Navy Basic Training: Could You Hack It During These 8 Brutal Weeks?
Photo: Ruskpp (Getty)
Members of the military are some of the toughest, most disciplined and confident individuals around, both physically and mentally. But that confidence isn’t free, it has to be earned. Every individual who desires to be in a branch of the military must go through some of the most daunting, stressful, robust training available. And the United States Navy is no slouch when it comes to that reputation.
Here, we’re going to break down some of what happens in the 8 weeks of Basic Training for recruits who brave to serve. That’s a full 8 weeks, too. No weekends off. And it all happens at Navy Boot Camp, held at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes (RTC Great Lakes), north of Chicago, Illinois. In this overview, we’ll also get a perspective from one of the Navy’s own, Nicholas Daugherity, and find out how he fared through his two months of physical and mental training. But the real question we wanna ask is… could YOU hack it?
Nick, from from Manville, IL, joined the Navy back in 2002, right out of high school. He’s since left the service and his experience has now brought him to work at a nuclear power plant in Illinois. During his time in the Navy, he achieved the rank and title of an E3 (3rd rank) ABF Airman, which translates to Aviation Boatswain’s Mate – Fuel. After completing his basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes in Lake County, Illinois, he moved to Pensacola, FL to take the classes necessary for his specialization choice. Upon class completion, his orders then stationed him in Norfolk, VA to report to the USS Eisenhower.
WEEK ONE: P DAYS
First week in Basic is referred to as P-week (or Processing week). This is when you get all of your paperwork, haircuts, and medical/dental checkups out of the way. You’re briefed on the basics of Navy life: which can include chain of command, basics of watch standing and just Navy life preparation.
Nick: “For me, this was the real shock, a cultural shock. You’re now in a strange place, with a bunch of people you don’t know, and right when you arrive you just get right into it… Take off your clothes! Put on these sweats! We’re sending all of your stuff home now! — That’s when it got real.”
P Week is also the week when all the shot inoculations take place.
“And I hate shots, so it was an event. Going in, you’d have eight medical staff in front of you, one on each side, making this line of people with shots that came from pressurized guns. And one by one, we’d step up, and boom boom they shoot you in one arm, then the other. Then you’d move up to the next line and boom boom, again. It didn’t matter if it hurt or not, you had to keep going forward. So there you are, arms bleeding and you think it’s over… until you go into another room… to get ‘the peanut butter shot,’ which is basically a penicillin shot, but they call it this because it feels like a scoop of peanut butter just got left in your butt cheek.
Waiting for that wasn’t fun. I was towards the end of the line, we’re all bent over, and I’m just looking down the line to the guys before me, just wondering when it’s coming, and I could just see all the other guys’ faces when it happens. And their faces were right. It got worse too if you were one of the unlucky guys who had to sleep on top bunks in the barracks. The peanut butter shot hindered you from jumping off the bed for a while. It forced all these tough recruits to gently crawl down from their bunk to the ground.”
THE REST OF WEEK ONE
After you’re processed, the real training to begin. You receive your Recruit hat, and it’s go time. Recruits begin the PT (Physical Training) regimen. PT consists of running (usually a mile and a half to two miles) on indoor and outdoor tracks, swimming 50 yards, treading water for an X amount of time, and doing an extensive amount of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, burpees, mountain climbers, etc. And that’s IF you didn’t piss off your RDC (Recruit Division Commander), also know as your petty officer. “
“If you come into Basic already in some sort of physical shape, you’re already going to have a better time. Not to mention a more fun one, as physicality starts to get competitive, too. It doesn’t make it easier, just better, like anything else you would come in prepared for.
You end up marching everywhere. To dinner, to lunch, to barracks. And it’s pretty tough to crack at first, not knowing how to march… It’s a lot of left foot right foot rhythm. We’d march to songs and cadences, practicing till we fine-tuned it. It’s all repetition, and like everything repeated, it starts to become second nature. Even now, I find myself doing it in real life when I’m walking down the hallway of my house, I’ll pivot with the smartest foot when I walk now, and find myself in a cadence just by a habit I formed back then.”
The best advice I could give would be to just shut your mouth, listen, do what you’re told and you’ll get through it. Week one is tough, but it’s really just all about getting settled in. You’re not in it alone.”
You’ll still do more PT and drill marching, which leads up to the Confidence Course at the end of the week, which plays out like an obstacle course simulating an emergency shipboard encounter. Recruits wear proper equipment for shipboard firefighting, transport sandbags, pitch life rings, and traverse through scuttles with seabags in tow. This is also when recruits get their dress uniforms for fittings and stenciling.
“I was always the last one to report after stenciling because of how long my name was. It would be an 8-hour class. You’d learn about mooring, all the different departments, and your specific job. See, before you went to the recruiter, you’d take a test that would see what jobs you’re qualified for in the Navy. After that, the recruiter would have a list of jobs to go over with you to choose.”
Week Two is also the week where inspections start for recruits. This is where RDCs make sure everyone is doing things the Navy way in their barracks. “
They taught us how to make our bunks, how to fold everything properly and how to put things away in your foot locker. Which then led to the tough inspections. You’d need everything creased just right or there’d be hell to pay.”
Two times a week you’d have duty day. Duty such as being night watchmen (who patrol the ship decks) or quarter deck (who would check credentials and let people onboard the ship). And even on duty, you’re never not being tested and watched. I remember my first time as quarterdeck, an RDC came aboard around 3AM, I checked him properly and cleared him aboard. The RDC then goes over to another recruit and wants to check his credentials and his weapon (we used fake weapons during this training). The recruit, seeing this was an RDC and his superior, does as he’s told, but pays for it. The RDC points the fake weapon at the recruit and goes BAM. Points to recruits around him, including me. BAM BAM BAM. You’re all dead. The RDC was teaching us to never give away your weapon for anyone. Anywhere you went, anything you did, you were always in the classroom.”
You’re still learning in the classroom, but getting more hands-on work as well. Class will learn a lot about armed conflict law, how to communicate on a ship, signaling with flags, the types of ships and aircrafts and study overall Navy history and seamanship. And yes, this will all culminate in another written test. The hands-on work is just as important. Recruits put their mooring (when a ship comes to port, you throw lines over and attach it to dock) and knot-making skills to work while practicing line handling. So when a ship docks it won’t float away.
Recruits also would practice first aid procedures. Oh, and did we mention that the PT, the drill marching, the inspections and all the yelling would commence? No? Well, it does. Every. Single. Week.
“By now, it all finally started to become routine. Those first couple weeks are the toughest to get through because it’s just so much at once, but eventually you start to even out and form good habits based on what you’re being told. So much so that once you leave boot camp you’re like ‘oh man, who’s gonna tell me when to eat breakfast now?’ You find it’s just easier when people tell you what to do, you’re used to that. You even end up taking a lot of this routine back home with you when you’re out, too. For example, we weren’t allowed to walk on the grass on the base. Always had to use the sidewalks and walkways. And it’s funny; to this day I still don’t walk on grass if I don’t need to. It’s been embedded in my brain to stay off the grass.”
After all that hard work in the first three weeks, you should finally start to feel like you’re in better shape, and your body doesn’t ache as much as it used to. This is likely because you’re due for your first PT test in Week Four. This consists of push-ups, running, swimming, sit-ups/curlups, and a sit-and-reach for flexibility. Yes, you have to be able to touch your toes with your legs straight in front of you, in three tries or less. If you don’t pass, you won’t graduate. And you’re also in trouble because you’ll then have to train individually to get up to snuff, and it sounds like you never want additional training in response to bad results.
“Punishment was an ass-chewing and A LOT of calisthenics. Pushups, burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, everything. Sometimes we’d get sent to the barracks (which is like a long room with bunks on each side and a walkway through the middle), and if you got in trouble, you’d have to push your bed against the wall, and do calisthenics in the middle. If it got really bad, RDCs would make us do something called “Making It Rain”. Making It Rain was when you’d have to do so much calisthenics work that everyone’s body heat and perspiration would actually start heating up the barracks and causing condensation to come off of the ceiling because it got so hot. My division had to do that for about an hour once and you could definitely see the drips coming down from the ceiling. It’s pretty crazy to see: that and all the recruits nearly passing out on the floor.”
Live fire week. Along with the classroom work on anti-terrorism threat conditions, recruits would begin work with weapons.
“For a couple days you’d shoot with a laser-like weapon, sort of as a precursor to live fire. They’d have targets set up and you’d use the laser to point and shoot. If you didn’t know how to shoot, they’d teach you. Then the last couple days you’d go to the range to live fire M-16s, shotguns and pistols.”
Live fire isn’t all that happens this week. Duties would still need to be performed, in all aspects of Navy life.
“One of our duties while there is something called “cranking”, which is essentially glorified cafeteria work. We’d have to run the mess hall or cafeteria, cook and serve food to everyone and then clean everything up and do the dishes. Cranking was long hours, but it was actually kind of fun because there was a little bit of freedom that came with it. The drill sergeants weren’t there, so combine that with cooking, cleaning trays and countertops, and taking out garbage, and it actually made you feel a little normal again.”
I did ask Nick if he snuck any french fries for himself, but he had no comment.
This week is primarily about learning two vital skills aboard a ship: firefighting and damage control. This encompassed everything from carrying fire hoses, extinguishing, and handling watertight doors.
“We had to learn how to fight fires on ships, so they took us to a fire facility where they’d set fires and we’d put them out. It was very team focused, too. You’d have a hose team, you’d lead them in to the fire, stop it and all report back to the Captain. And damage control was In result to the USS Cole incident (which was hit with a bomb from a Al Qaeda boat that rammed into the ship), so it was a huge priority from there on out. What to do when something like that happens: whether that’s fighting fires or saving the lives of anyone trapped or hurt because of the damage.”
Week Six also teaches recruits how to escape smoke-filled areas and to operate oxygen breathing apparatus’… or lack there of…
“One big test for this week is called the Confidence Chamber. Here, you’re in a room with two lines of about ten guys. You all have oxygen masks on. Then an instructor comes into the room, wearing a gas mask, sets down a special pill that eventually burns to create a form of tear gas and it fills up the room. He then tells everyone to take off their masks, so you do and then everything gets chaotic from the gas. Even though it’s only for around 30 seconds, your instincts start kick in and force you to try and hold your breath, but your instructors tell you not to, because if you’re holding your breath for a long time, they’re even more worried about that big inhale of air you’re going to eventually take in. And that… would make things much worse. You’re coughing, you’re itching, you’re sneezing, you’re crying. You can’t see, you can’t breathe.
And on top of all that, they don’t want anything on your uniform or the floor when you finish. That means no snot, no vomit, nothing. So here I am, my nose is erupting, my eyes are gushing, and I’m cupping my hand just to catch all of this nasty stuff coming out of me. At the end, you’re asked by a drill sergeant “WHAT IS YOUR NAME, RANK, AND SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER?” I’ve never been so happy to say my name and social security number. After that it’s over. You run out of the room and it takes you about 10-15 minutes to flush everything out and start to function normal again.”
Battle Stations Week. If this doesn’t sound intense by name alone, then you’re a monster. This week consists of many tests. Among those are a live fire test at the range and your final PT test, where you must make sure to beat your times and counts from previous PT tests. Then comes Battle Stations. Battle Stations is the culmination of all the skills learned over the course of training, and packing them all into a 12-plus hour exhilarating and exhausting team-focused event.
“It started at 7pm and went all night into the next day. I remember the lights went out, horns blared, air raids sounded off. We all grabbed our stuff and ran out. From there, we’d go from one evolution to the next, where there was a problem or scenario and you’d have to respond accordingly. Such as mooring a ship or extinguishing a fire, using radios, proper communication, teamwork… or you’d have to jump off a ledge into the water and figure out a way to make yourself float. We’re taught to slam an arm down in the water to create bubbles and then capture them in your coveralls to create air necessary for flotation. I remember our last evolution was doing damage control based on USS Cole incident: having to carry guys out in stretchers, go in and out of piping, save someone who was trapped under an immovable object.
It was difficult, because here we are, up at 2A.M., running everywhere, trying to figure stuff out and you’re just dead tired, trying to make sure you do it all correctly. It was a true stress test. And I’ll never forget once we completed everything and got the all clear. We had to run back to the center of the base, and the RDCs started taking all of our Recruit hats off and throwing them onto the ground. We were all confused, like what the hell… and then they started handing out our Navy hats. That’s the moment when you knew you made it. The best part was, when you were finished, you looked at the clock and it’s 6A.M. Everyone else on the base’s breakfast was over, so we got to go pig out at the mess as much as we want. Not only did they have an awesome spread waiting for us to demolish, but we normally only had 10 minutes to eat for every meal, and this time we got to eat for like an hour. It was a great ending to the crazy night we just had.”
Before recruits moved on to graduation, they participate in an event called the Captain’s Cup with a few other divisions. At Captain’s Cup, all of the graduating divisions perform in what is described as an Olympics-type competition. How it works is each division will pick their three best in each physical category. The categories range from pushups, situps, and pullups to various relay races, rescue carries and even volleyball. And then the competition begins:
“I was one of the three chosen for sit-ups. It was pretty nuts, by the end of Basic I could do around like 115 sit-ups in a minute. The objective here was you’d go up against all these other divisions in each activity to try and get the Captains Cup trophy, and then when you march, the division who wins gets to show that and the Captain’s Cup flag off. It’s a way to show that this division means business. My division even ended up winning the Captain’s Cup too, so we had the flag and the bragging rights. It was a nice achievement to tie on at the end.”
Final week: Graduation Week. Recruits spend time this week doing graduation prep, such as being drilled on the proper marching routine, and how to be when they’re presented before all of their families and friends.
“This was a lot of marching in formation to be ready for graduation. It was tough, even with all of our marching practice before. We’d march for two hours, take a break and then march again. Marching requires a lot of calculated turning… so you’d always have to be listening to the cadence and following the guide-on (flag holder). If you stepped on the wrong foot, you were all jacked up. We’d work on this all week just to get it right.”
After perfecting their drills, there’s a small window where recruits can reflect before graduation happens.
“At this time in preparation, you kind of felt like you were part of the Navy now. Around the base, you’d see all these other divisions just starting P-week. They’re weeks behind you, they don’t have any flags yet, they’re working their butts off, you’re marching effectively… You really feel like the big brother at that point. But there’s a sign of respect coming from both sides: we were the new guys eight weeks ago, and they want to get through it and be where we’re standing, no matter how hard it gets. That honor, courage and commitment is what it’s all about.”
BEYOND BASIC TRAINING
The leisure doesn’t last long for a sailor, though. Once graduation commences, all graduating recruits get their orders and move on to schools to learn their specific jobs they chose prior to Boot Camp.
“After graduation, the following week you got to hang out as full-fledged sailors. We were king shit for a few days. But eventually we had to get packed, cause we were all getting shipped out. That’s when I left for Pensacola. Some guys went right to a ship as an apprentice, but I had to go learn about my job first. Then, while there at class, I got my orders to the USS Eisenhower. In the end, I chose to be an Aviation Boatswain’s (or AB) Mate Fuel. AB’s are the guys that are on the flight deck. AB-H is a handler of the fighter jets. They move them around. AB-E’s handled extraction, or shooting the fighter jets off the carrier, by using the catapults. And AB-S (which I was) were the ones who fueled the fighter jets.. Everyone else called the ABs “Skittles” because we were all wearing different colors. We were called “the grapes,” cause we wore purple. So ultimately, I got to fuel some jets, which was pretty cool.”
So, what do you think? Could you handle Navy Basic Training, and pass with flying colors? It’s certainly tougher than it sounds, even for those who’ve gone through it. We decided to ask Nicholas Daugherity what the toughest part for him was after everything:
“You know, it’s probably different for everyone. But honestly? Getting your body and mind used to the routine. If you’re not used to waking up at 5am, and putting yourself to work, it’s going to be hard on you. You’re tired from waking up, but you have to go do your PT, and if you didn’t, you got disciplined even worse. The routine of PT everyday, marching, being on your feet all day, it took a toll.
It’s all a matter of getting your body used to that. I got over the culture shock quick. The vaccination shots and the tear gas incident were hard too, but they lasted 15 minutes or so and then it was done. Changing your body and mind from civilian to military was my biggest struggle. It’s a strict routine, with heavy discipline, so you have to commit. Train your body and mind to do it all, and most importantly do it well.”
Okay, I’M IN!
Thanks again to Nick Daugherity and every man and woman in the military for their service.