The truth behind basic training "Stress Cards"

Basic trainees in the Air Force are being issued “Stress Cards.” If basic training gets too hard or they need a time out they can just pull these out and the instructor has to stop yelling at them.

No joke. I heard it from my cousin. Or my friend John. My buddy swears he saw them being handed out to the new trainees. Kids today just don’t have the chutzpah my generation does. One time when I was platoon leader in Somalia, this kid handed me one and asked for a time out, I kid you not.

Also read: 5 crazy ways recruit training has changed

None of that is true, of course. The stress cards myth is usually attributed to the Air Force, due to the perceived ease of Air Force basic training, and the Chair Force reputation. Sometimes, Bill Clinton introduced them to the Army (because the 90s were that awesome). In the legend, they’re yellow, because if you need to use one, you’re yellow too! Even some Airmen are guilty of perpetuating it. Whenever someone hears about the stress card myth, they are usually doomed to repeat it.

There is truth to the myth, but it wasn’t the Army or even the Air Force. In the 1990s, the cards were issued to new recruits as a means of telling them of what their options were if they got depressed. It contained basic information such as chaplain services and what to tell your Recruit Division Commander, etc. instead of deserting or washing out. And they were blue, because if you need these services, you were probably blue too.

stress

The Blues Card was not a Get Out of Jail Free Card, though some RDCs reported troops holding it up while being disciplined, trying desperately (and probably in vain) to use it in that way. If you waved this in your RDC’s face, he probably made you eat it.

The Army did issue “Stress Control Cards” which were the equivalent of a wallet-based mood ring. the recruit or soldier could put their finger on a special square, which would turn colors to indicate a range of stress levels, from “relaxed” to “most stressed.”

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For those of you who used to be in the Army or Navy, imagine your Drill Instructor or RDC’s response to your waving this card around while they’re trying to discipline you. How would that have gone? Tell us in the comments below.

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