Tough or fluff? Troops rank basic training
Navy boot camp changes giving recruits more sleep and less marching are generating buzz among members of other services, particularly the Marine Corps, which prides itself on having the toughest basic training.
“You’re not supposed to focus in boot camp. Boot camp is about learning in a stressful environment, instilling discipline, it’s not about getting enough sleep time,” said Lance Cpl. Gene Talley, 3rd Transportation Support Battalion, Landing Support, Air Delivery Platoon, Okinawa. “Do you want a La-Z-Boy [recliner] in combat?”
The Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois recently announced a slew of changes at the Navy’s only boot camp.
Recruits now get eight hours of shut-eye, instead of 6½.
Kitchen duty is a thing of the past and barracks galleys will replace dining halls.
And officials say recruits won’t be required to march as much. In recent years, they’ve marched as much as 1½ miles a day.
Navy officials say the changes will make basic training more focused, not less rigorous.
But GIs across the Pacific say boot camp is supposed to be tough and question whether the Navy’s new approach is too soft.
“Boot camp is training for the conditions of combat. You can’t baby the people in the military with more sleep and less marching,” said Cpl. Chad Faxon, 3rd Transportation Support Battalion, Landing Support, Air Delivery Platoon, Okinawa. “I don’t care which branch of the service you're in, we should all train hard.”
The Marine Corps has the longest basic training — 12 weeks — compared to nine each for the Army and Navy.
Air Force boot camp is six weeks.
Marching and running
Every Marine recruit must pass the “Crucible,” a test that involves marching about 40 miles over 54 hours with food and sleep deprivation. Marine Corps officials say recruits will be able to draw upon the experience to face any future challenge.
“Boot camp is about learning to complete the mission under pressure,” said Lance Cpl. Adam Bracey, 3rd Transportation Support Battalion, Landing Support, Air Delivery Platoon, Okinawa.
Lt. Ralph Roe, a former enlisted sailor now serving as the officer in charge of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command detachment at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, doesn’t remember marching much when he went through boot camp in 1979.
“That’s right, we ran everywhere, double-time, all the time,” he said.
Roe said many aspects of boot camp did not make sense to him at the time, but now, 25 years later, he understands why those things were done.
“An example is the meal-time rush we had,” he said. “It just didn’t make sense to me, but now I realize it does make sense to learn things like timeliness and discipline.”
He and retired Command Master Chief Petty Officer Jerry Havens think the mess halls and kitchen duty should remain part of the Navy boot camp experience.
Boot camp should be where the Navy gets the “kid out of the kid,” said Havens, a 1964 boot camp graduate and chief of Mobility Readiness Support at Sasebo Naval Base’s Fleet and Family Support Center.
“To my mind, such a drastic reduction in the effort and physical inconvenience of boot camp training will ill prepare these young men and women for the realities of the cramped habitability conditions to be found on most Naval vessels,” Havens said. “The Navy seems to be heading the way of the Air Force in child-proofing the boot camp environment.”
On the lighter side
The Air Force, on its basic training Web site, www.baseops.net/basictraining/airforce.html, tells recruits to prepare for “extensive marching, conditioning classes and the completion of a challenging obstacle course.”
To graduate, a male recruit must run two miles in 18 minutes, and a female recruit must cover the distance within 21 minutes, among other requirements.
Airmen at Yokota Air Base, however, don’t recall basic training being physically demanding.
“The physical part of it wasn’t too tough," said Senior Airman Ryan Connoy, 25, 730th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
“It’s more mental,” said Senior Airman Khristen Huey-Davies, 23, 374th Maintenance Operations Squadron.
The airmen recall getting plenty of sleep — about eight hours — despite early morning wake-up calls. They also recall lots of food.
“Most people I know gained weight in basic training,” said Staff Sgt. Marva Walker, 28, 374th Operations Support Squadron. “They’re feeding you three or four times a day.”
Airmen 1st Class Michelle Hayward, 20, who graduated from basic training two years ago, said the toughest week was living in the field under “simulated desert battlefield” conditions.
“We had to sleep in tents, not take showers for a week, it was just rough,” she said. “We had to crawl in the sand, be soldiers.”
But airmen agree the Air Force probably has the easiest basic training.
“I think it’s Marine Corps, Army, Navy and then Air Force,” said Tech. Sgt. Judy Mills, 374th Operations Support Squadron.
Soldiers weigh in
In the Army, officials say a typical boot camp schedule calls for wake-up at 5:30 a.m. and lights out at 9 p.m.
However, soldiers in South Korea recall sleep deprivation.
Pfc. John Kim of 8th Army’s headquarter and headquarters company said the three to four hours of sleep during Army basic training can wear a soldier down. Kim got out of basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., in August. But he agrees that the Army should push a soldier to the limits.
“I think they should drain the most out of you,” the 22-year-old Kim said. “You’re a civilian going to a soldier.”
Pfc. Jigar Jani, 19, said he’d never gotten up so early in his life, and that was one of the hardest things to adjust to in the Army.
During basic training, soldiers still perform mundane tasks such as kitchen duty, and it’s that duty that caused Jani to miss a class on care of his M-16 rifle.
“I had to catch up on that,” said Jani of the 34th Support Group. “It was hard for me.”
But kitchen duty also permitted a welcome break from regular training, Jani said.
Sgt. 1st Class John Cothron, who was a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson from 1997 to 2000, said a company usually has kitchen duty eight times, with each platoon doing it twice all day.
“I would say that all four services are probably about equal as far as the difficulty,” Cothron said. “It just depends on what you want to do and who you are.”
— Jennifer Svan, Greg Tyler, Fred Zimmerman, Jeremy Kirk and Joe Giordono contributed to this report.