Kilroy Joins the Army – Part VI – Basic Training (BCT)


My friend and fellow Not Operator author, Kilroy, said he was joining the US Army last year. We realized that his experiences would make for an interesting read, especially when there are so few online writings about what it is like, emotionally and physically, to experience modern basic training and beyond. He agreed to keep a journal of his time, and that we would publish it to Not Operator.

Kilroy tends to write his personal journals with pretty purple prose, so with his permission, I’ll be editing and paraphrasing his journal a bit to make it an easier read, with the help of my other friend and fellow Not Operator author, Michael. I’ll also be adding comments of my own in bold brackets [like this] to provide some extra context when necessary. If there’s large enough demand for it, we will post the full, unedited, version of Kilroy’s journal. To avoid making Kilroy’s experiences one giant wall-o-text, the journal will be broken up into an ongoing series of articles where it makes sense to do so. Plus, with Kilroy still in the Army, the journal is far from complete.

All entries in the Kilroy Joins the Army Series can be found here.

Without further ado, welcome to Kilroy Joins the Army – Part VI – Basic Training (BCT).


Day 20:

Today is the second Sunday of Basic Training. Just seven more weeks to go. As usual, I fear I’ll be too burned out to continue for even another week.

At least so far today has gone almost as promised – breakfast and some time to ourselves. That’s about to change as the rest of the day will be filled with field work.

Our meals are slowly being replaced with MREs, which are just tasteless packaged food. Getting used to them makes me think when I manage to make my own food again it will be a sensory overload.

I’m still pondering what the purpose of all this is. They call this the soldierization process, but what I’ve noticed is that there hasn’t been much change in who I am. The things I have noticed are how annoying most of the military courtesies and customs are, and how the culture in BCT seems to have no setting other than shouting as loud as possible.

A few others have also admitted to feeling totally burned out; we wonder if this situation is going to get any better. The arbitrary rules and smoke screens of lies and military decorum have contributed heavily to that feeling. Also, most classroom instruction seeks to somehow bore us to death or maybe teach us some kind of values that have not yet become clear.

Day 21:

The previous night ended miserably – another restless night of not enough sleep and a hacking cough that brought me to sick call today.

Army medical is just as faceless and impersonal as the rest of this place. We’re herded through like cattle, and treated like criminals because we dared to get sick during basic training.

The treatment clinic they herd us into is built out of a portable classroom trailer; floors tiled with cheap linoleum and a layout that betrays the details of their budget (or in this case the lack thereof).

The in-processing personnel express annoyance at all of us, telling us how badly we’re doing. To be fair, some of the others are coming in with only a few symptoms but I’ve waited until I had an opening in my scheduling to come in with a laundry list of symptoms that require some amount of attention.

The benefit of being here allowed me to converse with a girl from a different platoon that I wanted to talk to some more. She’s agreed to correspond in letters, despite it being prohibited. Not much choice since people aren’t allowed to have conversations in person here. It feels like the cliché elementary school situation, stuck passing notes during class. The situation is reminiscent of 1984 – a set of heavy handed rules that forbids personal contact between two people as well as the old fashioned form of conversation – personal letters that served to express feelings and thoughts without hindrance.

The most ridiculous part of my military experience thus far is the amount of hatred every member of the cadre staff seems to have for sleep and talking. No one is allowed sleep and any attempt to get more than the prescribed amount is met with anger. In moments of inactivity, idle talk and conversation is met with the same hostility and yelling to make us fall back into silence.

On the other hand, when we are told to speak, they expect us to yell as loudly as possible or else we are accused of lacking motivation. To have time to dwell on the situation, I hate some of the aspects of being here – many of which I’ve noted already but at the same time I don’t want out. I need to complete this training and make it to the end. I may be feeling burned out but I’m not going to quit.

Day 22:

I’ve lost my voice, which I mean in the literal sense and not the metaphorical one. I’m still feeling pretty sick and everything is a haze.

The day has proven uneventful thus far; morning PT was followed by classroom activity. Afterwards we were walked out into the field again to make some range cards, learn the basics of how to use them, and learn individual movement techniques (Low Crawl, High Crawl, 3-5 Second rush).

I’m a little annoyed since this has made all of my other paper sopping wet. It’s surprisingly difficult to find and keep good paper dry in these uniforms. The rest of the day went by in a blur of exhaustion and illness. We ended up camping in the woods overnight.

Day 23:

We awoke just before the sound of mock incoming mortar fire manifested itself. It’s one hell of an alarm to have what approximates to a flash-bang going off a hundred meters away.

Rucking back the way we came felt harder than the initial journey, the final extension putting us out near a sandy training range. Our morale runs low, but we’re becoming hardier, more people seem still in it to win it. I’m still occasionally wondering if this was all a mistake. I’m going to continue struggling through it, I’m already here and I’ve made it this far.

The feeling of sand in my mouth is a constant reminder of where I am and what I need to accomplish. All my eggs are in this one basket, my only desired career path is a military one. I’m just super burned out though, that’s really what it comes down to.

We were taken to weapons training today using the EST system [Engagement Skills Trainer, there’s a video on it here if you want to see how it works] firing airsoft light-guns at virtual targets. I did fairly well, qualifying on my first run. There are a few people who are struggling and can’t seem to get any of their virtual bullets onto virtual paper.

Day 24:

The first of the real APFTs [Army Physical Fitness Test] was this morning. My score was high enough qualify for White Phase, but I’ll need to score higher in order to graduate from BCT. At least that’s a significant load off my mind for now.

Morale has improved despite the fact that we’re all totally exhausted. I have yet to find even a moment of time to start writing the letters I mentioned earlier.

Later in the day were told that we need to return to the virtual range area again for people to finish their training – yet another march through the hot sun. Mail came later at night, filled with care package items that I plan on making good use of and bringing news of the outside world. [I sent him baby wipes, toothpaste, and a pen, along with a summary of the news that happened during those few weeks].

Day 25:

Today has been more of the same, but with a small twist: we were taken to the PX and made to purchase another haircut in addition to being allowed to purchase additional supplies. [The PX stands for Post Exchange, which is basically a retail store that sells goods and services to military personnel].

I’m more run down than ever before, feeling even sicker than I was a couple days ago.

So far, after PT, the day has been laid back in comparison to the days prior. Most of our activities have been centered around Red Phase review and learning random facts for the upcoming test that will allow us to move us into White Phase.

Mistakes were made that landed us a free smoking by the senior Drill Sergeant. [A smoking is usually comprised of pushups, sit-ups, and/or running].

Physical activities aside, I’m still surprised how low key the day has been. The sensation that BCT is basically just Kabuki Theater continues to develop as I have more time to observe the activities of the Drill Sergeants. I’m unsure if Kabuki Theater is really the best analogy, but it’s the one that stuck.

Each of the Drill Sergeants wears a mask of a demon, playing their role with dedication. We, the trainees, are involved as an active audience, and the central component of the story is always us, never them. In this play, we control our own successes and failures, and the demons will eventually fade away when we fully succeed.

The demons all have individual roles, some doing good cop, some doing bad cop. Some Drill Sergeants are much harsher than others. One in particular has been especially severe, which has worn the patience of his platoon thin, while my own Drill Sergeants have been much more agreeable.

I still haven’t fully pinned down the narrative since it seems to vary wildly on a day to day basis.


This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part VI – Basic Training (BCT). Next time we’ll pick up where we left off, as Kilroy continues with Army Basic Training. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part VII – Basic Training (BCT).