Military Life

How to ace U.S. Army Basic Combat Training

All your burning questions about U.S. Army Basic Training, answered.
Joshua Skovlund Avatar
Army basic training trainee firing his M4 with a blank adapter attached.
Basic Combat Training, also known as "boot camp," is required of all new enlisted Soldiers to create a strong foundation for their Army experience and future goals. (U.S. Army photo/Robin Hicks)

From Green Berets to the S-1 clerk and everyone in between, every soldier has something in common with each other: they’ve all started their military careers at the U.S. Army’s Basic Combat Training. 

The major difference between them all is the location where they attended basic training. Some locations are rumored to be more difficult than others, but the result is the same: a soldier ready for follow on training in the greatest army on earth.

Basic training is not the most challenging training a soldier can attend, of course, but it prepares them for the more difficult tasks they face following basic training graduation. Today’s basic training is fueled by decades of warfighting experience and produces some of the best soldiers in the world. 

A brief history of basic training

Basic training courses have waxed and waned since the Army was established in 1775. Former Prussian army officer Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben started what is believed to be the first-ever basic training course in American military history. That was in 1778 when American soldiers had low morale and needed better training early in the Revolutionary War. 

The first formalized basic training started during WW1, with 30 training camps established to produce soldiers for the gruesome trench warfare. Following the Armistice of 11 November 1918, recruiting and training soldiers slowed down, but WWII brought back the need. In 1941, the War Department changed the previously established training standards to train troops for WWII better.

The Army started a 13-week basic training that balanced emphasis on combat training, tactics, identification of friendly aircraft and armor, and several other combat-related tasks. The training was extended to 17 weeks a few years later. 

The first drill sergeants were trained and assigned to basic training courses in 1964, before the Vietnam War. Today’s basic training courses fall under the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, which oversees all basic training units throughout the Army. 

How long is Army boot camp?

The Army’s Basic Combat Training is 10 weeks long and broken into phases. Each phase is like a building block of training for the recruit, rapidly transitioning a civilian into a soldier. 

The yellow phase is the first two weeks of basic training. Recruits learn the basics of Physical Training (PT), progressing each week into more difficult fitness levels. Recruits learn how to march, salute, and several other basic skills needed to be successful in the Army. There is a lot of classroom time where recruits learn about the Army’s core values, first aid, recognizing rank, and sexual harassment prevention.

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Red phase is weeks three and four. Recruits receive their weapons, commonly an M16A2 or the M4 carbine. They learn how to handle, clean, and troubleshoot their rifle but won’t spend any time on the range — yet. Recruits will receive their initial lessons on hand-to-hand combat before the end of the two weeks. 

Recruits will also go through the gas chamber, where they learn to don their gas mask, take it off, and endure the punishing effects of CS gas. The fourth week concludes with a one-day field training exercise called “The Hammer” that pulls together all the red phase lessons. 

White phase is weeks five to seven, and recruits spend a lot of time at the shooting range, developing their basic marksmanship skills and qualifying with their rifle. Recruits learn more about hand-to-hand combat and go through a two-day field exercise called “The Anvil.”

Blue phase is the last two weeks of basic training. Here, trainees will conduct buddy team live fire exercises and learn how to throw grenades. Soon-to-be soldiers hone advanced shooting techniques and tactics before undergoing the basic training culminating exercise called “The Forge.” The last step of basic training is graduation, and recruits become full-fledged soldiers. 

Basic training isn’t the only initial entry training available in the Army. One-Station Unit Training (OSUT) has a slightly different timeline. OSUT courses combine basic training with their military occupational specialty (MOS) specific training. Infantry, tankers, and cavalry scouts attend OSUT for 22 weeks, and combat engineers attend for 14 weeks. Officer Candidate School is 12 weeks long, but OCS candidates attend basic training or the “equivalent military basic skills course.”

Basic Training requirements

The requirements and standards to join the Army and attend Army Basic Combat Training differ for enlisted and officers. 

Enlisted

  • Must be within 17-35 years old (prior active service years subtract from your current age)
  • No felonies or more severe legal charges; must be physically fit to serve and mentally sound. Waivers are available in special circumstances.
  • A U.S. citizen or a permanent resident with a valid Green Card
  • A high school graduate or GED
  • Obtaining a minimum ASVAB score, which breaks down into two types of ASVAB scores. You need a score of 31 on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). Then, your line scores determine job opportunities based on your knowledge and skills in ten different areas.

Officer

  • Must be at least 17 but under 31 at the time of commissioning as an Officer.
  • No felonies or more severe legal charges; must be physically fit to serve and mentally sound. Waivers can be obtained in special circumstances.
  • A U.S. citizen or a permanent resident with a valid Green Card by the time of commission.
  • Graduate college by the time you’re commissioned as an Officer.
  • Complete all steps necessary and qualify for a secret security clearance. 

If you don’t qualify for service in the Army, you can always look into civilian careers within the Army.

Army basic training preparation

Drill Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Ashley Buhl, as ‘on the trail’ as a drill sergeant at Ft. Jackson for two years before winning the 2023 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition. Buhl said plenty of recruits show up to basic training not knowing what they are getting into. She said trainees need only one thing. 

“It’s always just the mindset. You need to come knowing that this is something that thousands and thousands of people have done before you,” Buhl said. “So, it is not an impossible task.”

But, Buhl said it’s essential to show up healthy after having spent some time working out. It’s a double-edged sword, though. Overtraining can lead to micro-tears in your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and you can develop stress fractures in your bones. You avoid that by training with an educated approach or under the guidance of a fitness trainer. 

It’s hard to know if you have over-trained unless you push it to the point of injury. Buhl said if a recruit shows up having overtrained and becomes injured early on, it’s better to recover in the Army rather than on the civilian side, where you might not have full access to the specialists needed. 

“It comes back to the mindset. If you did overtrain, and now you are hurt. You’re in an opportunity where you have all these resources to help you out,” Buhl said. “What you were doing before may not have been proper, so now we can teach you the proper way to work out.”

Before you go to basic training, consider where you will be going through the training. Acclimating yourself happens when you live in the environment or you’re in it often enough. Be mindful of the cold or heat if you can’t do that. You can prepare yourself by knowing the locations of the five different bases hosting basic training:

  • Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
  • Fort Moore, Georgia.
  • Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
  • Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Where you attend basic training will depend on your military occupation specialty (MOS). Fort Leonard Wood hosts OSUT for Combat engineers, and Ft. Moore hosts OSUT for tankers, cav scouts, and infantry. Officer candidates attend Officer Candidate School at Ft. Moore. 

Artillery and Air Defense Artillery MOS-holding soldiers attend basic and AIT at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, but it isn’t classified as OSUT by the Department of the Army. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) specialists, Military Police, and Transportation Corps soldiers attend basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood. All other soldiers attend basic training at Ft. Jackson.

What is Army basic training really like?

Basic training is a relatively easy feat to accomplish when contrasted by the range of schools and courses. The Army wants well-trained soldiers, not broken ones, so the training isn’t a back-breaking endeavor. The drill sergeants aren’t there to make it one, either.  

“We are here to turn what you were as a civilian, doing your day-to-day life, into an American soldier ready for war,” Buhl said. “We help you pretty much find who you are and what your purpose is.”

Buhl said the biggest culprit behind recruits quitting during basic training is showing up to training unprepared. Some recruits don’t feel like they belong or don’t like what the Army life entails. Buhl recommended that people consider what Army life is like, whether it’s weeks in the field away from your husband or wife or year-long deployments to a warzone. She said many of the people joining are young, becoming adults for the first time. 

“It’s more of knowing that you’re going to grow up quicker than you would have if you stayed home,” Buhl said. 

Almost every day of basic training starts at 4:30 a.m., followed by an hour and a half of PT. Then, recruits eat breakfast in the dining facility (DFAC) before their drill sergeant takes them through training. Lunch is served at noon, followed by more training. Then, recruits eat a quick supper and clean the barracks before lights out at 9:00 PM. Some soldiers will have to pull fire watch, which is generally an hour long. 

The difficulty of the training is subjective and depends on how well-prepared you are — follow the advice in the previous section to avoid any problems. Basic training can be a wake-up call for those who don’t properly prepare or skim by the requirements to join the Army. 

How difficult the training is can also be amplified by how much of a team player you are. Basic training will be a nightmare if you aren’t a good teammate. The Army does not want self-serving soldiers; soldiers don’t want people like that on their team. Consider that before you join in the first place. 

FAQs about Army Basic Training

You have questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: What is the attrition rate of U.S. Army Basic Training?

A: Approximately 10% of basic trainees drop out due to injury, failure to adapt, and various other reasons. 

Q: Do you have to be in peak physical fitness before shipping out for basic training?

A: No, but you must meet graduation requirements by the end of basic training. 

Q: How long was U.S. Army basic training in WWII?

A:  The Army, from 1940 through 194the Army 5, inducted 8.1 million troops. A 13-week basic training course was run by individual divisions, though it increased to 17 weeks in 1943. 

Q: Is the Army’s boot camp worse than the Marines’ boot camp?

A: All we know is that Army soldiers don’t develop an appetite for crayons by the end of basic training — take that however you want. 

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