Life lessons from basic training

Originally posted on April 14, 2014
As my birthday is coming up later this month, I get onto these kicks of nostalgia; of who I am, of where I’ve been, of where I’m heading….ya know, the whole “what I have done with my life so far, and what else will I be doing with it” idea. While unpacking some books from my recent remodeling efforts, I ran across my Air Force basic training “yearbook” (go fighting B090!) and realized that, while my time in the military had it’s ups and downs (as everything in life does), my time in basic training was absolutely an important and incredible experience for me. There is a lot of learning and growing up that can occur in a 6-8 week period of time when you are away from home, being in one of the most disciplined environments that you will ever be a part of. I’ve often thought that all high school graduates could benefit from at least going through basic training (if not going into the actual military).

So what did I learn in basic training? Here we go:

1). How to iron. Ok, so that may be a bit inaccurate….I’m sure I knew how to iron before that (although I’m sure as a teenager, I ascribed to purchasing clothing that required no ironing at all, or wearing clothing that maybe required ironing but just didn’t do it!) But this was hard-core ironing…kind of like the cross fit of ironing. You can fold your T-shirt in a 3″ square, and by golly, you’d better do it! (and then press an iron on it, flatten it out, and then wear 3 T-shirts at a time to avoid having to iron more than 2 at a time; you iron the 2, keep them in the drawer, and wear the rest or keep them in your laundry bag!) Ditto for folding your socks in exact thirds, and your underwear into militaristic origami.

2) How to be aware that the rules given in #1 mean nothing, but still follow them. So much these days, people don’t want to follow rules that they don’t agree with. Ya know what? You don’t agree with it, fine. You’re ONE person. You either disagree with it and follow it anyway, or you disagree with it, don’t follow it, and suffer the consequences. It’s pretty black and white in basic training; pull a 341 enough times (discipline form) and you learn what consequences are. Boundaries and rules that WILL be enforced is great training for the “real world”!

3) How to show respect for authority even if you don’t respect the person who IS that authority. Oh wow, is this a big one?! Yeah, authority and rule by degradation is not my idea of a good way of leadership (which is why I have left some jobs in the past….) However, that’s the way it is in basic training. And you just learn to deal with it, or else you’re pulling a bunch more 341′s! So yes, you do have no choice but to show respect for authority; you may or may not truly feel it, but you can be a good little soldier and show respect and even deference. Only you and your hairdresser will know the truth! 🙂

4) How to make a nice, tight bed. It’s really and truly that whole quarter-bouncing thing….you make your bed nice and tight, then slide in from the top while the bed is tightly made at night-time. In the morning, you reverse the process of sliding out the top (you already have your body trained to not move at night while sleeping!), then get on the floor under your cot and pull the sheet and blanket tight through the metal of the box spring (and make sure you have someone else sweep the dust bunnies off your back, just as you do for them).

5) How to walk. EVERYWHERE! And which leg really is your left leg.

6) How to share. Phone conversations were limited to 10 minutes a person; sure you could go overtime, but by doing that, you’d be screwing someone else out of their phone call. And that’s something you don’t want karmically coming back to you!

7) The importance of “snail mail”. There is NOTHING like mail call, either when you’re in basic training or active duty. Sure, today we have emails, texts, cell phone calls that can even be made from foreign countries (I remember paying close to $100 for an 18 minute phone call home from Korea in 1989). But there is something really special about getting a letter or card from someone, and knowing that to that person, for a period of time, YOU were in their heart and mind. I try still to send snail mail on a pretty regular basis, just because of the feeling it gave and gives me.

8) The importance of family. As a teenager, I was rather typical, and ready to be out and on my own. Once I was, and it was in basic training, it really reinforced to me exactly how much I adore and love and need my family; and how much I value them and how special and wonderful they are to me. All of these years later, I feel the same way, and I know in that respect, I am lucky.

9) Discipline. There were no “Oh, I don’t want to work so I’m calling in sick today” sick days in basic training! (or in the military in general, actually). You feel sick, you go to the infirmary, and THEY say whether you can work or not! You want to get the grades? Do the work, because there are no “make up assignments” or “extra credit”. And if you want that promotion, you do the leg work, you study, you improve yourself, and you EARN it!

10) And finally, being a decent person and doing your job well is it’s own reward. Reading through my basic training yearbook, I made friends with the majority of my squadron, despite being rather shy and introverted at the time. And I was a good friend, a good listener, a good helper. I volunteered for extra duty so that other people could get their needs met, and it came back to me over and over again. Today, the worker and the ethic I have with my job and my life was formed by my parents, and basic training. And for that, I’m forever grateful!

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