Basic Training is Tough: Here’s How to Support Young Soldiers

January 17, 2021 Topic: military Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: U.S. MilitaryAll Volunteer ForceFitness Standards

Basic Training is Tough: Here’s How to Support Young Soldiers

Basic training is an extremely regulated environment.

If you have a loved one bound for basic training, you may find yourself struggling to find ways to show your support. If military service isn’t something you’ve done or been around much throughout your life, the transition from civilian to service member can seem awfully mysterious (or even downright confusing). Trust me, it’s a bit mysterious and confusing for us servicemembers too, and amid all that uncertainty, some kind gestures from those we love can truly make all the difference.

Here are a few ways you can show your support for a loved one as they embark on their military journey.

Be clear about your support

When I first signed on the dotted line to join Uncle Sam’s favorite gun club (the United States Marine Corps), my announcement was met with varying responses from those I was close to. Some felt as though I was making a mistake or “wasting” my potential. Others feared for my safety amid overlapping conflicts throughout the Middle East, and of course, a few were just sad to see me go. While all of these expressions of concern were rooted in love for me, I couldn’t help but feel as though I didn’t have the support of some of the people I cared about most.

Those seeds of doubt can be uncomfortable in the days or weeks prior to shipping out, but they only truly germinate in your head once you’ve arrived at basic training. During that first long day aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell I’d gotten myself into… and as a part of that line of thinking, I began to wonder if maybe my less-than-supportive loved ones may have been right.

The truth, as I’d come to learn over the years, was that the Marine Corps isn’t for everyone, but it was the right place for me. As time passed and I grew more comfortable in the uniform, many of the same friends and family members who had once seemed so critical of my decision suddenly seemed really supportive of my service… or so I felt at the time.

I’ve learned in the years since that even those who seemed the most critical were incredibly proud of my choice to serve my country–but in the moment, as I relayed my decision to them, their anxieties were the first to manifest. They had no idea that I’d left feeling as though I didn’t have some of my closest friend’s support. They assumed I’d know they supported me, and skipped past the part where they felt the need to express it.

If your loved one is preparing to ship out to basic training or boot camp, be clear about your support of them before they leave. You have every right to feel anxious, worried, or sad about their departure, but remember that they’re about to face what may be the greatest challenge of their life so far, and remind them that you have their back no matter what.

Disregard the rumor mill

One great way to support a loved one heading to basic training is to ignore the rumor mill.

If you didn’t serve in the military and don’t have any close friends or family members who did either, the idea of your loved one heading off to basic training might seem a little frightening. While my father did serve in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, by the time I enlisted in 2006, my family was so far removed from active duty service that most of us based our expectations for boot camp on movies like Full Metal Jacket. Some others may have a negative outlook on American foreign policy and, as a result, military service. And then, of course, there are fake news outlets and social media accounts running beneath the discourse in our country like the river of evil slime beneath the city in Ghost Busters II.

If you haven’t been through it yourself, it can be really tough to figure out who to believe and who to ignore. The best course of action, then, is to rely only legitimate sources and official information when learning about basic training.

Disregard rumors and urban legends about military service and basic training, and ask your loved one if you can speak to their recruiter instead. Yes, recruiters do have a vested interest in presenting service in a positive light, but they’re a lot more honest than you might think. If you still have questions or concerns, seek answers in reputable news outlets and publications.

Encourage healthy habits before they leave

While some of us enlist and ship in extremely short order, most aspiring service members will spend weeks or even months waiting for their ship date. During this time, many soon-to-be service members will meet with and even train under their local recruiter, in hopes of being physically and mentally prepared for the challenges of boot camp. These brief workout sessions and the like can be really helpful to new recruits or cadets, but the real preparation happens at home during the rest of the week.

Establishing healthy habits prior to departure can go a long way in preparing a young man or woman for the physical and mental rigors of basic training. Things like eating healthy, exercising often, and hitting the rack a bit early will all make the transition from the civilian world into the military one a whole lot easier.

The healthier and fitter your are prior to basic training, the easier it will be to manage the challenges it presents. Here are some good habits for your loved one to establish prior to leaving for basic training, and how you can help them create them:

Maintain a healthy diet

Your loved one may want to pack in all the junk food they can before they’re stuck somewhere that doesn’t allow it. Snacking is fine, but try to encourage them to maintain a healthy diet prior to their departure — it will make it that much easier for them to excel once they arrive. Help them eat well by trying some of the following:

  • Offer to cook meals at home because they’ll be eating out of a chow hall for months to come.
  • Encourage them to eat at regular meal times so their body has adjusted to not having snacks available at all hours of the day.
  • Keep healthy snacks handy so they have healthy options in the house.

Exercise regularly

Basic training is incredibly physically challenging, especially for those who aren’t accustomed to rigorous workouts. Aside from the usual workouts one can expect (referred to as “PT” or “Physical Training” in service), recruits and cadets run in formation just about everywhere. If your loved one isn’t a very strong runner, try to encourage them to use their feet as often as they can prior to departure.

Here are a few ways you can support your loved one’s fitness efforts prior to basic training:

  • Ask them to come for walks with you. You’ll get to spend quality time together while logging a few miles.
  • Find fun physical activities that align with their interests and ask them to come along (hiking, bicycling, swimming, etc).
  • Encourage them to get a gym membership or to workout every day if you’re comfortable doing so.

Create good sleeping habits

Basic training is an extremely regulated environment. There is no sleeping in, nor is there any staying up late. When you’re instructed to go to bed, you’re ordered into your rack, and the lights are turned off. When it’s time to get up, your alarm clock is often a drill instructor, drill sergeant, or fire watch screaming something like, “LIGHTS, LIGHTS, LIGHTS!” Suffice to say, it’s a tough environment for night owls to adjust to.

While your loved one may want to stay up all night playing video games or watching TV prior to leaving for basic training, support them by reminding them of how important a good night’s sleep is.

  • Encourage your loved one to go to bed and get up and the same times each day to establish a normal sleeping pattern.
  • Make plans for during the day that don’t stretch too far into the night.
  • Make plans in the morning to encourage them to hit the hay a bit early the night before.

Take it easy on the partying

Before leaving for basic training, most people have a going away party. Getting together with loved ones is never a bad idea, especially for aspiring service members who will be gone for quite some time. However, too much partying can make things worse, not better.

It goes without saying that new recruits or cadets should avoid illegal drugs, but even legal ones can be problematic in excess. Drinking heavily every day, for instance, is not only unhealthy, it can lead to a physical dependency that’ll be miserable to break during the first weeks of basic training.

  • Encourage responsible drinking.
  • Don’t push your loved one to drink more or excessively at their going away party.
  • Never offer your loved one illegal drugs.