Someone very important to me is going into the Air Force in a few days, so I wanted to give her the low down on what to expect. It’s been 10 years since I went through and I know a lot has changed, but I’m sure a lot of it is still the same. Anyway, I wanted to share this in hopes that it might help someone else out there :)
Rule #1: For basic training, the main goal is to make it as far as you can without your TI even knowing your name.
Getting Ready to Leave
Make sure you pack modest clothing and do your best not to over pack clothes. No thongs or anything remotely embarrassing. One of the first things they do is make you dump your shit on your bed and then rummage through it. If they find anything embarrassing, they will embarrass you and then Rule #1 is blown.
Don’t bring more than $20-50 in cash or there’s a good chance they’ll make a big deal about that. This sucks because you’re going to need some money. DO bring your debit card. They might let you use it.
Make sure you bring any paperwork that you need (e.g. storage company information, contact information, address information, etc). When I went through, they lock your bag up with your cell phone as soon as you get there so you can’t use it as a planner. They may have loosened up on this by now, but I wouldn’t count on it.
So you spend the night at the hotel (I think it’s the Sheraton on Dunlap) which I’m sure you remember from when your sister left. The next day, you’ll have some time for breakfast – make sure you eat because it’s going to be a long haul to Lackland AFB.
You’ll get shuttled to MEPs to take care of some business and probably swear in again. Then they’ll separate you out with the other Air Force people and probably a couple Army people and then you’ll get shuttled to the Airport. There’ll be some people there making sure that you’re getting on the plane and what not. Then you’ll fly out to Texas and they’ll guide you off to some obscure corner of the airport where you’ll sit and wait for the other planes to arrive with the rest of the people that are going to Lackland. This is one of the times it’s useful to have some money so that you can buy food. They gave us shitty sandwiches but I was still starving because I didn’t have a good breakfast.
Once everyone is there, you’ll be picked up by a drill instructor (called a TI in the Air Force, you’ll recognize the Smokey the Bear hats) and walked out of the airport and to a bus. They’ll likely have a very calm demeanor as not to draw attention to the group, but still stern. They’ll probably say once or twice to be quiet. I suggest that your group listens. You’ll be walking at an incredibly fast pace to the bus, so I hope your bag isn’t too heavy. On a side note, you’ll find that most TIs are cops in their normal jobs.
Arriving at Lackland
The bus ride is kind of long but should be pretty calm. The TI probably won’t say much other than to keep it down when people start getting rowdy. When you get to Lackland, your nerves will turn back on, but there’s nothing to worry about yet. They’ll take you to in-processing first. This is where they line you up and start playing “pick-em-up, put-em-down.” They’re likely going to fuck with you on this part. People will drop their bags which will piss off the group of TIs there. So that could get fun.
During this part, they’re going to be taking roll call. They just call out your name and you call back with your last name and last four of your social. While you’re waiting to go inside and fill out paperwork, they’re going to start asking questions to the group like “Does anyone here play an instrument?” and various other things. Don’t say anything. Don’t raise your hand. Don’t volunteer for ANYTHING you don’t have to! They’ll say some things about not lying or you’ll go to jail or whatever. It’s bullshit. Just keep quiet. They’re trying to rope you into going to a band flight. Sounds fun, but you don’t want this. The band flights are run by Blue Ropes. Blue Ropes are the trainers of the TIs (denoted by the blue rope on their Smokey the bear hat); they are relentless assholes. They never let up and will make basic training miserable. Band flight sounds like it might be an alternative to the normal boot camp but it’s not. You have to do everything that everyone else does PLUS band shit. This doesn’t go on your record or affect your career in any way shape or form, so I advise opting out by keeping quiet.
Then you’ll go inside and fill out some paperwork. Then they’ll line you up as you leave so that they know what squadron to take you to. Then you get on the bus. The ride seems like a long one, but they’re really just taking you to the other side of the field from where you were standing at in-processing. You may have gotten comfortable by now, but shit is about to hit the fan. You’ll arrive at the squadron and you’ll see a bunch of TIs standing outside the bus talking to each other. Things will get calm for a second (or not, it could happen immediately) and then the front and back bus doors will fly open and they will be yelling at you to GET THE HELL OFF MY BUS! Everyone has about 1 minute to clear the bus or else shit will get really rough (e.g. get back on the bus and try again).
They’ll line you up into flights which are groups of 4 elements each, totaling about 52 people depending on the size of the group. There will likely be a blue rope there running the show at first. They’ll teach you how to stand at attention, and then they’ll teach you a line that will be bane of peoples’ existence for the first week or so. So it is in your best interest to memorize it now and get used to saying it fast and clear:
Sir/Ma’am, Trainee Sharp reports as ordered
Don’t fuck this up. It’s not “reporting,” it’s “reports” – and don’t fuck up the sir/ma’am. This statement HAS TO BE the first thing that comes out your mouth when you are speaking to anyone that isn’t a trainee for the first time, or switching from one person to another. In other words, you only say it once at the beginning and you don’t have to say it again unless you’re switching to talk to someone else or switching back to someone else. So once per “conversation”. Once they teach it to you, they’ll start randomly poking at people in the flights to give their reporting statement. This can get kind of Chaotic. But it’s whatever. Eventually they’ll teach you about the “Proceeding, sir/maam” crap that you have to say when you’re summoned.
Then they’ll march you upstairs to the dorm where they’ll assign you a locker and you’ll take the key. They’ll make you point at your locker and memorize the number because people are stupid. You’ll also get your bunk. Then they’ll line up against the lockers/walls and make you get naked on the spot and march you into the showers where you’ll be rushed to get scrubbed up and into bed. I can’t remember if they make you sleep in your civvies or not. But uniform issue is in the morning.
At some point, they might pile you into the dayroom where they’ll give you a quick rundown of a few basics you’ll need. When the blue rope walks into the room and tells you to sit, cross your ankles and drop to the ground. I’m sure they’ll make a big deal of how long it takes everyone to put their asses on the ground. But the correct way is to cross your ankles and drop. Try not to hurt yourself.
Every once in a while, the TIs pick some people out of the flight to haze you in the middle of the night. So you might get woken up in the middle of the night with people quietly yelling at you to get the fuck out of bed and do pushups or whatever. If they’re not in uniform (and they won’t be), they are just your flight-mates being fuck-heads. Deal with it how you will. You’re not going to know what the fuck is going on anyway.
Day One, welcome to zero week.
About 630 in the morning, you’ll hear the faint crackle of the PA turning on and then reveille starts blasting. Your TI will come up the walkway screaming and yelling and throwing shit. You’ll all pile through the bathroom and brush your teeth and then head downstairs.
I don’t remember what they do the first day, but I think they just line you up and give a quick rundown of how to march and assign road guards and teach you how to size up and open ranks etc. They might ask people to volunteer to become an element leader and a dorm chief. The flight TI usually picks the dorm chief. AVOID BOTH LIKE THE PLAGUE if possible. Element leaders will lead your element and they’re real assholes about it because they’re usually morons, but they also take the blame for everything their element or even the flight does. Then breakfast maybe. Okay this is important:
If you don’t want to starve to death in the first week, pay attention; food is big pain in the ass. They’re going to teach you how to move through the food lines. Hands on the tray, trays touch tray to tray, and you ask for your main course and pick up sides on your own. STAY AWAY FROM BREAD if you can. It takes too long to each, and you’re about to see why I ate so fast when you came out to visit me. Choose the fatty slimy foods because a) you’ll need the fat and b) they’re faster to eat. Usually, I just got an omelet (they’re premade discs of egg) and used it to roll up some bacon and sausage. If they don’t have eggs that day, do pancakes. Don’t over pack your tray – they’re going to be yelling at you that you don’t have time for all of that, etc. Sit down, pound your first glass of water (it’s a rule, and there are 3 glasses that are surprisingly hard to drink). You’ll see Gatorade but you can’t have that until a few days later, once PT is in full swing and you need the electrolytes.
They’re going to rush the fuck out of you to eat and get the fuck out. It seems like 5 minutes. You’ll find out later that it’s more like 20 but it really does feel like 5. There’s also a trick to the chow hall in basic that would be good to explain to your flight when you get the chance because it’ll get you more time to eat. Basically, they watch the table’s pace. Make note of where the table before you is sitting. Everyone has to stand at a chair until 4 people are there, and then everyone can sit down. In terms of finishing your food, if your table is getting ahead of the table that sat down before you, they’ll kick that table out of the chow hall. So you need to have the person at your table that is facing the table before you to set the pace like a scout. When the scout sees that there are only 1 or 2 people left at the table before you, they should start eating faster. When your scout starts eating faster, you start eating faster. The table that sat down after you should do the same thing. This will earn you an extra couple minutes to eat which is HUGE in basic. You’re going to be dying of hunger and exhaustion just about the entire time, so anything you can do to offset that is paramount. Then you’ll drop your tray off at the clipper (for fuck sake swallow ALL of the food and food bits in your mouth before you stand up from your table or you’ll get lit up like a Christy tree) and walk out the door, saluting the mirror (they’ll teach you all of this at some point). Then outside to line up in your flight. This is kind of hilarious because you don’t start recognizing faces for a few days so no one knows where the fuck to go. You might do better since you’re good at that though, but don’t underestimate stress.
Once everyone is accounted for they’ll teach you to march and how to use your light stick. You’ll be fine, obviously. If you can be a road guard, be a road guard. You have to run out to set up posts, but that gives you a break from marching. They’ll probably also pick a guide-on. If your TI is smart, they’ll pick the shortest girl in your flight because they set the pace of the march.
They’ll march you to clothing issue where they’ll pack your duffel full of fucking uniforms and size you up for your blues. This part actually kind of sucks. At some point, you’ll find yourself sitting around in the quiet and trying not to fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep. Ever. It’s really hard to avoid. Also, you have to march back to the dorms with that duffel bag which is heavy as fuck. It sucks the balls.
At some point, you’ll have a doctor’s appointment with your flight. This shit is hilarious. You actually have to walk a gauntlet of hypodermic needles. They have 2 lines of medics, one on each side and each one is administering a shot. You step up, get a couple shots, step forward and get a couple more. It all culminates with a penicillin shot in the ass which is the most awkward and uncomfortable thing ever. It’s like they shot peanut butter into your ass cheek and you so desperately want it out of you, but you’re fucked. You’ll be sore for a while. They don’t ALWAYS give this particular shot though, so maybe you’ll get lucky.
The rest of boot camp
At some point, they’ll give you your books and portfolio and supplies and you’ll attend “appointments” which are classes and various things like clothing, doctors, etc. And of course they teach you all of the obvious stuff about being in the military and the UCMJ. So in this part, I’ll just make bullet points
- They’ll try to convince you that everything you do wrong will land you in prison. It’s bullshit.
- They give you 3 copies of these form 341s. They work like demerits. Every time you fuck up, they take one away. If you run out of them, they wash you back a week or two. It’s lame.
- When someone fucks up, everyone is going to pay for it. People will start getting really uppity about it, just keep cool and stay invisible.
- When they assign dorm jobs, the job you want to avoid at all costs is latrine duty. Those people will be in trouble like every day for the first couple/few weeks. The job you want is laundry because it gets you out of the dorm for a while and you often get to skip drill. Shoe aligner is stupid easy too, if they still do that.
- Learning how make beds is going to be a frustrating experience for the entire flight.
- If you ever hear an opportunity for KP duty (kitchen duty), take it. It’ll get you out of the flight for an entire day, and you’ll get full length meals. It’s a lot of work and you have to get up super early, but it’s pretty low key and the day goes by really fast.
- When your turn for dorm guard comes up, try to volunteer for the first or last shift. It sucks and it’s hard not to fall asleep. Your partner will try convince you to take turns sleeping on the dry bench in the shower. Proceed with caution. CQ will randomly call you on the intercom and might ask for your partner to check in, or they might even show up. They can tell if you’ve been sleeping and will royally fuck you.
- They’ll teach you how to check people’s ID cards at the door. Pay attention and get really good at it because they will send random ass people to fuck with you and scream at you to get you to open the door. Stay calm and do your job despite the urgency. They might even do something like “It’s an emergency, and just hurry up because someone is hurt and guarantee you that you’re ok to break the rules this once. “ DON’T FALL FOR IT. At some point, they might grant you the ability to allow access based on your recognizing the person. Be careful with that one. Also, when they show you their ID card, READ EVERY LINE OF IT. There are hilarious fakes out there like Mickey Mouse, or completely bullshit IDs. People get flustered and let them in. Don’t do it.
- Flights are actually about 100 people, but they split it into 2 smaller flights (4 elements each, about 52 people) so you might have a sister flight or a brother flight. God help you if you have a sister flight. Female flights usually have the most problems coming together as a team, and having 2 of them almost guarantees that you’re going to be in trouble for some dumb shit like every single day.
- Take care of your wingman; don’t let them fuck up or you’ll both pay.
- PT won’t be a problem for you at all. Every other day, they do a 2-3 mile run, usually on the track. Sometimes they just do the timed run where you run for 30-45 minutes. You’ll be fine. Every day in between, they do callisthenic training which is muscle stuff, and then do some sort of cardio like running. I think this is actually harder than running. I’m sure they’ve modified the PT program, but that was the gist of it when I was there.
- Hopefully you’ll get a TI that’ll teach you how to iron your clothes without an iron or starch.
- Someone might suggest doing the community laundry thing so that you can keep your drawer perfect all the time. If you get this option, do it. If you don’t, your drawer will get progressively harder to maintain as the clothing gets worn. Getting edges straight and what not gets progressively harder.
- At some point, your flight is going to start smuggling food out of the chow hall. Snickers, peanut butter and pop tarts are the most popular. The TIs already know this is going to happen. Let me tell you where NOT to hide them. Do not hide them in the storage closet in the ceiling. Do not hide them in bed posts. Do not hide them in the cutout of the locker floors or underneath the grates. The TIs know about all of those places and will find them and fuck your flight up.
- Take any opportunity you can to get out of the dorm. The dorm is where all the trouble happens!
- They’ll give you the option of church on Sunday. Take it or else you’ll be left at the dorms where you don’t want to be. Go to the Christian service. It’s the biggest one and it’s like 15 minutes of sermon, then you get to listen to the band which is really good. Nothing is expected of you there and everyone is really happy which will be so refreshing to you, you’ll cry. Hard. Everyone does. It’s mass hysteria. And it’s a pretty good time and a perfect way to reset yourself for the coming week. Seriously, even the atheists that went were thankful that they went.
- Write down some phone numbers and put them in your bag since you won’t likely have your phone until the last few days. You’ll get a chance to make a phone call once a week starting in week 1. The first time is really emotional for everyone and it really sucks when you don’t have anyone to call. Feel free to call me. I know what that shit is like. It’s lonely as fuck and you really just want to hear a familiar and friendly voice.
- If you don’t have any money saved up, you’re going to be broke AS FUCK in basic and pretty much until you sew on A1C. The money is like a couple hundred per paycheck and goes straight to an easy pay card at first which sucks. And they DO charge you for uniforms and stuff, so your first paycheck is pretty much $0. Most of what you need is provided, but you still need stuff like shampoo and deodorant. Females also need things like bobby pins, and you know… girl shit.
Warrior week is the combat training portion of basic training. It sounds intimidating but it’s actually a ton of fun. You’re led by Cadres instead of TIs and they’re a little more relaxed which is a great relief. You’re probably afraid of the gas chamber. Don’t be, it’s not a big deal. If you’ve ever rubbed jalapeno juice in your eye by accident, it’s like that plus jalapeno juice in the air. You’ll cough it out. Just don’t touch your face for any reason. If you start sweating into your eyes (and you probably will), just bend over and let it drip. If it gets in your eyes, suck it up. Just don’t touch your face and you’ll be fine. It’s actually pretty hilarious. They’ll teach you the dance so that you learn to trust your suit, then you’ll take off your mask, take a deep breath and say whatever they tell you to say, then shoo you out of the room. Then you’ll watch each other hack to death out in the grassy/dirty area outside the bunker. Fucking hilarious. I don’t have any real tips for warrior week other that not to be afraid of it. The obstacle course is pretty hard, but in a good way. Just remember that if the platforms/logs and stuff are wet, don’t run over them. Take your time. You can’t stop during the run or else they’ll fail you; you have to jog in place if someone is holding you up… but try to keep momentum. When you stop for a moment, it actually gets harder. Once you complete it, you’re awarded your Airman’s coin and everyone is all proud of you and stuff and you feel pretty accomplished. When you get back to the training area, you have to start wearing your blues, you’re no longer a trainee and will be referred to as an Airman. Don’t forget to update your reporting statement or else, they’ll threaten to take away your Airman status. Actually… they’ll continually threaten to take it away.
The rest of boot camp is pretty straight forward. They break everyone down so that they can be rebuilt. If you play it cool and don’t fuck up much, and don’t buckle under pressure, they’ll end up leaving you alone. Burger King is like the best fucking thing in the world, once you’re allowed to eat it on the last day lol.
When all is said and done, I’d say boot camp in the Air Force is about 30-40% physical and the rest is mental. They play a lot of mind games with you to teach you how to be a solid adult and to be able to do things the right way while under pressure. Since the primary goal of Airmen aren’t to be soldiers, the focus is a bit different. You will get some exposure to combat training with shit blowing up around you, shooting the rifle, etc… but that’s not going to be the focus. If you were going into a job that did serve that purpose (e.g. SERE, PJs, Cops, etc), then you would get that training after basic.
Tech schools is a bit more relaxed, but it’s a whole new brand of bullshit. TIs are MTLs now and not anywhere near as insane. I heard you went in open mechanical which gives you about a 98% chance that you’ll end up at Sheppard where I was. It’s about 6 hours north of San Antonio. If you end up in aircraft maintenance, you’ll probably be at the 362nd – Crew Dawgs. If you end up in weapons, I think that’s the 363rd right behind them. I could be wrong about that one. People start to revert back to who they were before boot camp and tend to get really stupid. You’ll have a lot of free time to fuck off which is nice.
They take a phased approach to letting you transition back into the human world from basic:
Phase 1 - There’s no alcohol and you have to be in uniform when outside of your dorm. You also cannot leave base, so if someone sends a care package, make sure it doesn’t have to be signed for or else you’ll probably miss it and it’ll end up stuck at the station where you can’t get to it. Other stuff ends up either in CQ at your dorm or at the base post office.
Phase 2 – still no alcohol, but you can wear your civvies outside of your dorm now. I’m not sure if you can leave base yet, but I don’t think so. If you can, I think you’re limited to the immediate surrounding area. There’s nothing outside of Sheppard but wasteland and Walmart type people, so don’t waste your time.
Phase 3 – You have to pass another PT test and then get approved to get Phase 3, but then you can drink alcohol and leave base up to like 300 miles or something. Most people drive out to DFW and go to Grand Central station. I advise not going. I actually advise never leaving base with people because there’s like a 60/40 chance that they’ll do something stupid and get you in trouble. They actually send MTLs out there to scout incognito. The risk is too high. If you want a drink, I suggest the Bowling alley or the BDU club which is right in front of the 362nd (at least the old location, they may have erected new buildings. I think they were getting ready to relocate when I left) next to the main gym.
- You still have the form 341 thing, but I think you only get 2 of them now.
- The main gym is really nice. I recommending going there and avoid going off base unless you’re hanging out with family that’s in town. The satellite gym isn’t bad either. I think that one is 24 hours. So if you end up on swing shift classes, you can go there after class.
- Betsy will probably be in training for a long time, so she’s only like 6 hours away in San Antonio (I think that’s where she said her tech school was). Not THAT far, but you’ll spend 12 hours to and fro so it’s not much of a trip. And it might be slightly outside of the maximum travel distance.
- People get stupid in tech school and get everyone in trouble. Be prepared for it. It blows ass.
- Your class instructors are generally people that work the job they’re teaching but are on special duty for 3 years. They’re usually pretty chill, comparatively.
- You’ll get an opportunity to become a “Rope” which is like a student leader. You don’t really do much leading other than marching the squadron to class and maybe leading PT. If you want to be one, be one, but it doesn’t go on your record or affect your career at all. I avoided it since it was just one more bag of crap that I would have had to deal with. They do hold you to a slightly higher standard.
- Keep an ear out for a place called “Hard Rock Café”. It’s actually like a rec center run by the chapel. Everyone is free to go in there and hang out. There was a music room in there with a drum set, so I was there pretty often.
- Tech school isn’t so bad. I hated it, but mostly because of people being stupid and ruining it for everyone.
- You’re expected to get your own ass out of bed to go to PT. Don’t ever miss or they’ll throw you in RMT which is like a full day of being back in basic.
Once you finish with cold training at Sheppard or wherever you end up, you might have to go to hot training at another base. You may end up staying there afterwards or following on to another base or even straight to Korea which a lot of people end up doing these days, particularly in maintenance. If you end up in Korea, I almost want to come visit you there and will seriously consider it if you want hehe. Life on the job SUCKS in Korea. Like really sucks. The potential threat of attack there is very real, but very low chance. Most people get stationed there at least a year, and they hate it because they’re away from family for so long. So the senior NCOs love to take it out on you. They’re fucking assholes and will make your life at work miserable. And they know the only thing they can really do to hurt you there is to take your free time away, and oh god they will!
Going from there
There’s a ton of crap to talk about here, but by then you’ll be at your operational base and I can talk to you about it. The Air Force isn’t really “Hard” persay, but it can be. It’s more complicated than anything else. Very political, and a bout a million ways to get yourself in a lot of trouble over nothing. More specifically, there’s about a million different ways for people you’ve never even met to get you in trouble without even being within 1000 feet of you.
You’re going in for 4 years, so you don’t get the early promotion, so it’ll take a while to get to A1C and then you’ll be an A1C for what seems like forever and then you’ll be a Senior Airman. If you can do something called “Below-the-zone” then do it. You’ll get promoted faster which will get you a shot at SSgt sooner. You might be able to make Staff before getting out, assuming you decide to get out which looks great on a resume. I guarantee that you’ll make it on your first try if you get a try. But only being in for 4 years might prevent you from getting that opportunity. I made it on my first try in my 3rd, but I couldn’t sew it on until my 4th year. I had a line number for Tech Sergeant as I was leaving, or in other words, I made Tech, I just didn’t get to put it on.
Also, in basic, they’ll probably offer tuition reimbursement instead of the GI bill as an option. Turn it down. Take the GI bill. It’s worth a ton more money than you think. Mine paid out about $145,000 total in 3 years. It would be more valuable to take that and just pay off your student loans on your own. If nothing else, once you’re out, you can use your GI bill to earn your masters, and take the extra money from the BAH to pay off your undergrad. You can use your GI bill while you’re active duty, but they won’t pay the stipends which is huge.