Military Life

How to ace U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training

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Joshua Skovlund Avatar
air force basic military training pacer forge
U.S. Air Force Trainees from the 326th Training Wing low crawl during an obstacle course as part of the Primary Agile Combat Employment Range Forward Operations Readiness Generation Exercise, or PACER FORGE, August 8, 2023, on Joint Base San Antonio-Chapman Annex. (Airman 1st Class Erin V. Currie/U.S. Air Force).

U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training is any airman’s first step into the massive world of the Air Force. From security forces to combat controllers, logisticians to mechanics, all airmen start their careers at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. 

Basic training is not the most rigorous block of instruction available in the Air Force, but don’t go into it thinking it’s a walk in the park. The training will turn you into an airman capable of whatever job the Air Force deems the best fit for you. 

The U.S. Air Force is the best and biggest air power in the world. The foundation of America’s premier air service is built from decades of warfighting dating back to 1917 when the American Expeditionary Force was established to dominate the skies during World War I. 

A brief history of Air Force Basic Military Training

The Air Force wasn’t always a standalone branch of the U.S. military. It was under the then-War Department, which later became the Department of the Army, which became a part of the Department of Defense in 1949. In 1947, the Army Air Corps transferred to the Department of the Air Force as the newly established United States Air Force.

The first Air Force basic training started with the Army Air Corps’ first “Replacement Training Center,” which opened for basic training on September 3, 194, in Missouri. At the height of WWII, there were 12 training centers in the U.S., one being a luxurious Miami resort. 

The length of the training fluctuated with the needs of the Air Force. Starting with six weeks, then three weeks, then back up to nine weeks of training as the need for airmen increased with WWII expanding. The length of Air Force basic training has continually fluctuated with reorganization and the needs of the nation. 

Today’s Air Force basic training grows from training doctrine born from the experience only decades at war can provide. 

How long is Air Force basic training?

Air Force basic training is 7.5 weeks long, and each week builds upon the previous week’s training. It’s not as long as the U.S. Army’s Basic Combat Training, but the two courses share multiple parallels. Military Training Instructor Tech Sgt. Shayla Blakeney broke down basic training and what to expect. 

“Week 0 is very, very low-level groundwork processing,” Blakeney said. “It’s where trainees get all of the basic things they will need prior to them leaving for their actual squad.”

Trainees are introduced to Physical Training (PT) in Week 0 and will do PT every week of basic training. The further into basic training you get, the more challenging the PT will be, but it shouldn’t feel that way as your body adapts to the new fitness standards. 

The rest of the week is dedicated to gathering needed items for the weeks ahead, whether they’re issued or purchased from the base mini-mall. Trainees will learn the basics of military life, like folding your clothes properly, setting up your living space to Air Force standards, and classroom work. 

Trainees hone their ability to lead, be team players, and instill a ‘nobody left behind’ mentality throughout the first several weeks of basic training. 

“Eventually, they start taking care of one another to make sure everybody is progressing along,” Blakeney said.  

Week 1 starts with trainees assigned to their respective squadrons. They will take several classes throughout the upcoming weeks — everything from sexual assault prevention to knowing and recognizing rank. 

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Trainees will learn similar skills taught by other branches, like marching, saluting, and marksmanship. By the end of Week 5, all trainees will be prepared for the culminating exercise the following week. If you want to play with machine guns and grenades in basic training, you’ll have to join the Army or the U.S. Marine Corps. 

Week 6, formerly called “The Beast,” is now Pacer Forge. In this simulated deployment environment, airmen will demonstrate their understanding of all the skills and knowledge they’ve received up to that point. 

“It’s basically a mock deployment for them. Cadre is the overseer and will give them tidbits of information. But at the end of the day, that environment out there is trainee-led,” Blakeney said. “All of the information that they’ve learned, like the expeditionary things that they learned in weeks 3 and 4, they’re required to execute it out there.”

Currently, Pacer Forge is a day and a half in length. Blakeney said the timeline can fluctuate as they find ways to improve it. But, once the trainees complete their mock deployment, it’s followed by the end-of-course (EOC) test. The written test covers the skills and knowledge they’ve been taught since the start of Air Force basic training. They must receive a 70% test score or higher to pass the test. 

“That week is very stressful for them because many are worried about the EOC while being worried about Pacer Forge — a less controlled environment,” Blakeney said. “They get used to somebody telling you day in and day out exactly what they are going to do.”

Trainees will knock out graduation rehearsal drills and graduate early into Week 7. Freshly minted airmen will then attend briefings that prepare them for the following technical training specific to their job. 

You cannot pick your dream job when you enlist in the Air Force outside of unique opportunities. Preferred assignments are considered when assigning a recruit their job, but the need of the Air Force is the final deciding factor. A recruit lists their preferred jobs when talking to a recruiter, or picks one from a list the recruiter has a need to fill. 

Just because you listed a preferred assignment, doesn’t mean you are guaranteed that job. A recruit’s aptitude is measured and then used to guide what job they can have; sometimes it works out in a recruit’s favor, otherwise they end up doing a job they could hate or love. 

Even if you do get your preferred job, you will still need to pass Technical Training to keep that role. 

Basic Training preparation

All Air Force trainees attend basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. If you’re joining the Air Force from a temperate climate, it’s wise to know what the weather is like in Texas. 

Starting in January and ending in December, the weather can climb from low 60-degree days to nearly 100-degree days. If you aren’t used to the heat, go into training knowing you need to eat healthy and stay hydrated. The diet part is out of your hands, so just focus on drinking water. 

Newly minted Airman Noah Miller didn’t need to worry about the weather since he spent his formative years in Georgia and Alabama. He graduated basic training on Jan. 18, 2024. He is the class’s Top Graduate, someone who excels in academics, fitness, living area inspections, and demonstrated leadership. 

When asked what he’d recommend for those looking to join, he said to get comfortable with pushups, situps, and running before shipping out. 

“I’d say focus more on calisthenics than weightlifting […],” Miller said. “Everything is achievable if you work hard enough for it.”

The Air Force has a PT schedule for those looking into joining. If you follow the programming, you will show up to basic training ready to rock. The preparation is relatively simple, but the biggest challenge is dropping any self-centered focus and switching your mindset to that of a team player — whether deployed or grabbing beers with fellow airmen. 

Blakeney explained that an MTI is there to instill the standards of the Air Force. They aren’t there to be mean or beat trainees down; their emphasis on attention to detail isn’t from a place of malice but the will to forge you into the best airman you can be. MTIs want to see all of their trainees succeed and ask that they show up prepared. 

“Just understand you may be uncomfortable, you may not feel happy, maybe angry, but everything is designed to set you up to achieve your maximum potential,” Blakeney said. “Just come with an open mind and be willing to learn.” 

What is Air Force Basic Training really like?

Miller is a hometown guy and didn’t travel much before joining the military. Basic training was the first time he’d spent time away from his family and friends for an extended period. 

“Personally, for me, I was a hometown kid. I pretty much never left my family. So this was the first time doing that,” Miller said. “That first week is going to be rough for anybody, but connect with your peers and lean on them.”

Miller described basic training as an initial steep climb that gets easier the further into the training you get. He said his biggest hurdle was being away from his family and friends, but some people in his class had a rougher time being physically less prepared. 

“As long as you do what you’re told — that’s easy because they describe it as you’re supposed to do — and as long as you listen and apply yourself, BMC should not be that much of a struggle,” Miller said. 

After graduating from basic training, Miller was ecstatic, and his excitement was audible. His flight roared in celebration of their flight’s graduation during his interview with Task & Purpose. But Blakeney is equally excited about the graduating flight. 

“For me personally, you pour yourself 100% into these trainees. Then you are seeing your work right in front of your face,” Blakeney said. “You’re seeing all the effort and energy that you’re putting into these individuals, and you see the transformation right in front of your face.”

FAQs about Air Force Basic Training

You have questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

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

A: 6.8% is the latest reported attrition rate, and the Air Force actively works towards lowering that percentage.

Q: Do pilots attend basic training in the Air Force?

A: No, pilot trainees attend Officer Training School (OTS), Air Force ROTC, or the Air Force Academy.

Q: Do weather or holiday events delay graduation dates?

A:  Yes, if a weather event or holiday event delays training, graduation can be pushed to a future date if necessary.

Q: Is the Air Force’s basic training the easiest?

A: It seems that way. Love it or hate it, the Air Force has the nickname the Chair Force for a reason. But who doesn’t want to be pampered and paid at the same time?

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