal feelings about the political climate of the country, if you’re considering enlistment as a viable career option, then your life is more subject to the leanings of these creatures we call ‘representatives’.

Like I said, though, this is not a political sounding board.

During the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, it was considered civic duty to get educated, stay educated, and participate in politics – it was widely regarded as something citizens just did. Today, so many of us have been lulled into complacency because we’re so incredibly comfortable. And as civilians, we can sort of afford to be complacent. At least, the ones who are okay with keeping their mouths shut can.

When you join the military, while you’re in it and once you’re out, that whole “whatever, politics is boring” goes out the window for a lot of veterans. In fact, for a lot of us, being in the military changes how you see politics completely. Democrats turn into Republicans, Republicans into Democrats, and both may turn into Libertarians. The point is that once you sweat, bleed, and bathe four (or two, or twenty) years of military service, you may begin to relate to the Renaissance mentality of regarding it as civic duty. What was once incredibly boring horseshit your high school teachers tried desperately to get you to relate to is now somehow relatable.

To put it briefly, the Commander in Chief is who he is for four to eight years. It’s widely debated how valuable your vote is or isn’t, but none of that is really the point. The point is that while you’re considering enlistment, you’re in the process of considering a move that will likely shape and reshape the outlook of how you regard politics. As a matter of advice, there’s not a whole lot a veteran can give to someone pre-enlistment when it comes to big politics on the grand scale, other than this:

Start paying attention.

Like I said, politics isn’t the most interesting thing in the world, all the time. It becomes more interesting the more you consider how you’re liable to be affected by it, though. Most of us in the civilian sector care very little because there’s a prevailing mentality that “oh this election won’t affect my life much” – and we choose instead to waste the next three hours watching the likes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo instead of watching a presidential debate or having a consequential discussion with your dad about what’s changed in his political party in the last 10 years or so… One way is squandering the hours of your life, and the other is not. The point is that if you’re thinking about joining, your life will be 10 times more affected than your college-bound, future frat housed buddies. As such, it makes a great deal of sense to plan accordingly.

I say all this, but have yet to give any real starting point for someone who may agree. It’s like this, first and foremost:

Read the Constitution.

Regardless of what political party you choose to agree with, if you’re joining the Armed Forces, you’re going to be swearing to defend this document. Read it, learn it, study it, and the rest is bound to follow. You may even notice that quite a bit of it really needs defending.

Then:

Decide where you stand on major issues like foreign policy, overseas occupation, and the not so recent abuse of military prisoners.  

Ask yourself primitive, basic questions like ‘why do I agree/disagree with our current foreign policy’. And write down why. Tweet it. Post it on Facebook.

Consider why it may have been such an ugly, illegal, terrible thing for U.S. troops to beat and piss on POWs. Then try the hat on reverse. What would you do if the guy you’re babysitting detonated an IED that blew off your best friends legs, you haven’t seen home for 9 months, and haven’t slept in 18 hours?

 

Again, BJtM is not a political sounding board. But it’s vitally important for any citizen – civilian or military – to be asking such questions.

Admittedly, I am not a psychologist. But I do habitually break down peoples’ motivation for doing, saying, or thinking different things. In some cases, it pays off, but mostly, it’s just habit. Joining the military, and all that goes into it is fertile ground for a lot of that kind of analysis, and therefore I find it pretty entertaining trying to break down why people consider joining.

To be clear-everyone, without exception-joins the military for their own selfish, personal reasons. Sometimes, they’ll express those reasons, but in many cases when you’re asked, you’re more likely to give a reason that’s mostly palatable to the person you’re talking about:

“I want to see the world”

“I want the job security”

“I want to ultimately get a degree and the military will pay for it”

“I love boys/girls”

Or whatever… There are millions upon millions of these reasons, and there are rarely more than a handful that truly apply to each person.

To me, what’s the most interesting is the commonalities. Meaning, while the reasons are diverse, the driving elements behind the reasons are bound to be similar, in principle. As with all methods, there are many, but principles are few.

 

A person considering joining the military is either:

1) Trying to get away from something, or

2) Is going after something

Based on what I’ve seen, you can determine which type of service person you’re dealing with if you know what to look for. Personally, I left for the military eager to get out of a small town and experience “the real world” (which I’m still not entirely convinced exists) the way my imagination depicted it. Incidentally, expectation and reality are often two different things, and certainly was for me and most likely will be for anyone else joining the military in the same way.

Saying that to say that joining the military to get away from something isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and gone are the days where you can join the military successfully trying to duck out of legal issues. The process has changed, and such things don’t happen much anymore. Getting out from under a bad financial situation, rough family background, area with awful job prospects, etc are examples of situations where getting away by joining the service can be a decidedly positive move.

 

Those who join with a highly developed sense of ambition, and clearly defined goals of what to set their sights on while in the military are often the ones you see being promoted ahead of the rest. Currently, legit psychologists are more convinced that positive stimuli serve as better motivators than negative stimuli. Put another way, if you say, study for this exam, you will be given an 8% pay raise vs. if you don’t study for this exam, you’ll stay at your current pay grade and take home the same paycheck.

I can’t count how many great examples of this persona, but there are many. Incidentally, and I’m not sure if there’s a connection or not, but a great many of the examples that come to mind are guys from my ship who weren’t natural-born U.S. citizens. They came from the likes of Nigeria, Bulgaria, Romania, etc. On the other hand, I saw many men and women from the states excel as well.

 

The moral of the story here is that you should dedicate some time figuring out your own motivation for joining the service. If you’re enlisting to get out of dodge in hopes that what’s on the other side of the fence is more enjoyable, more fulfilling, and just better, then that’s fine. But rarely is it enough to simply be against something (like staying in your hometown). It’s equally, or more important to be for something as well, should you choose to join. While there isn’t anything wrong with leaving where you are (contrary to what your family and friends may say), don’t get through the enlistment process, only to find yourself saying “I’m here… but it’s not much better than where I was.”

While it’s within the aim of this site to provide some clarity for those interested in aspiring to great things while in the military, you’re bound to come across many, many opportunities once you’re on active duty. Figuring out in advance how far you want to go in your military career and what how much you’re willing to exert to get there will provide clarity that no number of how-to’s can.

You can expect boot camp to be somewhat challenging, and to what extent depends on your personality, stress threshold, physical and mental fortitude, and a slew of other things that are hard as hell to accurately measure. No boot camp experiences are the same, at the individual level. But over time, there are trends you can pick up on based on the experiences of the masses.

One of the more interesting and somewhat preventable trends to observe is the tendency of recruits and trainees to make the basic training period unnecessarily difficult. In spite of the different training practices between branches, the different degrees of intensity, and the differences in drill instructors, there are universal tendencies adopted by recruits that make life harder for both himself and those around him.

If you’re interested in being that guy, simply do the following, starting from the time you get to boot camp, to the time you leave. This will guarantee that you and the people you’re working most closely with get your asses kicked as often as possible. If you don’t want to be, just do what you’re supposed to do and contribute as well as you can.When you ship out, you’re likely to run into at least one of each of these people. Keep it in mind, and you’ll be able to spot them immediately.

 

1) Be a volunteer DI (i.e. be a tyrant)

Or basically, mirror the behavior of your drill instructor. Doing this will make sure you’re the splinter in whatever unity your group achieves. As if the DIs weren’t capable of doing their jobs, you can go the extra mile and make sure that what they’ve failed to do gets done.

In reality, you’re painting a target on your back. In fact, you’re painting two targets on your back: one will be for the drill instructors, because you’re acting out. You’re asserting yourself and your opinion as being the one to acknowledge over theirs. They do not like this, by the way.

The second target is for the recruits who have to pay for your ego trip. They are the guys who will have to do pushups for your screw ups and incidentally, the ones who will throw you under the bus because you have no idea how to be a team player. The name of the game in basic training is teamwork. If you assume the role of the drill instructor’s mini-me, then you’re doing it wrong.

 

2) Be Gomer Pyle.

Every division in history has had one of these. If it is or was you when you went through, then you’re most likely now a better man or woman than you were before, and quite feasibly better than me. I’m not sure I could handle that role.

This persona also earns you a target during BMT (basic military training), and a large one at that. It’s most frequently reserved for the first person who blatantly, though unintentionally, screws up the easy stuff. Be this guy, and the DI will call you out, have you stand where everyone can see, and make an example out of you. Theoretically, which is to say “officially”, the military has eliminated this type of treatment in favor of training practices that better align with current pop psychology.

In fact, your recruiter may tell you, reassuringly, that this is a thing of the past, and DIs neither “make examples” of recruits or curse at them anymore.

LIES. LIES. LIES.

Not so long ago, my RDCs reenacted a scene right out of Full Metal Jacket. During this session, my division’s seaman recruit Pyle stood on a chair, being forced to eat doughnuts, while 4 more RDCs were called in to oversee a beat down session. This was called an “ice cream social”, and lasted the better part of 90 minutes where we IT’d while one guy stuffed his face. We weren’t happy about this.

The trick is to let someone else be that guy.

 

3) Be a Shit Bag 

This is the apathetic, know-it-all version of the first guy. Sure, you graduated college, your daddy is a Senator, you’ve got a trust fund and make more outside the military than inside of it, you drive a Cadillac. Expect everyone else to do everything while you sit back and criticize. You’re a big picture person, after all, and if you felt like it, you could do it better.

No one cares.

You may not be targeted by the drill instructors (because you’re not doing anything that garners their attention), but you’re sure to annoy and slow down the progress of the group. By providing copious non-constructive input and sarcastic wit, you hinder, slow, and distract your colleagues who are working to contribute to the division’s success.

If this role tempts you, but want to avoid it, force yourself to overcome your petty insecurities figure out a way to contribute positively. No one needs destructive criticism, as there’s enough coming from the guys who are being paid to dish it out. The difference, of course, between theirs and yours, is theirs is to achieve a sense of uniformity and purpose in pushing other recruits. If you assume this role, you’re just demonstrating a fear of failure by tearing others down. Solution: keep your mouth shut unless it’s helpful.

 

 

Hopefully this stuff is helpful to you. If so….
You help me by pushing one (or all) of these buttons.




 

 

 

Point of fact: in boot camp, you do a lot of seemingly stupid stuff. Remember back in school when you asked “when am I going to have to do this in real life?” Chances are good you’ll be doing that in basic training a few times, too.

The list of things that may contribute to this line of questioning may go something like this:

-effectively ironing t-shirts and uniform items

-shining boots and dress shoes

-ENORMOUS amounts of cleaning. Seriously, down on the ground, wiping dust off the floor to your quarters with a cloth or sock, taking a toothbrush to the communal sinks, toilets (aka, the head, latrine, etc), and showers. The list goes on and on.

-”properly” folding uniform items

-”properly” making a bed

-aligning your belt buckle according to uniform standards

 

In addition to having to do all of the above with enthusiasm that no rational person would ever actually apply to these things, you’ll also be inspected, and probably ‘punished’ for how effectively or ineffectively you did them. Boot camp instructors undergo an enormous amount of similar, and more intense training in order to get qualified for their job, and a part of that training is picking your performance apart, regardless of the quality of your work in order to drive home a point.

Make no mistake, your execution may be spot on, but if there’s anything lacking whatsoever, you will be called out on it. Gone are the days, though, that you’ll be physically beaten or anything like that (no one is allowed to lay a hand on you), and officially, Navy and Air Force boot camp instructors “don’t even curse at recruits anymore” (LOL). By beaten, I simply mean IT’d (intensive training’d, or rather, intensively trained) by way of pushups, lunges, or whatever the instructors decide.

I suppose one could bitch all day about the absurdity of these practices, but rest assured it wouldn’t do any good whatsoever. Let me be clear, if an instructor steps out of line (shit happens) by sexually harassing or causing unauthorized physical harm to a recruit/trainee, that’s a different story and he/she should absolutely be held accountable. But in most cases, these seemingly sadistic Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen are some of the most motivated, admirable service members you’ll ever meet with enormously high ethical standards, albeit INCREDIBLY rough around the edges…

All that considered, the basis for this behavior is twofold.

-First, you’re the FNGs (F*@#ing New Guys). The Big Military isn’t going to let you carry a gun the first day. So goes the theory, at least, that you have to earn the privilege of greater responsibilities. In the meantime, the FNG has to first prove that he/she is capable of properly handling an iron before being given those privileges.

-Second, the devil is in the details. So, as goes the theory, is effectiveness. Focusing on the details ensures that the job is done properly the first time. A prevalent fact in the private sector, people frequently manage to fill the time they’re given, regardless of the task’s significance. Often, in the private sector, the quality of the work hinges on how that person feels about how they’re paid or how they perceive the significance of that job. In the military, you’re forced to observe the details are ‘ironed out’ (sorry, that was low hanging fruit) before moving on.

These approaches eliminate feelings of entitlement that recruits show up with from wherever it is they’re coming from. You might say that recruit life is the great equalizer of the enlisted man. If you came from the hood, you’re on par with the trust fund baby across the room, you both get equal opportunity to prove yourself regardless of your feelings about it.

Second is 60-90 days of focusing on details gets you used to paying attention to aspects of tasks most people on the outside ignore or don’t even notice. This habit, long after boot camp, is something you will be glad to have learned when it comes to finding work as a civilian. Eventually, you’ll probably stop caring how to properly fold you underwear, but the principle and habit is still in place. Even if you lose it for a while, old habits return without much effort.

 

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One of the questions I’m hearing quite a bit is “how do I deal with leaving for boot camp?”, as it applies to leaving your family and friends. On the one hand, leaving for basic training- or hell, leaving home at all for any indetermined stretch of time- without some sense of certainty can really suck.

Wives lose their husbands, husbands may lose their wives, girls lose their boyfriends, etc. to some uncertain, though occassionally promising fate. In some cases, getting out of dodge comes not a moment too soon, and you roll out without a second look.

Other times, it’s not all that simple.

Since we’re social creatures, we have a strong tendency to develop, cultivate, and even the basest, most uneducated of us build these things called relationships, albeit that they take on a multitude of different forms. Some of these relationships are hard as hell to “walk away” from, although in many cases, it’s for a cause that you’re pursuing with the best intentions.

There are two sides to any separation, and both of them have the potential to bring with them a considerable amount of grief, frustration, argumentation, etc as the day of departure approaches. Very often the day of departure is devoid of these arguments, and is often characterized by the sobering realization that “it’s actually happening.”

Naturally, everyone experiences manifestations of anxiety in different ways. Most guys I know just ignore it, but make the mistake of allowing is to affect their relationships in ways the could be prevented by the acknowledgement of its existence. That said, I’ll cover what I understand of anxiety, leaving for boot camp/deployment, and a bit about the complexity of the phenomenon.

As the one packing up and leaving, you’re pretty well acquainted with what you’re experiencing, be it anxiety, excitement, dread, or whatever. If you’re sensitive to these kinds of emotions, then relax, you’re normal. If you don’t experience these emotions as the day to leave for boot camp approaches, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not normal. We all have differing levels of sensitivity, so if you’re stoically watching the days on the calendar get marked off, don’t sweat it. Looking back, I remember being mildly excited when I thought about all the uncertainty, but not enough to make me bounce off the walls. To be fair, though, I was very young, single, and didn’t have kids to think about.

On the flip side, there are circumstances where you may not feel anxious about the day, but your interaction with people may be changing. Specifically you may be:

-Detaching from your social groups

-Irritated with petty matters

-Unmotivated and unproductive

-Mildly depressed

-Experiencing loss of appetite

-Scatterbrained, and have trouble focusing

 

In my opinion, separation anxiety, even without the transparency of feeling anxious, is your unconsciousness acknowledging an upcoming, significant change. In addition to being social, we tend also to be creatures of habit. In habits, we find a sense of security and safety. When the routine is threatened, both the subconscious and consciousness are effected, and they don’t always respond simultaneously.

Anyway this is getting a bit lofty, so I’ll get back to the point.

Both sides-the one leaving or the one staying behind- may experience any or all of the above symptoms, and being conscious to the fact that things are about to change may offset some of the rawness that accompanies pending separation. Beyond being aware of it, it almost goes without saying that being open and frank about (I hate saying this) feelings goes a long way at making the last few days/weeks/months more fulfilling, as well as preserving the integrity of those relationships once the separation is underway.

I’ll be writing more about this in the coming days, but I’ve recently experienced the whole separation thing myself, so I’m compelled to elaborate before I actually do any of the work involved in writing at length about it.

 

 

(Photo by Russell Sellers)

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Someone asked me recently about the military’s current policy on allowing single parents to enlist.

At this time, if you’re currently an unmarried parent and are wanting to join the military, you are only eligible for the Reserves. The thinking here isn’t hard to wrap your mind around. People whose status is ‘active duty’ are just that-active. There is no way a mother or father who is committed to 8-12 of basic training, or a strict technical training (after boot) can handle the responsibilities of parenthood simultaneously.

The next logical question is whether it’s possible to have a friend or relative care for the child during this time, but that’s also a no-go. The military doesn’t particularly care to assume the risk of mom or dad having an emergency come up during training due to improper, unqualified but well-meaning caretakers-the liability is too great, especially when there are so many other candidates that don’t necessarily bear the same risks. Harsh as this may sound, it’s true.

The next possible solution is a little bit in the gray area: assigning temporary custody to a relative or friend. There are 2 ways to achieve this:

1) Court-ordered relinquishment of custody. Full custody, unless the parent is still legally married, at which point, join custody would suffice. If you’re separated, but still married and in the divorce, it’s best to do this immediately, before the divorce is finalized. If this is not an option, and you go through the process of turning custody over to another relative, it still must be full custody, and military branches require a waiting time of 6 to 12 months. I’ll write more about this in the future, but as of now, the official stance of the military rules out single parents as eligible enlistment candidates.

2) Procure a waiver. They’re few and far between right now, since recruiters often disregard this as an option at all. It’s evidently an enormous amount of paperwork and still quite a liability for the military.

 

 

With this site gaining a little bit of traction, I’m hearing from different people a variety of opinions why I’m wasting my time providing information about joining the military while there are people who are paid to do the same thing (i.e. recruiters). To me it seems like it’s helpful, so I have no difficulty disregarding the detractors.

I joined the military as a dumb kid. I had no idea about what was involved in joining, what happened on the inside, and sure as hell had no idea what would come after. On top of all this, I was desperate to do something that seemed substantial, useful, and noble. Ergo, the military was appealing.

Before joining, I did what research I could. But alas, the Internet was still in its early years and we had the likes of myspace, Altavista, and askJeeves. I was under the impression that the military would be something entirely different than what it turned out to be. I can’t say I had a tool of a recruiter. He was honest enough and walked the line very, very well. It’s their job to minimize the negatives of the military, and highlight (inordinately so) the positives. He did his job and I can’t fault him for that.

Looking back, the military was a great experience, but more information about what reality was like in the military would have gone a long way in making it an incredible experience.

Naturally there are questions like “what qualifies you to talk about this?”. My answer is pretty consistent: I have no idea. Other than the fact that I spent four years in it, I have no idea what ‘qualifies’ me because I have no idea what a ‘qualified’ person looks like. Looking back, I wouldn’t care about someone’s qualifications as much as the validity of the information they were giving me, if it were available back then.

At this point, I’m mostly interested in illustrating some of the details that recruiters may overlook, and questions that recruits would ask if they knew enough to ask them. The point of this site is to tear the veil as much as possible between pre military and military life and give you at least one honest look into it before making a thoughtless, mindless decision that you may later regret. If it helps, then cool. If it’s useless to you, that’s fine too.

Joining the armed forces just happened to be a good thing for me, but only in retrospect. At the time, I was immature, defiant, and unprepared for the demands of the military. The first two, well, haven’t gone anywhere, but eventually I conformed to the military’s demands as it applied to my job and general conduct, though not without a fight.