Saturday, January 16, 2010

Navy Boot Camp: The First Step is the Hardest

[cue "Jaws" theme music]

U.S. Navy boot camp is at the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, IL.

It waits... to swallow up scared little recruits and take them to the bottom of Lake Michigan.  Noooo!!!!!

Seriously, it's not that bad, don't worry.  If you want speed advice on how to survive Navy boot camp here it is:

1.  shut up (or figure out how to not get caught talking to each other)
2.  sleep
3.  receive letters
4. be ready to miss loved ones
5.  shut up
6.  study
7.  eat healthy
8.  *attitude is everything - squash your ego*
9.  get along with the other recruits
10.  shut up
Here's my experience and more tips on how to make it through with as few problems as possible:


I stepped onto Naval Training Center on July 28th, 2009 after the most comfortable bus ride I'd ever been on.  I really didn't want to get off that thing.  It had soothingly soft seats and monitors that played a boot camp video for us.  No one bothered us, we just sat there in calm silence watching the movie while the Chicago sun set around us.

"The calm before the storm" suits I think.

The plane ride from Baltimore to Chicago had been uneventful.  I had flown in with a group of 7 other recruits.  Once arriving at O'Hare airport, we walked to where we needed to be.  There were 3 Navy RDCs (Recruit Division Commander, Navy's version of drill sergeant) waiting for us.  We were instructed to empty our pockets and turn over items like magazines, drinks, or food.  One RDC told me he'd be sure to eat my unopened Power Bar.  Good to know bud.

After this we joined a group of about 20 recruits sitting in rows in a corner.  More small groups would show up and the same process repeated about 5 more times.  It was weird sitting in those silent rows.  Even though the area we were using was fairly quiet, random people still walked past every couple of minutes.  Many had looks of curiosity mixed with pity on their faces.  Carry on, nothing to see here.

So back to Great Lakes.  We got off the bus, went inside and lined up facing each other while an RDC paced between us giving instructions.  God help the fool that looked at him. "I told you to look straight ahead!!!!!!"

THIS IS WHEN IT GETS REAL.  YOU WILL BE SCARED.  (it's okay, you're supposed to be)

After standing there for a few minutes and listening to random kids get yelled at for looking at an RDC or not standing on the line, we started in-processing.  This involves uniform issue, hair cuts, giving up the last of your personal stuff, etc.

I think I only brought my ID, calling card, some cash and dental records with me (I have bad Irish teeth).  My memory of boot camp is already fading a bit, but I can't recall ever thinking damn I wish I'd brought this.  They gave us a Recruit Gift Card with $100 on it.  We were taken to the NEX (Navy Exchange) there twice to shop for any needed items.

We got a 5 minute phone call the first night.  Be ready for it.  Don't lose talk time screwing up the calling card or forgetting your dad's number like I did.  I ran out of time and wasn't able to talk to him until 3 or 4 weeks later.  I was able to write letters in the meantime though.  Ehow has a good article about writing letters to Navy boot camp recruits.  Except for the part about recruiters not giving out the address, the article is accurate. 

We all went without sleep that first night.  The only nap I got was when the RDCs told us to put our heads on the desks we were sitting at.  Some recruits told me later they thought it was a test.  I never thought that.  I honestly believed they were giving us a few minutes sleep, maybe for legal reasons.  Either way, I was right and enjoyed 15 minutes of sweet sleep in the middle of all that "fun"  That is, until:   "Get up recruits!!!!!"

Next we were taken to our temporary compartment, or barracks.  Our RDCs had heavy metal blasting when our newly formed division (60 of us) entered.  I like heavy metal so the music actually helped a bit. Guys, if you want to scare me, play country.


Now began the routine. Or the beginning of routine.  I was in an all-male division.  We were ruled by 3 RDCs. One senior chief and two 1st-class petty officers.  They were all tough, but I got the sense they knew their stuff.

The thing about boot camp is attitude.  You're in the military and you could be going into combat.

If you have a decent attitude you can see things with a different filter.  Instead of being yelled at about some stupid shoelace being tied wrong, you're being shown the importance of following directions/attention to detail.  It could save your life someday. 

But back to the routine.  We spent a lot of time folding uniforms.  There's a different way to fold each item.  The camo (NWU) is folded one way, dress blues another.  I hated it.  I'm not a folder.  I got yelled at a couple of times when my folding sucked.  "Slaughter you're in trouble if you're struggling already!!!"   

Good to see my college degree means I'm smart.

We learned to make our racks (bunks) with our bunkmate.  We'd be given about 5 minutes to do it.  I think I  hated it worse than folding.  I don't know what it is about making a bed that I don't like, I just know I don't.  Come up with an effective method with your partner and do it the same every time. 

That's another thing about boot camp: teamwork.  It's going to be a HUGE focus.  Our Navy isn't about any one sailor.

We need each other in the fleet, so the "me me" attitude starts to be pushed out at Great Lakes. It isn't pretty.  A lot of younger guys struggled with the concept.  Help others when you can.  Show an idiot with a college degree how to fold a shirt and he may help you study for a test.  Pass someone your uneaten dessert and he may give you boot shining tips.

PT, physical training, was usually in the afternoons in Freedom Hall.  I didn't like this much either.  I was used to running outside first thing in the morning.  I was used to stretching BEFORE running.  None of this happened at Navy boot camp.  We would run really fast warm-up laps around the track before stretching and running the longer run.  I pulled 67 muscles that first "warm-up" run.  After that I stretched in the compartment beforehand. 

Get in shape before all of this! You don't want "am I going to pass the PRT?" added to all the other stress.  Check out what you need to score here. You're looking for at least Good Low.  I saw two from our division get held back because they couldn't pass the Navy Physical Readiness Test.  Don't let that be you.

The lack of sleep was the hardest for me.  I'm 32 and I like me some 8 hour sleep!  Plan on getting 5 to 6 hours a night.  Practice for it before you get there.  The RDCs would leave us at 9-10pm and return at 5-6 am.  Between getting ready for bed and trying to drown out a room full of chatting teenagers, I didn't get to sleep until 11 usually.  During the night I'd be woken up to stand watch or iron my uniforms.  I still remember that sinking feeling when I'd see the lights switch on through my closed eyes.  I knew what was coming.  Lots of yelling and screaming and LOUD heavy metal.  "Get your asses UP!!!! Get up!! Get up!! Get up!!"


After about a week of observation the RDCs appointed recruit leadership positions. At the top was the RPOC, recruit petty officer in charge. I was Laundry PO.  It was perfect.  I didn't want a big leadership position.  Those guys got yelled at all the time in the beginning.  No thanks.  I had my quiet laundry room and my crew of four to help.  We took care of the division's laundry and we did it well.  And we also avoided some IT (intensive training, or punishment) sessions by being in that room.

Written tests weren't too bad.  There were four tests I think.  Basic Navy knowledge stuff.  I studied every Sunday when we had half a day off.  Some recruits failed tests but they were always allowed to take one retake.  Everyone passed the retakes.

Battlestations is the final obstacle between you and those front gates.  Listen if your RDCs give advice on how to pass.  Hopefully you've been cultivating good relationships with most of your shipmates.  You'll need them at battlestations.  I can't legally write much about the event, but I will tell you this.  Everyone passed in my division.  Stay awake during the instruction periods, stand up if you need to.  Keep calm, DON'T ARGUE with each other or the facilitators.  It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

I'll probably come back to this post and add things or elaborate on others.  Email me with questions. :)


  1. Not looking forward to boot camp, but your post helped ease some concerns. thanks.

  2. It helped my concerns ease a tad as well. I go in on March 26th. So, it' in 2 and a half weeks. After that I am home free to MC A-School.

  3. Let me know how it goes. I'm always looking for write-ins about the boot camp (or A school) experience!

  4. Excellent synopsis and a Great read! Well done!

  5. I ship out in 2 months, thanks for the insight

  6. Aww you didn't tell them about the gas chamber or using your Ricky sock for absolutly everything lol I miss those days

  7. Man I'll tell you I didn't think the gas chamber was that bad. I'm a little nervous asking this but, what's the Ricky sock?

    1. A Ricky sock is a sock put on the handle and used to dust everything even the floor. Kinda like the Ricky iron. From the name Ricky Recruit.

  8. I'm so terrified for boot camp. It's the only thing I feel will prevent me from being an MC.

  9. I felt the same way. Don't worry it's not that bad. You'll be fine!

  10. I leave jan 11th 2016 23 year old female
    super nervous

  11. haha I know the feeling. It'll be over before you know it.

  12. What's the basic material on the pre-knowledge DEP test?. Is it just the creed and orders and ranks and recognition? And what part of the DEP start guide should I study the most

  13. When I enlisted in 2009 we didn't have a a start guide but I asked a recruiter friend. He said has the general orders, rank and recognition and sailor's creed. I'll let you know if I can find out more about the test itself. I didn't have that either.

  14. Here's the answer I got Cam:

    "Everything he needs to know is in the start he needs to memorize it front and back Word for Word and he will be good. They do test when you first get to Boot Camp to advance you to a higher rank. But other than the asvab there is no pre dep. test"

  15. I just heard that RTC chain of command is on the test, along with the other stuff mentioned.

    1. All of the above is correct. If you are part of the DEP they likely have been teaching you customs and courtesies as well as history and general SOP (standard operating procedures) before you arrived.

      I have a friend halfway through boot in great lakes right now. A major part of any effective military training will be to break you down and build you back up. The me mentality generally will not get you far in your early career and only later may you be appreciated for your insights into the larger picture.

      While I went through Marine Boot 17 or so years ago (my direct knowledge of navy boot is lacking, even if I was the mens dept of the Navy ;-) ) not much changes. The important thing is understanding and applying that which you are taught as well as being able to put the "me" concept aside. The life of service isn't for evryone, although I'm under the firm belief that all should serve in some capacity to at least appreciate and understand the hard work and sacrifices that are commensurate with service in the military.

      You will become physically stronger as a result of your training and hopefully mentally stronger or at least garner a sense of situational awareness that is lacking in regular society.

      I would add much more but don't want to drag this post out any longer than necessary. With that being said, firsthand knowledge from seasoned vererans as well as an ability to adapt and overcome will ensure a successful career in the service of any branch. Stay strong, don't lose yourself ot the reasons you are there.

      And if you need help or guidance do not be afraid to reach out to the soldier, sailor, airman or marine next to you.

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  18. Five or six hours of sleep? Shit, we only got 2 every day of boot camp except Sundays when we got 4. And we didn't get to hear music until the second to the last day, and I remember how good Boston's "don't look back" sounded, and I realized that day how importantt music really is for me. One of our rdcs had trained seals, so we got screwed. But I'm so glad my navy bootcamp was one of the hardest tests I have ever passed. We also won first every in competition at the end. Oh, and no milk, soda, or juice, only water. And no movies. After graduation many other guys from other ships told me that they got to watch movies, drink soda, eat candy, get 7 or 8 hours of sleep and so on, and I remember thinking that they were the ones who got screwed out of a real character and strength building boot camp. Hopefully all you guys going in get a really hard good bootcamp - you'll never forget it.