The Top 5 Reasons People Fear Boot Camp, and How to Overcome Them
By: SGT Michael Volkin
Fear is a recruit’s number one enemy. Without fear, a recruit can glide through basic training focusing on how to better themselves and their country. I have met thousands of recruits because of the success of The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook. In doing so, I have learned what these recruits fear the most and what they don’t fear at all. Here are the top five aspects of basic training, in random order, that recruits fear the most and how to overcome that fear:
1) Bad Habits– Believe it or not, your civilian lifestyle has you accustomed to habits drill sergeants don’t like too much. For example, you are not allowed to smoke in basic training. Before you leave for basic training, quit smoking. Also, there is no snacking at basic training. You get three meals a day and that is all. If you are accustomed to grabbing a bag of chips or a piece of chocolate anytime you want, I would suggest stopping that habit before you get to basic training. This is easy to train your body to do, the training is 100% mental. A few weeks before you leave basic training, simply start a diet to eat three square meals a day. If your meals have enough carbohydrates and protein in them, you shouldn’t be hungry for snacks anyway.
2) The Gas Chamber– The gas chamber is probably the most mentally challenging exercise you will have to overcome at basic training. Recruits have to breathe Ortho-chlorbenzylidenedimalonitrile. Wow, that sounds scary. Actually, it is just the active substance of CS gas. You might recognize the name better as the common riot control formula called tear gas. Now, the bad news is yes, you will have to go into an isolated room and breathe this gas in your lungs and yes it does sting a little bit. The good news is as soon as you walk outside the exercise is over. The gas leaves your system very quickly and any pain you are feeling dissipates within seconds. In fact, the most painful aspect of this exercise is the anticipation of the exercise. I am often asked why this exercise is even necessary. Drill sergeants want you to have confidence in your chemical gear. Therefore you will walk in the gas filled room, put on your face mask and notice that none of the gas is penetrating the mask. Then you will take off your mask, sing a portion of the star spangled banner and notice what the gas feels like without your chemical gear. The best advice I can give you is to not hold your breathe. If a drill sergeant sees you holding your breathe or lip-syncing the words to the Star Spangled Banner, you will have to do the whole exercise again.
3) Fitness– Based on the recruits I talk to, 99% of them who prepare physically for basic training are preparing incorrectly. When I ask a recruit what they are doing physically to prepare for basic training, they usually respond by saying, “Well I run two miles a day and I go to the gym five times a week.” I respond by saying, “That’s great, why don’t you completely stop doing that for now?” They always respond in shock and wonder why a basic training coach is telling them to stop their workout program. Here is the reason why I do that: In basic training, you are not going to spend an hour a day in the gym doing bench presses and leg squats. The exercises you do will most likely be exercises you have never heard of (i.e. donkey kicks, mountain climbers, ski jumpers, etc). Also, rarely will you just “run a couple miles.” Basic training runs usually consist of wind sprints and other exercises where the speed and direction of the run changes very quickly. Now, all that gym time will seem wasted when you arrive at basic training because the exercises you do are completely different than the ones you did at the gym. To prepare for basic training you need to prepare your muscles (and your mind) for basic training type exercises. Believe me, when you get to basic training, your muscles will thank you for the preparation. All the other recruits will be experiencing calf spasms and muscle soreness and you will be sleeping like a baby. Check out the 8-week daily fitness routine specific to basic training in my book.
4) The Unknown– The majority of recruits simply visit their recruiter, sign up for the military, get their leave date and then leave for basic training without an ounce of preparation. This is a huge mistake. Did you know that 90% of what you learn at basic training you can learn at home? What a huge advantage this will give you! This is the very reason why I wrote The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook, so when a recruit leaves for basic training they have a huge advantage over the other recruits. The best course of action to solve this fear would be to get prepared for basic training. Ask yourself what your weakness is (i.e. fitness, smoking, etc) and correct the fear.
5) Drill Sergeants Physical Abuse– Understandably, I get e-mails almost every day asking me how much physical abuse drill sergeants can administer. The answer is zero. People watch movies about basic training in the 1960’s and 1970’s era and see all the abuse administered to those recruits. Drill sergeants are not allowed to hit recruits anymore; however that doesn’t mean it never happens. Civilians aren’t supposed to murder each other either, but that happens every day. When you arrive at basic training you will receive a briefing on this subject. If you ever get physically abused by a drill sergeant, you will learn the proper channels to report the abuse. Also, if you are too afraid to tell someone in person, there will be an anonymous drop box where you can write letters reporting such abuse. Drill sergeants are so adept at wearing you out mentally that physical abuse is not needed. Also, drill sergeants are required to travel in pairs, so in case something out of the ordinary happens another drill sergeant is there to witness the event. This strategy works the other way around too. Many recruits file false reports claiming a drill sergeant hit a recruit. When claims like this occur, it is investigated and since drill sergeants travel in pairs, someone is always able to corroborate their story.