Disclaimer: Due to the nature of this website, and the military experience in general, I have to advise anyone with a propensity for getting offended by coarse language, lewd references to male or female anatomy, strange, questionable, or otherwise irrational behavior, mistreatment of animals, and anything else I haven’t covered but may decide to-you should probably stay away.

 

I intended this post to be a quick and dirty one. Instead, it ended up taking quite a bit to consolidate all the hilarious and troubling stuff that I came across, both in researching recruiting/boot camp stories as well as trying to extract at least one crazy anecdote from everyone I can think of who was in the military. At the risk of sounding disjointed, below you’ll find a collection of things that I’ve heard about, read about, heard from others who heard from others, ad nauseam.

When you leave for boot camp, you’re thrown into a completely foreign environment, with people from all kinds of different economic backgrounds, intellectual level, cultural behaviors, hygienic practices, religious beliefs, skin color, languages, etc. When this happens, everyone is not only robbed of their routines and creature comforts, but also expected to function as a unit. 

This is challenging.

And as a result, it tends to bring out the worst in people, even if that worst is just for a moment. Most fairly balanced people with the ability to compartmentalize their emotions have at least one irrational breakdown at some point or other, while the slightly, moderately, or extremely ill-adjusted may just break time and time again. That’s one of the points of boot camp, and there’s nothing wrong with it when it happens.

On the other hand, sometimes for these same reasons, people do some stupid, stupid shit.

1) Makeshift Drug Use: In boot camp, you will undergo a dental exam to determine whether your molars will be a problem down the line. In some cases, you won’t have to have them extracted. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t ever have to have them taken out, it just means that you won’t have to have them taken out in the next couple years. This saves the military some time and money.

courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/defenceimages/

Generally, the only pain you’ll feel is not during the actual extraction. Although you will be awake for it (sorry to be the bearer of bad news-it is free healthcare, after all. They “call the shots”), you will be shot up 12-15 times with lidocaine and walk away with a numb mouth and drooling all over yourself for the next few hours, still numb.

Anyhow, after the operation, to minimize the pain, you will probably given a prescription for vicodin, or other low level, albeit habit forming variant of legal heroin. This is where people get stupid, and it’s not hard to imagine how. My own RDC (Recruit Drill Commander) had one recruit decide it would be a good idea to crush and snort his vicodin. For those who don’t know, that’s an effective and fast way to absorb substances as it bypasses the blood-brain barrier. Although a creative and clever idea, this recruit, who had been presumably substance free for at least 4-5 weeks (about the time molar extraction happens in boot camp), didn’t consider that he may be a bit more sensitive to substances after having taken some time off of them.

This recruit mysteriously failed to muster (aka “report to”) at the designated time, and was found 4 hours later, passed out in the division laundry room. Needless to say, he didn’t finish boot camp.

 

2) Stealing from the PX, MCX, NEX, etc: I guess some people just enjoy stealing. This point of reference is based on a couple of different reports from DIs (drill instructors) from a couple of branches in which the trainees/recruits thought it would be wise, surely in the interest of thrift, to secure their boot camp necessities by pocketing shoe polish, body wash, razors, etc.

Many military exchanges are stocked really, really well. Often, they’ll look more like chain retail stores and stock the what you’d expect out of a private retail establishment, and then some, be it clothing, shoes, groceries, and booze. Military exchanges also sell uniforms, ribbons and medals, combat boots, cutlasses (Marines and navy), and offer services such as uniform alteration and name tag attachment. You get the idea. These facilities provide an enormous convenience to local service members and their families, there’s also the added bonus that most exchanges (not all) do not charge sales tax. Incidentally, though, the one or two located on most recruit training facilities are stocked with a minimum of these items.

What makes this more entertaining is that recruits are not given much control over their finances in boot camp. Everyone is paid the same amount of money for the first few months, and it’s generally understood that if you are going to have to spend money, it will be on training items. Put another way, in addition to being tax free, the stuff you need to get through boot camp doesn’t add up to much. Don’t steal it. You just showed up, don’t think stealing is something the military won’t kick your ass out for.

courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/via/

3) Fraternize With Recruits of Opposite Gender Contrary to popular opinion, there’s a certain friction that exists in a newly gender-integrated military. I know the argument: “But women have served in the military for decades! It’s nothing new!” and supposedly that’s a long time. But really, bringing women into the military beyond support roles is young as concepts go, and the kinks haven’t entirely been worked out. Sure, there are rules in place, but how often does written rules stand in the way of behavior between genders? It’s silly to expect people to be entirely rational in strange environments where stress and strain are daily occurrences and people regularly launch into survival mode.

D.I.s keep a close eye on recruits during this time, for obvious reasons. Shit still happens, of course, in any number of circumstances. When recruits are caught, however, the repercussions are drastic and humiliating. Is it something you can be kicked out of the military for? Sure, although it’s not guaranteed every time.

Best course of action: stay away from recruits of the opposite gender until after basic. Obviously, when working alongside one another, simply keep it professional.

 

4) Drinking On Liberty, Pass, Furlough, etc Weekend

When you finally wrap up the weeks spent in basic training, chances are you’ll have earned a couple days off. Depending on your branch, as will be covered later, the times and days and duration you’ll be given free time all vary. During this much anticipated and well earned free time, you’re expected to refrain from certain behavior that you may otherwise exhibit if you didn’t still have a couple days left to go before your reassigned orders to your next station.

During this time, people make even more mistakes. Drinking is forbidden on these weekends, as history has proven that after 2-3 months of not consuming alcohol, military personnel binge, overestimating their current tolerance, drink illegally, etc. It’s easy to fill in the blanks as to what happens from there: fresh, newly graduated recruits end up going UA (unauthorized absence) or AWOL (absent without leave), over-imbibe and end up in the hospital, drink and drive (driving is also a no go for the weekend), get into fights and other physical altercations, not to mention poor performance the following day, if further training is on the plan of the day, and possibly the call for medical involvement due to extreme hangover symptoms.

5) Indiscriminate, Poorly Thought Out Tattoo Decisions

While there is nothing wrong with tattoos in the military, for the most part, right after basic training invites both the opportunity, the finances (you’re about $3,000-$4,000 richer after boot camp before taxes and deductions), and certainly the motivation, for some reason, people are inclined to make some dumb decisions about what to put under their skin.

This isn’t anything you’ll necessarily be kicked out of the military for unless you violate military regulations by getting something on your face, neck, head, or hands (last one exempted for the army). Because of the post boot camp high, new recruits feel untouchable and don’t spend as much time thinking things through as they otherwise would. It’s an exciting time, once you’re finally on the other side of the line.

Unfortunately, because of this euphoria-infused motivation, recruits end up getting tattooed at locations that are built strategically to prey on the ignorance of young military people. I have no respect or regard for these businesses, and it’s important to be aware that they exist. I’ll write more in depth about these types of businesses later. In the meantime, understand that the tattoo parlors you’re likely to find within a mile or two of training facilities are often predatory in their practices. In addition to likely paying a premium for location, there’s always the possibility of infection.

That said, if you’re newly graduated from boot camp, hold off on the tattoo until technical training. My own boot camp instructor also told me recently of one of his recruits who did exactly this, contracted hepatitis, and was help back in basic training for another month until he was fully recovered from the infection. Unless you really just love the boot camp experience, chances are good you’ll want to move on to the next phase of your military career.

 

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