How different is the training today compared to the days of the Vietnam War? I went through eight weeks of Basic Training at Fort Knox, KY and then immediately bussed to Fort Polk, LA for an additional eight weeks of Advanced Infantry training (AIT). Now, a fully trained Army Private First Class, the military rewarded me with a thirty-day leave before flying me to their war in Vietnam.
Some of the PFC’s from my graduating class postponed their deployment by choosing Airborne and then, Ranger / Special Forces training. Others initially joined the military with a guarantee to a particular military specialty such as helicopter pilots, Officer Candidate School, Armor, artillery, supply, cooking, and clerking to name a few. However, most eventually ended up in Vietnam after their training.
During the 1980’s, I remember hearing rumors about the mess halls serving beer during meals, and recruits getting an hour to enjoy meals without harassment from roving Drill Instructors. My wife often complains that I eat too fast…I firmly believe this was ingrained into my psyche during my time in the military. During training, I didn’t know when the DI would storm into the mess hall and chase us out…sometime we had a full ten minutes. In Vietnam, when in the bush, eating was not scheduled at a set time and we quickly scarfed down meals whenever we could.
An Army drill sergeant explains the grueling and comprehensive training Army infantry receive in basic training today:
A U.S. Army soldier low crawls while negotiating an obstacle course during the first week of Basic Training in Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade
In the Army, basic combat training is the first step of training as a soldier, and for those in fields like the infantry, it marks the beginning of an arduous and comprehensive skills-based training regimen.
Basic training typically takes place over 10 weeks and occurs at four locations: Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina; Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma; Fort Leonard Wood in St. Robert, Missouri; and Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, where infantrymen and armor are trained.
Infantrymen take part in one station unit training, also called OSUT, at Fort Benning, which incorporates their basic combat training and advanced individual training, or AIT, into one location. Basic training is typically broken into three phases, formerly identified as red, white and blue, phase, they’re now designated numerically, and at Benning, there are five phases instead of three. Over the course of 14 weeks, civilians are transformed into soldiers and trained as infantrymen by Fort Benning’s drill sergeants, all of whom served in the infantry. The majority of drill sergeants at Benning are also combat veterans like Staff Sgt. Kristopher Jackson, who deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq.
“All our training is training infantrymen,” says Jackson. “They’re taught to shoot, move, communicate, carry a lot of weight, and become the most fit soldiers in the Army.”
U.S. Army soldiers from the one station unit training, OSUT, negotiate an obstacle course during their first week of Basic Training in Fort Benning, Georgia, March 9, 2012.
Each platoon of 50 to 60 privates — soldiers are identified by their rank from day one — are overseen by two junior drill sergeants and one senior drill sergeant, Jackson explained.
The soldiers live in an open squad bay where any vestige of privacy is gone. They sleep in bunks and store their equipment in wall lockers. When the drill sergeants need to address the platoon, they do it en masse.
“In the middle of the bay we tape off a section in the middle, called the kill zone, and whenever we need to talk to the whole platoon we’ll tell them to toe the line and they’ll come right to the edge of it and wait for the senior drill sergeant to come in,” explains Jackson.
This kind of discipline and structure is instilled the moment they arrive at Fort Benning.
According to Jackson when the soldiers first get off the bus they are greeted by their drill sergeants, though “greeted” is a nice way of saying they’re harassed and harangued by complete strangers, which is called the “shark attack.”
“What happens when they first arrive is we have a thing called the shark attack,” says Jackson. “We toss a little bit of confusion at first to kind of put the fear factor in them. That way we can start the whole discipline process for what they need to do.”
The initial 72 hours involves in-processing and paperwork, but it also sets the tone for the rest of the training.
“We want to go ahead and set that confusion and those loud noises out of the gate at the beginning,” says Jackson “Once they put that first foot down on the ground, they kind of know what they’re in store for.”
Once the in-processing is out of the way, it’s on to phase one.
“You’ve got the team development course, you have the obstacle course, and the confidence course,” says Jackson. “You have a lot of team building things right in phase one because those guys are going to have to rely on those guys to the left and the right.”
According to Jackson, one of the defining moments of phase one is the confidence course, which privates face during the third week of training.
After climbing a half wall with the aid of a rope, Infantry recruits learned why the obstacle is called the Wall Hanger. The Soldiers had to reach the other end of the pole and use the ropes to climb down off the obstacle at the Sand Hill confidence course at Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army photo.
Completing the confidence course involves navigating a host of grueling obstacles, with the ultimate goal of instilling a sense of accomplishment in the soldiers as they make their way through it.
“They complete an obstacle, and say to themselves, ‘I can do this, I can be a soldier,’” says Jackson. “You’ve got kids from different backgrounds; you know from a city, for instance, and coming right into a course like that and being able to complete it is a step in the right direction for them.”
After the confidence course, the soldiers move on to rifle marksmanship during phase two of their training.
This phase is very crucial as far as becoming an infantryman and doing the job once you complete training,” says Jackson.
The privates start training with the M4 carbine and learn the weapon’s clearance procedures, safety rules, and weapons maintenance. As the training moves along, they shoot with back-up iron sights as well as the close combat optic, and go over single, multiple, timed, and moving targets prior to their rifle qualification.
Pvt. Bobby Daniels of D Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, makes an adjustment to his M-4 rifle during combat familiarization training Jan. 12 on Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army photo
For the rifle qualification, the soldiers fire at 40 targets from three different positions: the prone supported, the prone unsupported, and the kneeling.
Throughout it all, their drill sergeants instruct them in marksmanship.
“Some of the things that we see they have trouble with is obviously they’re shooting for the first time,” says Jackson. “Some of these individuals have grown up using weapons and they’re a little bit easier to mold and teach, and some who have never touched a weapon in their life, and it can be scary for them shooting a weapon for the first time.”
However, by the time they finish their rifle marksmanship training, they’re effective shooters, says Jackson.
Then it’s time for the third phase of their training.
At week seven, they start moving into heavy weapons.
“You’ve got your .50 cal, we do hand grenades, your M320 grenade launcher, your M249 squad automatic weapon, your M240, and your land navigation assessment,” explains Jackson.
Throughout the third phase of training, the soldiers are tested on first aid, which is taught continuously to infantrymen throughout basic. They also cover their weapons clearing procedures, are trained on how to use their radios, and are taught buddy and fire team tactics.
“I think the crucial part, in my experience, from third phase is the buddy team and fire team training,” says Phillips. “This is when they start to move together as a buddy team and as a fire team. When they become infantrymen, that’s what they’re going to operate in, as a fireteam and at the squad level.”
For soldiers in many other military occupational specialties, the end of third phase marks their graduation from basic, but for the infantry, it’s on to phases four and five where they learn the finer points of infantry combat and receive even more comprehensive training in battlefield skills.
This article, written by James Clark, originally appeared in Task & Purpose on May 16, 2016.
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very good article. just a little different than my basic in 1966. Harmony Church July 4- Sept 9th 1966. I am trying to do some research about our training. Prob don’t have the NEXUS access that maybe some of you do. What I am trying to find out and it may be impossible, is percentage wise, how many vets who did their training during that era ended up with torn rotator cuff injuries. Both of mine are torn and cannot be repaired. The orthopedic Dr.s say it is service connected back to the horizontal bars. In my company we had to hand walk these bars three times a day for the eight weeks. Upon completion of the walk, we then had to jump up and grab the chin up bar and do 20+ chin ups before entering the mess hall. Don’t know who might read this comment but if you know some research about these kind of injuries as it related to our training please get in touch with me via email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks in advance for any help you might can render. former Sgt. USAR
All of my training was at Fort Lewis, 1966. Sgt Lewis was mother, Plt Sgt, and DI. Knowing that he had been in Korea let us know much about where we would eventually end up. Otis went also, and was KIA. From what I can remember, anyone who was from a farm, or played any varsity sports in high school had an easier time with basic.
Conditioning before basic helped and the harassment to come was already there from sports coaches. Under weights and over weights balanced out over time…run, run, run. Guys did not come in as weight lifters, as so many guys appear today. And they came from every walk of life and places hidden and unknown. Some described where they were from as down yonder. You’ all….. know where that is. We all came home , those that did, 20-30 pounds lighter, and not from the streets of Saigon.
Well written and I’d like to say to all my brothers and sisters, Happy to have served with all of you.
I was Army, 1984.
Trust me there was no Beer in the chow hall nor was there a 1 hour meal. Well one meal was, Thanksgiving Day.
I loved my time and would have never left but a jump accident ended my military days. I am a better man, father and have better work ethics because of my days in service. I am sure I am in the “few” group with my next comment, I think every HS graduate should have to attend that summer attending Basic Training. If you want to stay, welcome to military service, if not I am sure all will have more respect and maybe more mature. JMO…
You’re probably right about their having more respect and maturity, but I’d much prefer that our military men and women have high moral standards and a basis in faith of some kind as well. Too many would never succeed in basic training because of moral equivalency, drug addiction, criminal records, poor health, and/or functional illiteracy.
I enlisted in the ’80s and would like to challenge the beer in the mess hall and hour long meals rumor. No beer in basic at Ft. Jackson SC at all, including meals. AIT at Ft Gordon GA allowed beer in outdoor common areas after hours but not in the barracks. Permanent party at Ft. Knox KY had beer machines in the rec room and allowed beer in rooms. No beer machines in Germany but beer was allowed rooms in the barracks.
As for the mess hall– er… *dining facility*… during basic training, it was like this: At every meal, a DI would shout, “Eat it now, taste it later. This ain’t the Holiday Inn.” Many a meal were eaten while going down the chow line and straight to the window to drop off the food tray. That was immediately followed by a double time down the compant street to mix it all well before formation.
Thanks for the memories 🙂
went to bot camp may, 1966. before iwas nt i spent 2 weeks at fort hood going thru NaM training. i was sent to nam in january 69. basic all most took everything out of me. got soft assiigments but wanted more. attended airiborne school and then off to vietnam. compaied too what i have seen over the last 27 years after retirment from service and living close to Fort Lee Va. I served as Bn training and seeing the solldiers i delt with made the disscion to leave. and oh, don’t even asked me about STRESS CARDS.
Like wise Ft. Lee did my AIT inf.trained in VC village booty traps punji sticks the whole 9 yards. National Guard for my last 10 yrs. One Helios unit and finished up in Special Forces.
I went in Basic at Ft. Gordon, GA and we did all mentioned and more. The obstacle course was the fun part in the rain with live fire overhead and explosion pits. We had the “gas mask test room” and it was a “gas”. Taught hand to hand and used pugil sticks as they were called. Confidence course and overhead ladder before breakfast. Then after this went to Ft. Belvoir, VA for AIT then to my unit at Ft. Sill, OK and Saturday nights in the Lawton jail then on a Army cruise ship to ‘Nam. All this fun from Feb. 1966 to Feb. 1968.
This was a great story, I went into the Army in July 1961 when the Berlin wall went up the Defense Dept. had activated the First Infantry Division at Fort Riley Kan. I arrived by train I spent a week at replacement company an old WWII wooden barrack then went to a training Battalion. A two story wooden barrack two squads of ten men per floor double bunk had a footlocker and shelf on wall to hang clothes. This training lasted three weeks we graduated on Saturday morning in class A uniforms. Loaded on a bus went across post to our new unit. And started our AIT. By going to the three point five rocket launcher range our AIT training lasted five weeks. Then we learned squad, platoon training.
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Thank you for this. I was at Ft. Leonard Wood in July SIT in Virginia and Vietnam bound. Dec. 1970 at 04:00 we got hit that first day. Off to Ft. Bragg, NC. I loved it all.
Thanks for an informative article. I was in the Marine Corps so, while similar, the training was probably a little different. We had boot camp–that everyone had to complete it to “become” a Marine. (This included a 27-year-old Army sergeant who joined our platoon at the ‘halfway’ point. He was a ‘private’ like the rest of us until he graduated boot camp.) Boot Camp was intense, with only a couple of hours of “me” time on Sunday mornings. That precious time was for writing home and catching up on the news in the San Diego newspapers–Marines mostly favor the comic strips. Following chow at noon, it was generally time to do laundry as a group, spotlessly clean the Quonsets and heads and some would be assigned to rake the DI’s “grass” (sand patch) among other chores. At night we were fatigued and we slept for about six hours before being rudely wakened by a pail skidding across the floor and clanging against someone’s rack. Days were spent first with “shit, shower, and shave” getting dressed and attending various classes, doing PT, weapons training, additional conditioning and (of course) drill, drill, drill. Marines are really great at marching on the Parade Deck.
Anytime you screwed up you had to do 25, 50, or more squat thrusts or push-ups. Some guys got “squat thrusts forever” which was usually a couple of hundred before they were allowed to stop. Talk about sweaty, stinky bodies!
You sure didn’t want to “screw up” in any big way or the next Sunday you’d get sent to ‘motivation platoon’ (they came back at night dead on their feet…those poor guys spent the entire day digging deep holes, running dirt by the bucketful over to a pile 30 yards away, then starting at midday, moving that same dirt back into the hole–story according to my boot camp buddy–who came back filthy…I’m assuming he must have had an ‘attitude’ that got ‘noticed’ just one time). He was VERY meek and thoroughly compliant thereafter.
Overweight guys spent their days eating salads and running all day long BEFORE even starting boot camp…some poor souls spent 3 to 6 months shedding their excess weight. I learned this on my trip home from Nam from a guy I knew in boot camp.
I was skinny and they tried to put meat on my bones with “extra” meat that I HAD to consume…not fun because the DI’s oversaw everything! I never did gain weight, as I had a fast metabolic rate. We were constantly kept in the dark about what was going to happen next. I made a couple of friends.
Immediately following boot camp at MCRD we ALL went to Pendleton for (AIT) Advanced Infantry Training for a little over a month (grenades, machine gun, blowing shit up, etc.) that time consisted of MANY forced marches in the hills with packs and gear and more classes on navigation, E&E, etc. Instead of a single platoon under a DI, we were three platoons under several instructors…got my first stripe (PFC) which was quite an honor…most graduated still ‘Privates’ (typical time in grade was six months). Made new friends. We could buy pogey-bait at this time.
Immediately following AIT, we stayed at Camp Pendleton and disbursed to our MOS schools (mine being Field Artillery, Fire Direction Controlman) for two weeks. These classes consisted of guys from various AIT companies, and I made (still more) new friends, and lost contact with all the others I started basic with. This was the first time we had week-end liberty, and I took advantage of that by heading out on a Friday night and arriving back on base on Sunday afternoons…I saw the San Diego Zoo on one of those occasions.
Then, with training completed, we got our 30-day annual leave. I spent Christmas with my folks in ’68 and headed back to Pendleton for further orders–expecting to be sent to Vietnam.
I was fortunate, I got sent (with 90 others) to Vietnamese Language School in Monterey, CA, an Army base for the next three months and graduated at the top of my (25 member) class as a Lance Corporal (time in grade promotion). I moved my pickup truck to the side streets just off base and spent all my weekends at my folks place. At the end of the course, I found myself “thinking” in Vietnamese–that SURE surprised me. Never used it in Nam, though.
Then, back to Pendleton. Next stop, Okinawa on my way to Nam.
All who served in the military are my brothers, regardless of branch or MOS, AND especially those who served their country with overseas duty in scary places.
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Well written article. I went through basic in 1966 at Ft. Dix, then on to AIT at Ft. Sill, Jump School at Ft. Benning then on to duty station at Ft. Bragg, by Jan. ’67 I was in Viet Nam with the 213th ASHC as a door gunner. It seems from the article that today’s soldier is better trained in weapons and might be more physically fit after basic and AIT. After ‘Nam in 1977 , while working in Columbia SC (Insurance Investigator) I visited an NCO I had served with, he was at Ft. Jackson, he was training recruits and was disgusted with the softness of the training at that point. In fact he was looking at getting out after 18years , two years shy of his twenty, he was so disheartened. I think maybe the late ’70s and the ’80’s was the bottom as far as weak military training. It seems to have improved greatly from that point.
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