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Did the Army ever issue 'stress cards' to recruits?

You can read a follow-up story here.

More than a few of you have asked The Rumor Doctor to look into the longstanding rumor that the Army once issued “stress cards” for recruits who could not endure the rigors of basic training. Allegedly, these cards provide a reprieve to recruits too tired to exercise or stressed out from being yelled at by a drill sergeant.

This rumor usually comes up when certain folks claim that basic training has become “soft” because today’s recruits are “weak.” Although the stress cards rumor has been disputed several times over the years, it lives on.

It’s not a subject the Army cares to talk about. A couple of times when The Rumor Doctor asked Training and Doctrine Command whether stress cards ever existed, the response was an emphatic “no” without much further comment -- not enough information for a story.

Knowing how much you hunger for knowledge, The Doctor persisted until someone was finally willing to speak at length to debunk this rumor once and for all.

“It’s definitely a myth and definitely needs to be put to bed,” said James Walthes, a former commandant of the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Drill sergeants are thoroughly trained to deal with whatever problems a new recruit might be having, including illness, homesickness and financial issues, said Walthes,  also a former command sergeant major for U.S. European Command.

“I don’t see the purpose of giving a soldier a card when the individual soldier knows that they can go to the drill sergeant any time or the chain of command to seek assistance and we don’t need a card in order to get that type of assistance,” he said.

The fictional stress cards would allow recruits to call for a time out, but what would happen if a recruit actually called for a reprieve from exercising because he or she couldn’t go on?

“I would ask him why he felt he needed a time out,” Walthes replied.

The recruit in question might have a genuine problem that could lead to injury or even death if not dealt with, he said.

“You definitely don’t want that,” Walthes said.

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS:  This rumor is officially debunked forever more, but that’s not to say stress cards are a bad idea. In March, The Rumor Doctor attempted to take the Army’s proposed new physical fitness test, but when it came time to do an exercise called “The Rower,” yours truly looked like a beached whale giving birth.

A stress card certainly would have come in handy.

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