So you want to join the U.S. military and become a flat-bellied, steely-eyed killer of men (or mover of supplies, or photo-taker of soldiers, whatever). That means some trips to the recruiter and boot camp might be in your future. Here are six things to help prepare you for basic training:
1. Work on your physical fitness
Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way first. You should exercise. A lot. Recruiters can tell you what exercises are most important for your branch and job school since they do differ. In general, future Marines and soldiers should concentrate on overall muscular strength and endurance. Soldiers can be lax about pull-ups but Marines should hit them hard.
Everyone, including sailors and airmen, should build up their endurance by running, biking, and strenuously hiking.
2. Read books from the professional reading list
Every branch has a professional reading list for their service members. Some are extensive, like the Marine Corps’, which includes a list of required reading for all Marines as well as lists assigned to each pay grade.
Others are shorter with just a few books that focus on future fights, tradition, and military history such as the Coast Guard’s 2015 list, which contained just nine books selected by the commandant and one nominated by Guardians. The Army, Air Force and Navy lists are available as well. The Air Force one even includes must watch Ted Talks and other videos. Get the books from a library if you don’t want to buy them.
3. Actually read those books of information the recruiter gives you
A little more on the topic of reading: Recruiters give new recruits pamphlets, booklets and little primers on military customs and courtesies, rank structure, the phonetic alphabet and other easy to learn and vital bits of knowledge.
Read these. Really read them. Some of them, like ranks and the phonetic alphabet, should be turned into flash cards for studying. The training cadre at basic training units will expect you to know these things. That’s why the recruiter gave you the pamphlets.
4. Study for entrance exams
If you haven’t been given those pamphlets yet, then you probably haven’t officially joined yet and may still be waiting to take the entrance exams. The most common is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, but some specific jobs have additional testing requirements.
Most of these tests have study guides that can help you prepare for the real experience. The best ones feature questions that were used in previous iterations of the actual test.
5. Practice hiking and navigating by map and compass
Every military branch has access to good, reliable GPS systems, but most units are training members to navigate by map and compass anyway. The seagoing services are even getting back into celestial navigation.
It’s part of a “back to basics” push to keep military operations moving forward if an enemy destroys America’s vulnerable GPS satellites. Luckily for new recruits, it’s a trainable skill that they can practice on their own while getting some of the fitness discussed in number 1 on this list.
But bring a friend, let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to return, and/or bring GPS with you. After all, it doesn’t help anyone if you end up stranded in the woods.
6. Learn some discipline
Seriously, more than anything else, practice taking direction and doing what you’re told without question or argument. The military is full of experienced and smart people who want to show you the ropes and let you develop critical thinking skills, but they need to know that you can take orders quickly so that they can trust you in a potential combat situation.
The first part of that trust is knowing that, if they tell you to spend two hours standing in the sun without moving, you will do it. Basic training cadre members will test this by having you stand for two hours in the sun with an order to not move. Learn to do annoying things without moving, complaining or asking for special treatment.