Often when I’m in an undesirable place for a couple weeks, I adjust, adapt, and generally get used to it. Air Force Boot Camp was the exception. One of the necessary ingredients for adjusting and adapting to a new situation, is routineness. While the military might be pretty routine in general, BMT is the exception. If it were just about getting up, doing the BMT exercises, eating, doing drills and making beds, a person could eventually become so used to the place that Lackland AFB would seem like home. Take away the marching drills and you’d basically just have prison. But no two weeks are alike in the Air Force Pipeline, at least not for us trainees. The second and third weeks were, in my opinion, the hardest. (Note: I joined the AF in 2001, and it has since been extended with some additional weeks, so as in all these reports, the week numbers are probably off.)
DORM GUARD DUTY
Our flight really got fully into dorm guard duty sometime in 2nd or 3rd week. Basically, any time there’s a trainee or airman in the dorm, there must be a dorm guard. In zero week and much of first week, sixth weekers from a brother flight came to visit and play dormguard for us. They were so cool, sparkling in their “Air Force blues” (the non-camo, non-battlefield, non-comfortable half of the air force uniform, which us trainees were forbidden to wear until sixth week).
When we were far enough along, we took over our own dorm guard positions. Each airman has to take several turns guarding for a night; the guard shifts were for two-hour intervals, some during the day and some at night. If your turn came during the night, it meant two hours less sleep, a devastating loss in Air Force boot camp, and yet, most people still preferred night duty over day duty. In daytime dorm guard duty, you had a giant spotlight on you, you were the most visible member of the flight.
There was a common mindgame the TI’s would play on the dormguards. See, the dorm guard has to check everyone’s ID through a window in the door. He has some specific lines to say, asking to see the ID, and has to say them absolutely correctly. When the person outside the door shows their ID, the guard has to read the name and rank aloud and then check it with a list hung by the door. The list must be checked, whether or not the guard recognizes the person who wants in. Even if it’s our primary TI (someone none of us’ll ever forget), we have to read the name and rank aloud and check it with the list.
This was a popular place for TI’s to mess with us. The standard routine is, a raging TI is pounding on the door, screaming: “You little piece of piss, if you don’t open this door right this instant, I’m washing you back to pre-school!!! (Punches the door)” The correct response is to ask to see an ID, and of course this “infuriates” the drill sergeant even further. But woe is he who gives in to the TI’s rage and opens that door without seeing an ID. That’s the trap, and in our flight it only happened one time. The TI who got in, a short fiery sergeant who was just returning to Lackland after being a TI some years back, shouted something like: “Bang! You’re all dead! I’m a terrorist and you’re all dead!” The whole flight, caught in the midst of the deadly morning rush, had to go down in pushup position for a long time while this guy ripped a new hole in the dorm guard.
Another reason night shift was preferred over day shift for guard duty, was that you could use the time to write letters. Writing letters “while on duty” was one of the cardinal sins of boot camp, something a lot of trainees got busted for, but night shift dorm guard seemed to be an exception. I’m sure my parents still have the letters I wrote while on night duty, I wonder what I wrote in them. Hmm.
Dormguards were also the point-men for fire drills. I doubt there was much real concern about fire in those hulking concrete dorms (if you’re thinking of smoking any cigarettes while you’re in basic training, think again). The fire drills were just another thing for our flight to be scrutinized and judged on. I messed up a fire drill once. The way they work is, a bunch of sergeants and officers come up, enter the dorm, and show the dorm guard a slip of paper or something saying “This is a fire drill.” The whole procedure smacks vaguely of a bank robbery, now that I think about it. At that point, the guard is to shout “Fire, fire, fire” just like that, three words, and then the flight is to summarily vacate to the drillpad, in dead silence. When our dorm was hit by a fire drill, I wasn’t the guard, I was doing something near my bed (probably shining my shoes) when I heard the guard shout fire. For some reason, I thought the thing to do was for me to repeat the alarm. So, as I took off for the door, I also called “Fire, fire, fire.” The flight lost some points toward “honor flight” for that, and I got a lot of heat for it. Somehow, I think if it were a real fire, sleeping airmen would’ve appreciated the extra alarm.
BOOT CAMP SICKNESS
A lot of airmen were pretty sick during these weeks. We were all wrapped up in a cocoon of pure stress, homesick, tired. For many of us, our diet had radically changed. For all of us, it was a drastic lifestyle change. And we were in a new land– most of us were not natives of Texas or of San Antonio’s dry summer heat.
Getting sick is pretty inevitable in any military boot camp, the Air Force is no exception. The symptoms are similar to those of the common flu. Not much in the way of specific complaints, just overall feeling like crap.
Some airmen– including yours truly– had trouble with nose bleeds. No doubt a combination of the stress and the dry heat. I must have had at least ten bloody noses throughout boot camp, but fate was on my side and they mostly seemed to occur when we were in the dorm. I shudder to even imagine how much it would’ve sucked to get one while marching somewhere or doing morning PT. The one exception was once my nose started bleeding during breakfast. I got up and marched to my TI, I don’t think I had to say anything, he immediately had me and another airman go to the infirmary.
The basic training infirmary isn’t a bad place to be. The nurses and doctors aren’t generally as mean as the drill instructors, in fact they’re downright kind (a human condition whose mere existance we were starting to forget). I remember I had to wait, tissue in nose, as the nurse dealt with a hysteric female trainee from one of the sister flights in the squadron. It seems she was so desperate to get out of basic, she was pretending to be sick.
When I did get seen, it was by a doctor who seemed genuinely concerned. Saying something about “nose polyps”, he sent me to get blood drawn for analysis at the main Lackland hospital, and scheduled a followup appointment. It felt strange walking “freely” around Lackland AFB. I met up with some tech schoolers (there’s also a tech school on Lackland AFB in addition to all the boot camp squadrons) and we got on a bus together, since they were headed by the hospital anyway and I was slightly lost.
When I went back to the infirmary some time later for the followup appointment, I was seen by a different doctor who seemed much less concerned. Apparently without looking at the blood analysis or anything, he gave me some generic nose drop crap.
During these two weeks, in addition to everything else, the flight earned its keep by performing various chores around base. The way this worked is, different people got different chores. I got kitchen duty.
One of the downsides of kitchen duty was the early wake up. We had to get up and get dressed significantly before the rest of the flight, to make a march to a squadron mess hall. That early in the morning, it seemed like the dead of night, the very witching hour. We didn’t even service our own squadron’s mess hall, but some other squadron’s. (I probably should’ve mentioned this before, but I was in Wolfpack Squadron.)
There’s a stereotype about military kitchen duty, that it involves sitting in an otherwise empty room and peeling a mountain of potatoes. In actual fact, trainees aren’t allowed anywhere near the actual food preparation– civilian contractors handle that. Our responsibilities were things like washing dishes, taking out the trash, directing flights as they came in to eat, filling cups with water and “mystery gatorade”, and so on.
I worked with three other airmen washing dishes. Probably doesn’t sound very difficult, but it was actually really freakin tough. The thing is, when flights were rammed through for their meals, they generated dishes faster than the speed of light. We could barely keep up, and it seemed endless. This was in addition to feeling sick as a dog, though without any specific symptoms I could nail down.
The bright part of kitchen work was that we got to eat specially, apart from the other flights, and we got to eat with no drill sergeants or officers around. Basically, during those brief times when we didn’t have to bust our butts working, we had free reign of the dining facilities, and the civilian contractors were totally cool with us. We could eat brand name breakfast cereals or even ice cream, if we so felt. It was like being a kid in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Nothing like a little military bootcamp gulag to really make you appreciate the luxuries of life!
I didn’t even take full advantage of this free dining time. You see, I was very worried about my situps. Pushups and run, I was good, but my situps weren’t up to par, and I knew the fitness test was coming up fast (sometime late in fourth week). So, after wolfing down some food, exhausted from washing dishes like a dish-washing-machine, and feeling like crud all over, I went into the chow hall bathrooms and started doing me some situps!
We didn’t get back to our dorm until almost bedtime. In this sense, kitchen duty was worse than the other chores. It took up our entire day. I did kitchen duty twice. At least it got me out of making my bed a couple mornings!
Air Force Boot Camp changed me a lot. This is the story of my time at Lackland AFB. Here are the other parts of the story: