As we are all aware, boot camp is no funny business. The training, the living conditions, and the instructors are extremely brutal, but surprisingly there were some things that did make these new recruits crack a smile. Recruits share what their drill sergeants were really like at boot camp. Content has been edited for clarity purposes.
A Story With A Bitter Ending
“I was in Air Force boot camp. Our staff sergeant, we’ll call him ‘Smith,’ was a short guy. And not short like, ‘Yeah I bet I could roll him’, but short as in, ‘That guy is a small package of condensed muscle and death.’ He also had the thickest eyebrows I’ve ever seen on a lifeform.
Anyways, on that all-too-rare occasion when he wasn’t busting our balls over something, all 61 of us were sitting down and he got to telling us about the time he visited some marine buddies in South Korea. A typhoon happened to make landfall during his visit, which put him and his pals on barracks lockdown.
At the height of the storm, some of the marines unexpectedly began assembling supplies of a questionable nature. Smith wasn’t sure what was going on but couldn’t quite bring himself to ask, so he just fell in and followed along. The marines, with Smith in tow, went to the top floor of the barracks and climbed up and outside through some roof access. The winds, as he described it, were intense enough to blow you off the roof if you weren’t secured to anything.
In the middle of this weather, these marines strapped on parachute packs and paired up. One marine held his partner to the roof, and on a count released him as the other pulled the line of his chute. The combination of this sent marines blasting off the roof, like bullets in the air, coming in to land somewhere far away in the city.
And then because some of us laughed, we were made to do flutter kicks.”
Pass The Test Or Suffer
“There were some people in my initial battery that wanted to ‘refuse to train.’ This essentially means that you give up and then you can kind of get out of it and be processed out. Well, apparently for some of these people, it was taking too long, so they started talking about how they’d intentionally fail their Physical Training (PT) test because it’d get them out faster. As they were talking about this, one of our drill sergeants was standing around the corner and the rest of us was watching his face gradually get redder and redder. Eventually, we thought he was about to pop out around the corner, but he just shook his head and walked away. We were all left there dumbfounded.
Flash forward to the next morning and we were getting ready for PT.
The Drill Sergeant (DS) walked in front of the formation and said, ‘We’re going to have a little fun today. Mock PT test.’
So, low and behold these same privates from yesterday all failed. There are a few other failures, but they were obviously trying. The DS then announced that anyone that had failed that day will no longer have any free time, but will be subjected to PT up until bedtime unless we were going to chow or training. The look of pure horror on their faces was epic.
As these privates started whispering amongst each other, the DS said, ‘Oh, and by the way, I feel good about this group. I think you guys can be soldiers eventually. So that way, until you pass this PT test, I will continue to recycle you all the way back to your daddy’s lap. So you may want to not waste my freakin time.’
Needless to say, they either went back to refusing to train or passed that PT the next time around. It was great.”
A Humming Bird Was So Close To His Face, But He Couldn’t Move Or Else
“I was an 18-year-old Marine Corps recruit in basic training in 2007. One day our drill instructor marched us off to chow and as our platoon reached the chow hall, there was a line of platoons out the door, which essentially made the platoon face our Drill Instructor. I am of average height which is important to not be because this puts me right in front of the drill instructor’s line of sight since the ranks (rows) in the formation are arranged by height.
So anyway, here we were in sunny San Diego, and it was a beautiful day outside considering I was a couple of months into being away from everything that I love in my life. If you know nothing about marine corps boot camp recruit etiquette, you should know that you never, under any circumstances make eye contact with a drill instructor. And my guess is that drill instructor etiquette calls for never under any circumstances show any signs of humanity to any recruit, including empathy, smiling, and laughing.
We were standing outside the chow hall now, and like I said it was a beautiful day. Suddenly I heard what sounded like a muffled buzzing as if the sound rained from the sky and was torpedoing towards my head. By now, my bearing was pretty much on point so I didn’t move, despite my senses telling me to do the bumblebee shoulder check. The next thing I know, there was a freakin hummingbird floating about a foot and a half away from my face. Now I don’t know much about hummingbirds but this thing looked genuinely interested in me. It didn’t float around like a butterfly, no, it just hovered there. I could see the details in its feathers and I looked into its dark beady eyes as it looked into mine (I swear it did). Did my bearing break? No, because I was a well-trained motivated killer for democracy and a hummingbird wasn’t going to earn me a slaying in the sandpit. Not if I could help it.
So after about three and a half eternities later, it floated away. Note that my head didn’t even flinch, but my eyes of course did veer to about the two o’clock position which was allowed. I immediately locked my eyes back towards my front and who do I see fighting back a smile?
Drill Instructor Sergeant Harbison. I can only imagine the look of terror he saw on my face as the hummingbird shenanigans unfolded. But here he was, a maker of Marines, as hard as steel, cracking a smile. I caught him red-handed, but he caught me catching him. So he bowed his head, gathered himself, and looked back up at me with the straightest, sharpest face.
Him: ‘Good recruit, I hope it pecks your freakin eyes out.’
Me: ‘AYE AYE SIR!'”
Who Was That Random Guy?
“It was the middle of the night and we were awake and sneakily writing letters to our loved ones. Then, out of nowhere, our Sergeant, our brother flights Sergeant, and a random, older man burst into the room and literally flipped the first bed, which had someone in it. I just remember hearing a loud boom and turning to see my buddy flying through the air in slow motion. The Sergeants trashed everything as you can imagine, while this random guy stood in the corner the whole time. After destroying our rooms and lockers, they demanded it all be fixed and cleaned by the time they returned in the morning and the three of them left. As we cleaned, we all talked and questioned each other on who the random guy was. Well, on our last day in Basic, we asked our Sergeant who he was.
He immediately started laughing and said they were at the bar and started talking to this random guy. The three of them did a bunch of shots together and got really wasted and started talking about how the two of them were TIs (Training Instructors). The random guy mentioned how cool and fun it must be.
They both looked at each other, then they looked at him and said, ‘Wanna see?’
So the three of them hopped in a cab, smashed in the room in the middle of the night, and wrecked everything worse than I think I saw the whole time I was in Basic, all because they got wasted with a stranger and thought it’d be funny.”
Only An Analogy They Would Understand
“I enlisted in 1993, just three days after graduation from high school. I was 11B, an Infantryman. I ended up going to basic training at Fort Benning, in the unbearable Georgia heat.
Our senior Drill Sergeant (DS) was an SFC (Sergeant first-class) Morales. He was 6’6″, skinny, wore some 70’s style aviator glasses, had these old indecipherable tattoos up and down both arms, Hispanic, was missing a bunch of teeth, had a voice like gravel, a laugh like glass breaking, and a Boston accent. And more importantly, he loved messing with us.
He never addressed us as men or soldiers. We were always referred to as idiots, morons, and pricks. Often times a combination of two or all three. He would say something like this, ‘What do you want, moron prick?’
In the army, we have this ambiguous word, Hooah (I always pronounced it as who-ah). It can mean pretty much anything but DS Morales would mostly use it at the end of a question to confirm our acknowledgment. The exchange between DS Morales and a trainee would go something like this:
DS Morales: ‘Alright idiot, you will engage the 50-meter target until I tell you to ceasefire. Hooah?’
Me: ‘Hooah, Drill Sergeant.’
DS Morales (with Boston accent): ‘You calling me a who-ah?’
He did that constantly.
Another time we, the trainees were sitting in a semi-circle getting some instructions read to us from a manual by DS Morales while another Drill Sergeant was demonstrating the actions being read. After a few moments, the one doing the demonstration walked up to DS Morales and told him he was reading it wrong and tried to snatch the manual out of his hands.
DS Morales threw the manual on the ground, did a knife hand to the other, and said, ‘I’M HANDLING THIS CHICKEN. YOU’RE JUST HOLDING THE WINGS.’
We sat there in stunned silence trying to interpret yet another Army euphemism while the Drill Sergeant that got knife handed went back to his place in the demonstration circle.”
“I Will Drown You In Your Own Sweat!”
“We were almost halfway through at the time, and we were getting smoked in our platoon bay at Fort Leonard Wood. We were in a smallish room, barely enough space for everyone, in the front doing push-ups on concrete walls and windows.
I can’t even remember why we were being punished, but we had been forced to do exercise after exercise, and at the time we were doing push-ups. It was late at night, I think it was during what (should have been) our 30 minutes of free time to shower and get ready for lights out.
Our Drill Sergeant (DS) just started going off, shouting, ‘PRIVATES, I WANT TO SEE THE CEILING SWEAT IN HERE. THE WINDOWS ARE STARTING TO SWEAT, THE WALLS WILL BE NEXT, AND I WANT THE CEILING TO START SWEATING SO I CAN TRAIN YOU WHILE IT RAINS. I WILL DROWN YOU IN YOUR OWN SWEAT!’
As she took a breath in to continue yelling, one kid, from the back of the room shouted, ‘From the windows to the walls!’
She died laughing on the spot. The only time any of our DS cracked like that in the entire cycle. The combination of tiredness and laughing meant half the platoon crashed into the floor. She walked out of the room laughing.
Came back and just said, ‘Go to bed, Privates.’
The Girliest Scream Ever
“I was in USAF (United States Air Force) Basic Training from November 2002 until the end of that December.
One of the TIs (Training Instructor) in a different flight in my squadron would do this thing where he’d want his flight to do ‘War Cries.’ We’d all be out in formations and this flight was all just screaming bloody murder for no reason.
At one point, a few weeks in this happened. I was an element leader, at the front of my formation and as they were yelling my TI and I locked eyes and smirked at each other.
My TI shouted, ‘Trainee Robywar, come here!’
I walked over and stood before him at attention.
He leaned into me and whispered, ‘I will ask you loudly to give me a war cry. I want the wimpiest, girliest shout you can muster.’
I smiled and nodded.
He shouted, ‘Trainee Robywar, let me hear your war cry!’
‘Uhhhhhahhhhooooo!’ I shouted, letting my voice crack and waiver.
He nodded and smiled and I returned to my formation. The war cries stopped the rest of the time I was in basic.”
“One of the first days in basic, a guy in my platoon was standing at attention while having his room inspected by the instructor.
It didn’t matter how nice his room was because there was a large piece of fuzz/fluff on his shirt that immediately drew the sergeant’s attention.
Imagine a French-Canadian female sergeant with this accent shouting, ‘Recruit Bloggins! What is that on your shirt?! Is that a fluffy!?’
He shouted, ‘Yes, sergeant!’
She shouted, ‘Why is there a fluffy on your shirt Bloggins!?’
He shouted ‘I must have missed it, sergeant!’
She shouted, ‘Missed it? It is so huge, how did you miss such a big fluffy!?’
She picked it off of him and shouted, ‘Hold out your hand!’
He held out his hand and she placed it in his palm and shouted, ‘This is Mr. Fluffy. Find a home for him, like a pill bottle or something. From now on, whenever I want to see Mr. Fluffy, you must bring him to me.’
And so, for the rest of basic, every time the sergeant found a piece of fuzz she would yell out, ‘MR. FLUFFY!’ And Bloggins would have to march over to her and present Mr. Fluffy and she would formally hand him the new piece of fuzz to add to Mr. Fluffy. There was chaos if he didn’t have Mr. Fluffy with him at all times.”
Pine Cone Incident
“So, I was at Basic in Fort Benning, and we were zeroing our weapons as a company. ‘Zeroing a weapon’ is when you ensure it shoots where you want it to by shooting a paper target repeatedly. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, I am a terrible shot. I know this. Everyone knows this. However, I get even worse when I’m being screamed at. I spent hours on the line until, finally, there were only four of us cats who hadn’t gotten a ‘go’ in the whole company. We had three more hours of range time, and if we failed to zero, we’d be ‘recycled.’
‘Recycled’ entails having to revert to another company earlier along in Basic Training. So, not only do you lose your buddies, but you catch a couple of extra weeks of training with a unit that knows you’re a knucklehead of some sort. So, a fate worse than death.
After another unsuccessful grouping, my Drill Sergeant, without a word, picked me up from the prone position and stood me up.
He looked at me and said, ‘Go find me a pine cone.’
Confused, I took four steps, scooped up a pine cone, and took it back to him.
I presented him my findings, and he responded, ‘Private, that’s not my pine cone. Go find me my freakin’ pine cone!’
Keep in mind, this is a forest in Georgia, there’s a ton of pine cones. So I jogged off and worked on my ‘mission.’ This entire time, my DS (Drill Sergeant) was shooting all my rounds off, genuinely enjoying himself. Every pine cone I brought to him was not his pine cone. This continued for about 15 minutes while the rest of the company, sitting in a clearing and eating MREs (meals ready to eat, or in other words, military food), cheered me on.
Finally, I breathlessly ran up and handed him another pine cone, about to jog off to grab another.
He looked at me, then the pine cone, then me again, and yelled, ‘STEVE! You found Steve, private!’
I kid you not, I had never been more relieved in my entire life until his face scrunched into a grimace.
He said, ‘Wait, private, where’s his family? WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND TAKES A PINE CONE AWAY FROM HIS FAMILY!?’
So, terrified, I spent around half an hour scavenging for appropriate-sized pine cones, while he fired maniacally. Eventually, I hunted down his ‘wife’ and his two ‘kids.’ At one point, I brought Steve’s estranged son, Dennis, and I needed to do push-ups for causing Steve’s emotional duress.
Anyway, he let me fire after I propped up the family to ‘cheer me on.’ I went prone, and I zeroed on the first iteration.
He picked me up again, cracked the only smile I ever saw from him, and said, ‘It was all in your head, you dumb prick. Good job. Now go do push-ups till I’m tired.’
He also had me write my congressman later that day to apologize for wasting taxpayer money on bullets.
Fort Benning, never again.”
“We were all on the line on Parris Island and we had to take out our ink sticks (pens). One recruit in the entire platoon didn’t move. When the Drill Instructor (DI) asked why he didn’t move, the recruit said his ink stick was in his footlocker. The Drill Instructor made the recruit walk over to his footlocker, bring it back to the line, and ‘shake that thing until an ink stick falls out.’
The footlocker was closed and he was just standing there shaking it for about eight minutes or so, while the DI just kept yelling, ‘FASTER! I WANT A DARN INK STICK!’
The recruit directly across the line from the kid shaking the footlocker took out an extra ink stick, waited for the DI to turn his head, and slid that thing across the deck, between the Drill Instructors legs. By the grace of God, it landed perfectly under the footlocker. The DI didn’t notice.
The next 15 seconds went along the lines of, ‘FASTER! FREAKIN FASTER! FASTER! FA- well I’ll be darn.’
As soon as he saw the ink stick, he walked away.”
“In OCS (Officer Candidate School) we had to man a fire watch post at the front of the squad bay where a candidate would stand behind two stacked footlockers and greet sergeant instructors coming on deck with a short spiel, ‘Good morning/evening, rank/name, x candidates accounted for, all is well.’
One night about two weeks in, there were a lot of sergeant instructors walking past to go into the hut. The candidate that happened to have that shift kept messing it up, just couldn’t get it right. We heard the hut erupt in laughter and a few seconds later an SI (Skill Identifier) stepped out and told the candidate not to worry about getting the spiel right, he got an easier one for him to remember. He said he would be using this line a lot more in his career anyway.
The new spiel was, ‘Good evening, rank/name, welcome to McDonald’s, can I take your order?’
He had to use that for the rest of the cycle.”
He Had To Choose Between Keeping His Banana Or Snitching
“I was walking by the snake pit when I was stopped by another MTI (Military Training Instructor) who asked if my TI (Training Instructor) cursed at us. I answered no as they technically aren’t supposed to, but they still do. The MTI then grabbed a banana off my plate and said if I wanted it back, I had to answer truthfully. Food being a luxury and I do love my bananas, I answered yes and he sent me on my way.
Later that day in the dayroom, my MTI came busting in, ‘Which one of you pricks sold me out for a freakin’ banana?!'”
“Run, Morons, Run!”
“We were marching back from our mock PT (physical training) test and the tornado sirens began to go off. We were at a Navy boot camp in Illinois. When we looked to our right, we saw a tornado forming a couple of football fields away in the middle of the base.
Our RDC (Recruit Division Commander), who was already irritated by our failure to line up in time, started yelling, ‘RUN, MORONS, RUN!’
And two whole divisions of about 180 people broke formation and began to run to our barracks for our lives. At the time it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, but in hindsight, it was actually pretty funny because the RDC caught a lot of backlash from other RDCs for doing that.
He would explain to us, ‘What the heck was I supposed to do? Keep you jagoffs in rank? Am I supposed to tell you, oh no stay in formation! Keep marching! Heck no, I’m not trying to die in this dump.'”
“We had a Drill Sergeant Candidate shadowing a few of the Drill Sergeants. Our first sergeant instructed him to yell at the CQ (charge of quarters) desk until he came back. There were trainees at the desk, but he was not to engage them. He was to yell at the desk itself. And it lasted an hour. It was glorious.
The crescendo of his tirade of insults was when he started negatively commenting on the type of wood the desk was made out of.
He yelled, ‘I bet you’re not even oak. You’re probably just pine. Stupid, worthless pine.’
He then inspected the desk more closely and yelled, ‘FREAKIN PLYWOOD?! This dimwit brings PLYWOOD into MY training area?!’
He was insulting the lineage of a desk.
All of us were literally on the ground laughing by that point. To his immense credit, he never once broke a smile, laughed, or repeated an insult during the entire hour or so that this was going on. Funniest thing I have ever seen in my life.”