March 29, 2020
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Ten-hut! Straighten up there soldier, because today
we’re taking you to boot camp so you can learn what it’s like to leave the civilian world
behind and become a soldier in the US military. Well, actually, we went ahead and had our
favorite lab rat, and third-from-the-bottom-in-importance writer, go ahead and relive his boot camp
days as we had him live out his life for thirty days like he was back in boot camp. What does boot camp do to a person? How does it change your behavior? Let’s find out, as you tag along with our
boot camp for thirty days challenge! Day 1: When I first got this challenge assigned
to me, I had such intense flashbacks that I shuddered. I’ve been out of the military now for a decade
after a six year stint, and I can still remember my day one in boot camp like it was yesterday. It wasn’t really that shocking a transition
going from civilian life to boot camp, my whole family practically is military and my
dad used to be an airborne instructor. I’d train with his classes as a teenager and
he almost even got permission to have me jump with them during my senior year, but I’d have
to wait until I actually joined the military to get my wings. Turns out if anything had gone wrong it would’ve
been a bureaucratic nightmare, me being a teenager civilian and all that. But I still did PT with them in the morning,
even trained on the jump platforms, and yep, got yelled at just like I was any other recruit. Fun times, but my point is that it wasn’t
that big a shock to transition into boot camp. Boot camp however is definitely… unpleasant. Though I hear stories about how cake kids
today have it, if you went through boot camp recently can you please let us know in the
comments if it was difficult having to eat your filet mignon without steak sauce while
your drill instructors cut it up into neat little slices and fed it to you? I realize that I sound like the old timers,
how much harder things were in my day- but seriously, from what I’ve heard of boot lately
it was definitely harder in my day. I guess we were actively at war back then
though, and I know that for some of the kids who had no experience with the military it
was jarring to have them see soldiers missing arms and legs for the first time. The point of boot is to break you down, to
turn you from a civilian to a soldier, a sailor, an airman, or a marine, and that’s a pretty
drastic transition to make. All the yelling, the screaming, the insults-
although I hear they don’t do that anymore- and the PT, or physical training, is all meant
to break down your defenses so you can be rebuilt. You’re meant to learn discipline, teamwork,
leadership, and get mentally and physically tough- because let me tell you, there’s nothing
harder in life than the battlefield. Like the old adage goes, the more you sweat
in training the less you bleed in combat. So yeah, even though it makes no sense, the
sleep deprivation, the screaming in your face, the constant PT until you’re well past physical
exhaustion- it’s all for a reason, and I can’t tell you the number of times once I was in
the active military that I was in situations where I was operating well past my mental
and physical limits, and awfully glad for the training that had prepared me for these
situations. By the way, I hear that in boot camp now you
get 8 straight hours of sleep a night. Wow, do they fluff your pillows for you too
before the DI’s tuck you in to bed with a warm cocoa? So unfortunately I won’t get sent to a real
boot camp for 30 days, instead I have to life my life as if I was at boot. That means trying to recreate the experience
as close as possible in my civilian life, which means a lot of sacrifices are going
to have to be made. It’s intriguing really, because I know boot
affects you psychologically, but this time I’ll get to actually make those observations
and write them down. I’ve taken some measures to make this experience
as close as possible to the real thing, though obviously still pretty far from it. First, I’ve cleared my schedule of any social
events. In boot you don’t get any liberty- or at least
I didn’t, though today you guys probably got weekend water park trips and passes to the
fair when you were feeling blue. During my two months at boot I think I got
a grand total of 48 hours of liberty the entire time, so if I didn’t get to dip out to the
movies back then, I’m not going to now. Secondly, I’m going to leave the apartment
I share with the girlfriend and move into my friend’s place for the duration. She’s a travel blogger and gone frequently
to work for magazines, so I’ll stay alone at her place. I only got to contact family once a week-
if I was lucky- so I can’t be in contact with the girlfriend this whole time except for
1 hour every week. That includes no texting. Third, I’ll be recreating all the PT I used
to do, and even doing extra PT as if my unit was being punished, which happens all the
time. Fourth, no amenities for the duration except
books. No TV, no internet, no video games. Just reading books for entertainment and that’s
it. I’ll check in at the end of each week as usual. To be honest, this is not a challenge I’m
looking forward to. At real boot camp you got the camaraderie
of 30-40 other guys, but here I’ll be pretty much all alone for the duration. This one’s gonna be tough. Day 7: First week down, and man, I remember
now all the annoying things I hated about boot camp, though I’m glad that there’s aspects
I’m not having to re-live. So, my days start a 0445 hours, exactly like
in boot. I don’t have a very pissed off drill sergeant
dragging me out of bed by my foot though so instead I found some audio recordings of drill
instructors screaming and yelling and each night I set an alarm that automatically triggers
the stereo system to play a mix track I made at very loud volume. It’s disturbingly close to the real thing,
and I about had a heart attack the first morning. After waking up, I give myself ten minutes
to make my bed- yep, hospital corners and everything. I never got the art of hospital corners down,
and used to get yelled at and punished for it constantly. Along with making my bed, I have to be outside
and ready for PT by the end of ten minutes. If I’m late, I punish myself with extra PT. I then do a morning routine alternating between
push-ups, jumping jacks, sit ups, burpees and mountain climbers, which are all the exercises
I could remember, and then go for a two mile run while listening to cadences on my ear
buds. For those of you who don’t know, cadences
are those songs that military formations sing as they run, which makes running harder because
you’re singing while out of breath, but in a weird way makes it so much easier because
you sort of become part of a machine. You hypnotize yourself into just running,
and the exhaustion always seems far away. After PT I give myself 20 minutes for the
famous three S’es, Shit, Shower, and Shave. Those 20 minutes also include completely cleaning
the bathroom so that it’s spotless. I then inspect the bathroom, and if I find
anything out of place or dirty I punish myself with, yep, more PT. Honestly, at this point I am starting to feel
like a masochist. By the way, if you’re on your way to boot
and you get assigned to clean the toilets or sinks, after you scrub them, rub the porcelain
down with your bare hands. Yes, even the toilet. It’s gross, but the oils in your skin will
make the porcelain shine and make any stray pubic hairs stick to your hand. Just make sure you wash your hands thoroughly
afterwards- without messing up a sink all over again of course. Although I don’t know, maybe in boot camp
today they hire maids to clean your toilets and make your bed for you. My absolute least favorite part comes next-
breakfast. Back in boot we had to eat according to a
system. You would form a line along with everyone
else, maintaining the position of attention the entire time you were in line. Drill instructors would wander through the
line, and very swiftly punish anyone who’s position of attention wasn’t perfect. We shared lunch time with our entire company
though, so there would be hundreds of us, perfectly silent and waiting our turn as the
line slowly shuffled forward. Sometimes you’d wait a half hour to finally
get your food and sit. When you did get your food though, you had
to fill in rows of tables with people starting from the front of the chow hall to the back,
and nobody at your table could sit and eat until the entire table was full- then you
would all sit as one and begin eating. You had to eat fast too, because you only
had as long to eat until the table in the row across from you began to fill up. The moment that table was full and those guys
sat down, your ass had better be getting up to trash your tray. All in all you had about 3-4 minutes to eat
as much as you could. I distinctly remember sneaking food out of
the chow hall, and I never got caught once. So I give myself four minutes to eat, and
I’ve tried to recreate a food menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as close as possible to
what I remember eating. For breakfast that means a lot of eggs and
oatmeal. As soon as the alarm rings, I trash whatever
I didn’t eat, and this first week I found out that I am definitely rusty and have gone
hungry quite a bit. It’s amazing how fast you learn to eat when
you need to. For the rest of my day I have a strict time
set for lunch and dinner, as well as lights out. I also had a friend who programs whip up an
app for me as a favor which randomly sets off an alarm throughout the day. The frequency and timing of the alarm are
totally random, but I use it to simulate the countless times throughout your day at basic
that you’re getting yelled at and disciplined with PT. So every time the alarm goes off, I drop and
alternate between push ups, sit ups and burpees. Burpees suck by the way. I don’t watch TV, cruise the internet, or
anything like that. Instead I let myself read for entertainment,
and of course I work on my writing. All in all, the experience is definitely not
like the real thing, but I feel like I’ve recreated most of the highlights. The girlfriend is taking this much harder
than I am though, especially because she was only allowed to talk to me for one hour today
at the end of the week. She asked to visit, but that’s not possible
so we could only talk on the phone. I think she really, really misses me. Oh, and she was not happy about me shaving
my head- because yep, I did that too. Keeping a buzz cut is pretty integral to the
experience, and I haven’t had a shaved head since I left basic. Mostly because I’m seriously ugly when I’m
bald, so very grateful I have great hair genes. Day 14: It turns out that without all the
yelling, marching around, time on the firing range, and classroom instruction, boot camp
is pretty damn boring. Not being allowed to watch tv, play video
games, cruise the internet, or even just go for a drink with friends is extremely boring. I remember now that this was the part I hated
most about boot- I didn’t care about the yelling and screaming and constant PT, but the isolation
and being cut off from the outside world was killer. If it’s hard on me though, it turns out it’s
way harder on the girlfriend than I ever thought. She has to leave frequently for different
movies or shows she works on, sometimes even for a month or two at a time. But we always have skype, facetime, texting,
phone calls, I even send her hand-written letters. Also if she’s gone for more than two weeks,
I typically fly out to her or she’ll fly to me. Now though, there’s practically zero contact
between us except for our one hour a week on Sunday. I can tell she’s really lonely and she even
sounds depressed. This week I kicked up the morning and afternoon
PT to 3 mile runs, because 2 miles is for the first week just to condition you. I really, super hate running, always did,
and the military loves to make you run. But I found that listening to cadences actually
makes it easier, I’ve been slipping back into that weird hypnotic state I used to operate
in. I kind of wish I had a group to run with,
so we could actually sing cadences together. It would make it easier. This alarm app on my phone is driving me insane,
although I guess that’s the point. Sometimes it goes off five minutes after it
just went off, so I have to drop down and do another thirty push ups or burpees, I randomly
rotate. But I guess that’s sort of what happened when
I was in boot, somebody was always messing up, and the military loves to use group punishment
to fix mistakes. I’ve also been waking up each night to do
one hour firewatch, which I randomly rotate through. So for one hour I walk through my friend’s
empty condo with a flashlight in my hand, and if anyone could see me they probably think
I’m the world’s biggest weirdo. I am recreating a boot camp experience for
the sake of an online entertainment show though, so I guess I am pretty weird. There’s not much to report, except boredom. Luckily I’m an avid reader, but I miss the
outside world. Day 21: Last week I wrote the girlfriend a
letter because I missed her, even though geographically speaking we are only about 8 miles apart. The mailman that delivered that letter must’ve
assumed I was the laziest person in the world. She sent me one back, and I immediately remembered
how morale boosting it was to get mail in basic, and during my months of training after. If you know anyone in basic training or that’s
going soon, do them a favor and send them a letter. That goes double if you know anyone who’s
deployed overseas. Oh, and send the person overseas baby wipes-
seriously, baby wipes are a godsend when you’re living in a hole in the desert. Just don’t send anyone in basic baby wipes
or anything else, one guy in my unit got sent a tin of cookies by his mother and the drill
instructors harassed him for days over it. And they ate his cookies, right in front of
him. Man, now that I think about it, being a drill
would’ve been fun. This week the running went up to 4 miles,
once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. Honestly at this point I might be confusing
my basic training with my training for the various schools I went to after basic- but
I know for a fact that we did a lot of running either way. I’ve always stayed in good shape, but because
I hate running doing the two miles the first week was killing me. Now I’m kind of surprising myself with the
way I’m able to cope with 4 mile runs. I mean, I’m still smoked at the end of it,
but I’m not dying the way I thought I would be. This, combined with the very fast eating-
remember, I get 4 minutes for each meal- has made me shed a lot of extra pounds. My abs are absolutely popping now, which makes
sense since I basically run like an idiot all day long. I’ve even learned to eat faster, and typically
I can finish my entire meal by the time the alarm goes off. It’s not pretty, but I manage it. Food in basic is important, which is why they
feed you very high calorie stuff to help your body cope with all the PT. You’re always left hungry though, and that’s
why if you ever pull kitchen duty, oh man, that’s a godsend. Yes, you have to clean thousands of dirty
dishes and pots and pans, then scrub down an industrial-sized kitchen- but your reward
is you get to eat whatever you want as slow as you want. Kitchen duty, or KP as we called it, was a
godsend, and I would stuff my face every time I could. My morning breakfast routine reminded me of
an incident from basic though which still haunts me to this day. One of the guys at my table was sick, really
badly congested and probably had the flu or a really bad cold. As we’re shoveling food into our mouths, suddenly
he stops and his body jerks, and before he can do anything, he sneezes, completely involuntarily. More snot than I’ve ever seen in my life flew
out of his nose and into his oatmeal. Poor kid was so terrified of the drill instructors,
and so damn hungry that he ate it. He ate oatmeal loaded with mucus. It was the single most disgusting thing I’ve
ever seen, and I randomly remember it to this day. In non-vomity food news, this week I’ve changed
my midday meal to MREs, which I snagged from a surplus store nearby. At this point in basic we started spending
a lot of time in the field, and that meant no hot meals, just MREs. Honestly, I’ve never hated MREs the way some
people do. In fact, I always kind of liked them. The jalapeno cheese is off the chain, and
I remember that it and the cocoa powder was basically currency. You could literally buy things from people
using them. One week and two days left, and I honestly
can’t wait to get back to my normal life. See you guys at the end! Day 30: Today I finally came home, and the
moment I walked through the door the girlfriend literally threw herself on me, very quickly
followed by the dog. Then she saw my shaved head and made a gagging
sound, which I totally agreed with. My re-visit to boot camp days is finally over,
and I’m very happy about that. I honestly feel it would have been easier
to actually go back to boot camp instead of to do this weird experiment alone in isolation. The camaraderie of the other recruits really
makes the experience and isolation much more manageable. What I experienced was basically very disciplined
hermitdom. Doing this though did hit a lot of the core
points of the boot camp experience. You really do start to feel completely isolated
from the world, in fact you feel like you aren’t even a part of it anymore. That’s how complete our quarantine from the
real world was. When you deploy you still get news, tv, internet,
phone calls, emails, all kinds of ways to stay in touch- unless you happen to go really
far down range of course. But at boot, we got none of that, and I definitely
nailed that isolation and loneliness. Stepping back into the real world is kind
of going to be weird. Let alone eating food at a leisurely pace,
or even eating what I want. I was very strict about my meals and stuck
to a plan that resembled what I remember from boot, but now I get to eat what I want again. Tomorrow, I’m hitting In and Out the moment
they open, and it’s going to take a SWAT team to get me out. I’ve reflexively found myself saying “sir
and ma’am” a lot now again. I occasionally got to interact with the outside
world during my experience, like having to go to appointments or grocery shopping, and
I was calling people sir and ma’am constantly. You can always tell when a kid is fresh from
boot, because every other word out of their mouth is sir or ma’am. There’s a lot of things I couldn’t simulate,
like an FTX, or field training exercise. That’s typically a big part of the final weeks
at boot camp, when you go out into the field and live in the weeds for a few days. The constant stress of being yelled at and
having aggressive drill instructors in your face is another factor I couldn’t simulate,
which I feel is pretty much the cornerstone experience of boot camp. The constant PT though is something I definitely
did, and I have to tell you, it really is easier when you’re part of a group. There’s something to be said for the way the
military makes you do PT with your unit. Being part of a machine, one cog out of many,
makes even physically exhausting tasks manageable. I made a deliberate choice to leave the military
after six years to find a more peaceful life, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss
it intensely at times. Especially the part where you find yourself
operating so far past your limits that you look back and can’t even see them anymore,
and your team is right there beside you. The first time you experience that moment
it’s something you just don’t forget, and you’ll typically first get your own moment
in boot. Depending on what your job ends up being in
the military, you might find yourself there often, and it’s terrifying, exhilarating,
and the most alive you’ll ever feel. It’s also addicting, and eventually you’ll
hit a point where you’ll have to choose whether you want a shot at living a normal life or
not. If your luck doesn’t run out first. Think you could handle boot camp? Have you been through boot camp recently? Let us know in the comments, and if you enjoyed
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Tony wyaad