Kiz is a Navy veteran who spends his days writing about his experiences in and out of the military, along with creating art and petting dogs
The Path to Becoming a Sailor
Boot camp: The process of becoming a United States soldier, sailor, marine or airman begins with a lot of paperwork, a lot of hurrying up to wait, and then the big step: boot camp.
For those of you enlisting in the United States Navy, your journey of transformation begins in Great Lakes, Illinois, at Recruit Training Command. Recruit Training Command, or RTC for short, is an enormous facility able to house up to 25,000 recruits. An expensive overhaul of the Training Command buildings (which you will learn to call ships) and the training program itself has changed and modernized the boot camp process many times over the years, but the schedule you'll find below still, for the most part, applies.
It is perfectly normal to be nervous about going to Navy boot camp. You may even be excited, afraid, concerned, or dreading your boot camp experience. Boot camp, and your military service, will change your life forever. You will find yourself gaining skills that will carry you through into your military career, and you will take these valuable lessons with you into the corporate and civilian world when your enlistment is completed. That is, if you don't choose to re-enlist!
The First Half of Navy Boot Camp
I hope you are ready for an intense few weeks. Your experience at boot camp begins as soon as you step off of the bus and are met by one of your Division Commanders. If you show up at boot camp having not prepared physically for the experience, you are in for a wild ride on that front. Be prepared, mentally, to be picked apart for being different. Here is a brief rundown on what you'll experience in the next eight to nine weeks:
- Week One: During week one you will go through processing. You will fill out a lot of forms regarding health, benefits, wages, direct deposit, insurance, the Montgomery G.I. Bill and much more. If you haven't yet memorized your social security number, you will want to before you leave for boot camp, you'll be writing it on everything. Once you've finished processing, then the real fun starts.
- Week Two: Week two finds you tired, irritable, and wondering what the heck you got yourself into. You will get used to waking up at 0600, I promise. This week you will begin physical conditioning and participate in a confidence course. The focus for this week of training is team-building. You will learn to rely on your shipmates, and the confidence course is a big start.
- Week Three: In a hands-on environment, this week you will learn first aid techniques, signaling with flags, the proper procedure to board and disembark a ship, and basic seamanship. You will do this training on a portion of a real ship situated in a large hangar. Your first PT (physical training) test is administered during week three, the areas tested are 1.5-mile run, push-ups, and sit-ups. This is often called the PT0, because it is the starting point from which you will improve.
- Week Four: Time for weapon training. You will go through safety training, then weapon training in a supervised range environment. This is the halfway point in your academic training, as well as the week during which you will take your graduation photos in preparation for your Pass and Review ceremony.
The Second Half of Boot Camp
You've reached the home stretch at this point, with four more weeks to go! Here's what you'll do during the second half of boot camp:
- Week Five: More classes, more training, and a lot more PT. By this point, you've learned how to do everything the way the Navy wants you too, and though you may not feel like it—you've changed. Rigorous training and a restricted diet, a fast-paced and active training style in and out of the classroom, and a behavioral structure deeply rooted in forming a team bond between you and up to 100 total strangers have all contributed to your change, and in most cases, this change is for the best.
- Week Six: Fire fighting training, and shipboard damage control classes. This week you will learn how to put fires out, how to properly don fire safety gear in case you must fight a fire on board ship, how to open and close watertight doors, and operate fire fighting equipment. This week also finds you and your shipmates inside the gas chamber, being exposed to tear gas while you and everyone else recites name and social security number. You will also go through the confidence course again, further solidifying the concept of teamwork and camaraderie.
- Week Seven: At this point, you're nearly finished with boot camp. Excitement sets in and now you're ready for the final test: Battle Stations. Battle Stations is a 12-hour event held to test your entire division on how well you've absorbed everything you've learned so far. If you are present at the call for Battle Stations, this means you have successfully passed all academic and physical challenges presented to you up to this point, and are ready for this final test. You will be pushed to the very brink here, and will find that once it is over and you stand in the finishing room, dirty, beyond weary, emotional and drained. All that fades away as the Commanding Officer in charge of RTC Great Lakes comes in to personally congratulate you, presenting you and your division with your new status as a United States Sailor—your Navy ball cap.
- Week Eight: Graduation/Pass and Review. Aside from everything mentioned above, part of your training has been in drill and ceremony. That portion of your training will come in to play here, where you march proudly, shoulders squared and with a bolstered confidence before friends, family, and thousands of supportive individuals from all walks of life. There is nothing like it in the whole world.
It is important that when arriving on RTC Great Lakes, you and your family refrain from taking pictures or video anywhere except the visitor center or drill hall. Your bags and vehicle are subject to security search at all times, and items such as weapons, alcohol or drugs are not permitted on base.
Graduation from Navy Boot Camp is a big deal. All through boot camp, if the recruit has any delays in training or setbacks that will cause them to be in boot camp longer, they will get in touch with their family and friends to let those who may be planning to attend their graduation ceremony that plans need to be changed. You, the family, will want to wait as long as possible before taking time off of work or booking plane tickets, just in case your recruit is delayed in training at all. If you have not heard from them about any delay by week six, start making your plans.
In my case, week six saw me failing PT2 by a small enough margin that my training time, while not delayed by more than a few days, meant I would not graduate with my division. I was still able to spend time on base with my family the same weekend the remaining recruits in my division graduated.
Space and parking are limited on base during Pass and Review, so keep that in mind when arriving at RTC Great Lakes for your sailor's special day.
What Happens After Boot Camp?
After pass and review, your newly capped sailor will pack his or her bags, be given orders and travel information for their next level of training—"A" School—and be on a much more mundane journey to learning their actual job while they serve their time. During "A" school they'll experience life as a sailor in a whole new way...
Navy Boot Camp Graduation Photos and The Keel
Graduation photos are taken in week four, and are taken in dress uniform. Please advise your Sailor that they will only be able to order graduation pictures during this time, after boot camp is over, you will not be able to buy these pictures!
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The Keel—the "yearbook" for your sailor's recruit division—is available for purchase during boot camp, as well as for one year after their graduation date. The publisher in charge of printing and distributing each division's copy of The Keel does not retain them longer than one year.
As these are important pieces of memorabilia, it is advisable that each recruit and his or her family plan prior to boot camp to invest in these items. Set aside money prior to their ship date and keep in mind that you are saving for a piece of your sailor's history that you will not have the opportunity to reclaim afterward.
Women's Essentials for Navy Boot Camp
Women should arrive in conservative, comfortable slacks or jeans and shirt. No tank tops, halter tops or short-shorts are permitted. Women are also required to bring these items:
- 6 white bras (standard white cotton—two should be athletic support)
- 6 panties (white cotton)
- sanitary items (as required)
- 2 white half-slips
- 2 pairs of pantyhose or stockings (skin tone)
- Shampoo (in a small plastic container)
- A copy of PAP smear if one was performed six months prior to ship date
- If currently using birth control pills, bring the pills and a copy of exam records specifying the type(s) of birth control pills both currently and previously prescribed.
What to Bring to Boot Camp
- Marriage certificate
- Spouse's and children's birth certificate(s)
- Divorce decree (of both husband and wife)
- Court decrees for alimony/child support
- Small Bible, Holy Scripture or other religious articles (if desired)
- Prescription or reading glasses or contact lens kit (no prescription sunglasses)
- Prescribed medications
- Civilian medical records if you have any medical condition that requires treatment
- College transcripts
- Certificate of entry (for immigrant alien recruits)
- Maximum of $25.00 cash
- Postage stamps (suggestion is to bring at least two books of stamps)
A special thank you goes to about.com for compiling an actual list of things to take and not to take to boot camp. If these lists differ from what you are told—use the list/information your recruiter gave you as the primary guide.
What Not to Bring to Boot Camp
Here's a list of the things you do NOT bring to boot camp. This is not a complete list, but rather gives you a clear picture of what to leave at home:
- food, candy, chewing gum or alcoholic beverages;
- cigarettes or other tobacco products;
- sharp objects, scissors, fingernail files or manicure kits;
- lighter fluid, non-disposable lighters, matches, aerosol cans, perfumes, colognes, liquid shoe polish or any articles in glass containers;
- radios, books, tape recorders, non-prescription or prescription sunglasses, musical instruments, sports equipment or cameras;
- firearms, explosives, ammunition, knives or weapons of any kind;
- calculators or electronic games;
- lewd or obscene photographs or literature;
- cards or dice;
- non-prescription medicine, drugs or vitamins;
- low-cut or two-piece swimsuits;
- illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia;
- jewelry (except for a small religious medal, wedding and/or engagement ring and a conventional, conservative watch). While in uniform you're not allowed to wear any other jewelry.
Note From the Author
I know this is a lot of reading, but I feel the information and insight I can give, having been through it first hand, is invaluable.
Boot camp is not easy, it's not glamorous, it's not fun. You learn more about yourself and others than you ever wanted to know before, you curse, cry at the silliest things, and for eight weeks you really wish you could have things that you had before going to boot.
Where before you really wanted your parents to shut up and leave you alone, you begin to long for any word, any letter, anything that connects you to home. Guy or girl, your heart leaps when the mail comes in. A simple I love you from someone back home means more than anything.
You change, you adapt, you learn. The whole process breaks you down inside, takes parts of you away, parts of you that held you back. You'll see the meek, shy, quiet nerd become confident as the weeks pass, you'll fight and bicker like children in a schoolyard. By week six, you'll wonder what the hell you're going to do to stay in touch with every single person in your division. You'll exchange email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses with people you never may have spoken to two months before, because they are your family.
The military is not a choice everyone should make. I made the choice, and my Navy ballcap rests in a place of pride. You're worth it, shipmate.
Boot Camp FAQ
There are a lot of questions your family and friends will have about your time in boot camp. I've tried to condense them down, and answer them to the best of my ability here:
When will I get to send mail to my loved one in boot camp?
You will receive a letter from your loved one as soon as they are given the ability to sit down and write letters. This may be as early as the first Sunday after they complete processing. There is no way for you to know what the appropriate address to send mail to your recruit is until they themselves send you their address, so you have to be patient. Spend the time prior to receiving their address writing plenty of letters, collect letters from friends and family to send as well during that time.
I'm not in great physical shape, can I still get into boot camp? (Also: I can't swim, can I get into boot camp?)
You do not *have* to be in peak physical condition when you head off to boot camp. In fact, part of the reason boot camp is so physically demanding is because it is whipping you into shape so you fall in line with the Navy's fitness guidelines. The more fit you become prior to shipping off to boot camp, the better you'll perform while you are there - so if you're thinking about joining the Navy, start getting ready for it early. Take swimming lessons, join a gym program.
When is my loved one going to graduate from boot camp?
That depends on your loved one's performance in each week. Any change in their graduation date after they've sent you their graduation information will cause them to be able to call you and let you know. You won't receive graduation information until several weeks in, so sit tight and wait for their word. It may be difficult, but my best advice is that you begin preparing for their graduation, financially and otherwise, as soon as they leave for boot camp.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2008 Kiz Robinson