The other night I was watching youtube videos of Basic Training with my kids. They wanted to know what it was like, and I took the opportunity to revisit a part of my life that I have largely forgotten about. And you know what? I still apply a lot of the things I learned in Basic. So I compiled a top ten list:
1. “Do what you’re told. Do what you’re told. Do what you’re G*****n told!” –DS Roman. Good, effective leaders are also good, effective followers. Everyone has a boss, and every boss has an intent that must be met. Meet it.
2. Learn to get it done. One of the very first memories anyone has of Basic is being crammed into a “cattle car” with all of your newly issued gear, then being forcibly ejected and told to move with all your gear to a different location, at speed. No one tells you how to carry your stuff, just to get it all over there, now. Learn how to get it done despite not knowing exactly how. Which leads into…
3. Do it right the first time. There is nothing new in the Army. Someone has done what you’re doing before you, and has probably written a manual about it. At Basic, the Drill Sergeants show you a standard-- once . After that, you are expected to perform to that standard, whether it’s making your bed, standing at attention, or performing a correct side-straddle hop. Doing it right the first time not only saves you a lot of work, but it saves you a lot of pain as well.
4. Rangewalk! Develop a sense of urgency. If nothing else, you will at least look like you know what you’re doing and have someplace to be. Moving with a sense of urgency and purpose goes a long way toward establishing your credibility, and also helps to ensure you are accomplishing your missions quickly. (NOTE: This is not to say that you should just be moving quickly randomly. Know what you’re doing, and then move out).
5. Shine your boots. Appearance and presentation matter. No one likes you for you—at least not at first. Make a good impression with your demeanor, bearing, fitness, and appearance. Immediately following that, wow people with your competence and leadership.
6. “You’ve got thirty seconds to get there, and ten of them are already gone!” –DS Garcias. There is always going to be more to do than there are hours in a day. Learn to prioritize time and effort.
7. “Lights out! Reveille! Chow!” You must eat. You must sleep. You must do PT. If you don’t, you will fail. Make the time—no one expects you to be on all the time.
8. Pay attention to detail, private! Details are important. One unbuttoned pocket on a uniform you’re not even wearing will cost you at least ten push-ups. Hospital corners not at 45 degrees will get your rack flipped. Big things are made up of little things, so make sure you get the little things right. After that, the big ones will follow.
9. “What makes the green grass grow? The blood! The blood! The bright red blood!” This is the chant of the bayonet assault course, and I thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever had to say. But the lesson here is that you need to be just a bit more aggressive than you’re comfortable with. Don’t be a dick, but don’t get punked. Our profession is full of type-A personalities. Statistically, not all of us are type-A, but if you don’t at least pretend to be, life will be needlessly difficult for you.
10. “Where is your battle buddy?!” Despite what Paul Simon says, no one is an island. You can’t do it alone—remember the team.
11. (I’m not good at math). Learn the difference between hurt and injured. Hurt is ok, but injured isn’t. Hurt goes away, but injured has long-term effects. If you need to go seek help, go.
12. When you screw up, the whole platoon suffers. There’s a scene in Full Metal Jacket where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman discovers a jelly donut in Private Pyles’ foot locker, and the whole platoon is forced to do push-ups while Pyle eats the donut. Understand that when you make decisions, there are second- and third-order effects that reach out beyond you.
13. Don’t expect to like everyone, or that everyone will like you. When I was in Basic, the guy in the rack across from me was a huge dick. No one liked him, and he had a hard time relating to people. But we all had to work with him, and we soon discovered that if we kept the relationship professional, he was really good at basic soldiering. So even though no one liked him, we all worked well together because we expected professionalism.
Any I missed?