Monday, September 19, 2011

In the Army Now: Inside the U.S. Army's Basic Training

The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center blog features a regular series titled “In the Army Now,” providing information pieces addressing frequently asked questions about the Army culture and structure. In this month’s “In the Army Now,” we look at Basic Training.

U.S. Army Basic Training is the rigorous program of physical and mental training required in order for an individual to become a soldier in the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve or Army National Guard. It is carried out at several different Army posts around the United States. Basic Training is designed to be highly intense and challenging. The challenge comes as much from the difficulty of physical training as it does from the required quick psychological adjustment to an unfamiliar way of life.

Basic Training is divided into two parts: Basic Combat Training (BCT) and Advanced Individual Training (AIT). BCT consists of the first 10 weeks of the total Basic Training period and is identical for all Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard recruits. BCT is where individuals learn about the fundamentals of being a Soldier, from combat techniques to the proper way to address a superior. BCT is also where individuals undergo rigorous physical training to prepare their bodies for the eventual physical strain of combat. One of the most difficult and essential lessons learned in BCT is self-discipline, as it introduces prospective Soldiers to a strict daily schedule that entails many duties and high expectations for which most civilians are not immediately ready.

BCT is divided into three phases. The three phases are each represented by a color (red, white, and blue) for Phase I, Phase II and Phase III. BCT trainees are progressively allowed more responsibility, privileges, and independence each time they achieve a new phase of training. For example, trainees in Phase I are constantly monitored and led around by their drill sergeants, while Phase III trainees are largely responsible for making sure tasks are completed correctly and on-time, and keeping themselves on-schedule. Week 2 of Phase III (the eighth week of Basic Training) culminates in a special tactical Field Training Exercise (FTX), during which the drill sergeants will advise, but allow recruit platoon leaders and squad leaders to exercise primary decision-making. They attempt to make virtually every one of these exercises different. Because being a soldier is potentially an extremely hazardous job, recruits must demonstrate extreme aggression and fearlessness, tempered by intelligence and common sense. Only those that demonstrate these vital attributes will be permitted to move on to AIT. Following their FTX, recruits then move into the final week of training, often called “recovery week.” At this time, soldiers must service and/or repair any items they are not taking on to AIT, including weapons, bedding and issued equipment (helmet, canteen, gas mask, etc.) as well as ensuring that the platoon barracks is in good order to receive the next platoon of trainees. This week also includes a final fitting of the recruit’s dress uniform as well as practice for the graduation ceremony, which takes place at the end of the week.

AIT consists of the remainder of the total Basic Training period and is where recruits train in the specifics of their chosen field. AIT is different for each available Army career path, or Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). For example, if an individual has an MOS of Human Intelligence Collector, they would be sent, following completion of BCT, to the Intelligence School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. If an individual instead had the MOS of Army medic, they would be sent to the Army Medical Department School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. AIT courses can last anywhere from six to 52 weeks. Although many AIT schools don’t center around combat the way BCT does, individuals are still continually tested for physical fitness and weapons proficiency and are subject to the same duties, strict daily schedule, and disciplinary rules as in BCT.

Just like BCT, AIT progressively allows trainees more and more privileges. At the start of AIT, trainees are in Phase IV. After a varying length of time and satisfactory performance, the trainees are awarded Phase V. Phase V often includes the privilege of applying for off-post passes or use of a cell phone. Phase V+ is awarded after a similar length of time and continued good conduct. Phase V+ trainees may walk about the base without having a battle buddy present, be able to drink alcohol on weekends (provided one is of legal drinking age) and even stay off-post overnight on weekends.

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