Today, I want to talk about the first day of Army Boot Camp. What I’m going to do is share my personal experience with you. I do know that times have changed since I shipped off to Boot Camp in January 1996. I also understand that different military installations do things differently. Once again, this is just MY experience.
I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves on June 26, 1995, which also happened to be my 18th birthday. I had just graduated high school and had enrolled at the University of Southern Maine (USM) for the fall semester. After completing my fall semester at USM, I shipped out for Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
In early January 1996 I got on a plane in Bangor, Maine and flew towards Columbia, South Carolina. I was on my way to Fort Jackson. I shipped out with a few other recruits from my local community, not really knowing what to expect. We had a layover in Boston with the final leg of our flight to Columbia.
I’ll never forget the flight because there was a storm in the air: lots of thunder and lightning. I was a bit nervous and excited at the same time. What I remember most about the flight is that Sterling Sharpe (the football player) was on the flight with us.
We touched down at the Columbia Airport, in South Carolina, late in the evening (after 8pm). I headed over to the baggage claim area where we were greeted by the Drill Sergeants. I don’t remember them yelling at us (not in the airport initially). Instead, they told us to grab our bags and then head outside to the staging area.
That’s where the yelling began! We were assembled into a formation and loaded on buses. I don’t remember if they were charter buses or school buses. Once everyone was loaded up, we made the drive from the airport to Fort Jackson. I just remember sitting quietly the whole time. I was wide awake, excited and a bit scared.
Once we arrived at Fort Jackson (probably around 10 at night) I remember a Drill Sergeant walking on the bus and saying we had 30 seconds to get off the bus. We followed the instructions, got off the bus, and were put in formation. At this point, the yelling really began.
We were given some basic instructions and given rules to follow. We were marched inside where we received several briefings. Since it was late, most of the cadre was already gone for the day. After the briefings we were sent to the barracks to get a few hours of sleep.
For the next few days, we went through the reception process. It lasted somewhere between five and seven days (I don’t remember exactly how long it was). This is where we received our uniforms, got our shots, filled out all our paperwork, received tons of briefings, etc. Once we finished our inprocessing, we were told that we would be moving to our training location to meet our Drill Sergeants.
The funny thing is, I already thought I was in Boot Camp. I remember thinking to myself “dang, it can’t get much worse than this” and “what do you mean this isn’t Boot Camp?”
I will never forget the experience. I remember being boarded onto the buses and driving from the main reception area to our training area. Once the buses stopped someone got on the bus and started yelling for us to get off the bus. As soon as we got of the buses we were told to get in line in alphabetical order. This was a daunting task for everyone, since no one really knew anyone else. Thank goodness we had name tags on our uniforms.
We got in order the best we could and were yelled at the whole time doing it (notice a trend yet?). While we were trying to get organized, the Drill Sergeants were “smoking” people having them do push ups, sit ups, flutter kicks and a variety of other exercises. I remember what my recruiter told me and to keep a low profile and not get noticed.
Once we finished getting organized alphabetically, we were broken down into platoons and marched to our barracks.
We brought our luggage up to our platoon area and spent a couple minutes meeting each other. No, it was not a formal meet and greet. There were a few handshakes, but mostly head nods and brief introductions.
Next, we were introduced to our Drill Sergeants. Since we were a co-ed Boot Camp, the men from two platoons stayed in the same barracks. The females were in a different area/bay in a building located next to us. The Drill Sergeants for our “bay” were not our Drill Sergeants for our platoon. In either case, I remember meeting Drill Sergeant Vasquez and Drill Sergeant Burpee. All I remember is these guys were some mean you know what!
Once the introductions were over it was “lights out” so we could get a little bit of sleep before starting training the next day. I remember laying in my bunk bed feeling like a helpless puppy. No, I didn’t cry. I wasn’t homesick. But I was a bit scared and unsure of what to expect. I remember thinking “what the hell have I done?” Within a minute or two, I was out cold.
Little did I know that I would be woken up in a few hours to start my training!
So there you have it folks. This is the story of my first day or Army Boot Camp.