My Summer At Army Basic Combat Training


Stephon Spiegel (12th), Reporter

When people often ask “what did you do this summer” at the start of a high school year, I never expected to answer “graduated Army Basic Training.”


So let me rewind a bit. I enlisted in the U.S Army Reserve back in January of 2020 as a junior via the Split-Option Training Program. This program allowed me to split up my Basic Training and A.I.T (Advanced Individual Training: essentially school that trains me at my military occupational specialty) and join the Reserves at age 17 – going to Basic Combat Training in the summer leading up to senior year.


Here I was, May 26th, my ship date. I was incredibly nervous, mostly anticipation is the thing that strikes me, that fear of the unknown. It was time to finally embark on this journey that I had been best attempting to understand by watching endless videos on basic and doing push-ups to get prepared for the drill sergeant’s smokings. I am not going to kid myself and say I was in the best of shape, I was standing at 195lbs because I let myself go a bit after that winter. 


After a long day of flying and constant nerves, I made it to the USO at the airport in South Carolina with about 100 others awaiting for the bus to take us to the Reception Battalion at Fort Jackson to begin the process of becoming a soldier. I had gotten to the USO at about 12am and did not get to reception until about 4am. 


And boy it was going to be a long 24 hours.


I was impeccably nervous when arriving at the battalion, although the drill sergeants were not belligerently screaming, you knew to not stare at them and attempt to stay calm in their strong presence. I remember how nervous I was while filing my paperwork, trust me Reception is a lot of paperwork and WAITING, because others were getting chewed the hell out already. They messed up which Platoon I would be in so my processing got even more delayed. I will never forget how fast my heart was pulsing while getting my stuff issued to me that first morning. So after about 12 more hours me and 10 others finally got put into a platoon and housed in the barracks.


We all had been up for about 30 hours and holy hell I have never struggled to stay so awake in my life. I still had access to my phone while at my week stay at Reception, so I talked to people in the bay whenever I had the chance, as Reception is not Basic. Some “highlights” of week 0 were getting approximately 8 immunization shots, one COVID test, and waiting upwards of 8 hours to do some processing bit that took 30 minutes to get us through. Hurry up and wait is the classic expression.


Then came the night before training began, May 31st. I will never forget how much my mind was racing through the past, present, and future. I was beyond excited and scared.

What did not help come June 1st was the fact that I was the first guy on the bus when I arrived at the Echo Company, 360th Infantry Regiment for my 10 week stay. It was intense as Hell, I had to run about half a mile with my duffle bag to the company training area with my mask on. So come to me getting to the bay, I was sucking wind. I got put into 4th Platoon: “Vikings”, which in hindsight was the best possible Platoon for me to be stuck in.


My cadre were good NCOs (non-commissioned officer) of the army, my Senior Drill Sergeant particularly was very justified in his punishments to us and made each smoking a lesson rather than doing it for his amusement. Weeks 1 and 2 were particularly very boring after that initial run to the company. Since COVID was around we had to stay in our bay for 2 weeks and all we did daily was some light PT in the morning, clean, watch PowerPoints, and eat our meals at the designated time of day. This made the mental shift far more difficult as we had plenty of time to ponder about what we were missing.


Now let me introduce some of the people who I will be referring to in my ridiculous stories from Basic.

First, there was my bunkmate and battle buddy, Spoon. Spoon is a 17 year old split option Georgian who I got along with very well for being my bunkmate and I was very fortunate for that. He was a very sarcastic and funny man who absolutely LOVED playing pranks that sometimes grew tiresome.

Then there was Slater, he was from Iowa and was a sophomore in college. He was the butt of some running jokes in the bay, like him being the “culprit” of using an out-of-order toilet, but he was a very well-educated dude who also played guitar like me so we had a lot of common ground.

Lastly, there was my boy Valentin, who was a Puerto Rican bloke who offered a lot of humor to our little group with his sarcasm. He let me open up to him, as I felt very lonely at Basic, and I will forever appreciate his advice when I needed it.


Come week 3, the start of Red Phase, things started flying by. The first week consisted of the obstacle course Fit to Win, Victory Tower, Confidence Course and the Gas Chamber. Fit to Win was so damn fun, we all hyped each other up as we prepared to run through the obstacle course. Victory Tower initially scared me so much, as I would be repelling down a 40ft tower, but as soon as I took my first jump, I had a blast. The Gas Chamber – I was so nervous for this event – but luckily, I did not have to breathe it in. We were finally issued our M-4 Carbines, we all named our carbines, I named mine “Josie” after the Blink-182 song.  I used to comfort myself with its hook of “I know that everything, everything’s gonna be fine”. Ruck marches finally began, which is marching with a 50+lb backpack, these initially were tough, but learning to pack it right and just overall having mental resilience helped me.  


The next few weeks we began our White Phase, which consisted entirely of marksmanship with my rifle. I remember being so pissed shooting with iron sights because it took me 5 tries to zero and group to even begin the qualification process. Days at the range took forever as you only shot about 2 times a day and spent the rest of the day waiting and waiting and waiting. Mentally I felt fine, just very focused on the end game of graduating and waiting for people back home. I daydreamed a lot to get through and the very few letters I received helped alleviate my loneliness. The only other highlight of White Phase was our second field exercise, The Anvil, which really mentally fatigued me with the South Carolina humidity cooking me. Lets just say, it also made me very, very appreciative of everyday commodities such as a shower and toilet – ha.


Blue Phase was the culmination of our training, where the most fun events occurred. I got to throw a live grenade, which surprisingly did not stress me out. We did our final marksmanship test with our red-dot sights and I earned the shooting medal of Expert, which I earned through shooting 38/40 on the range. We also did a buddy-team-live-fire event in which we shot live rounds while going down a path in which we practiced our individual moving techniques. The phase was culminated by the final field exercise, the Forge. We marched 12 miles with our rucks, at that point it did not phase me. I kept my pace since our platoon was leading and I stayed in the front of the formation the whole way.

The Forge held some pretty fun events. I got to hop out of a trench at night and crawl under live fire. It was crazy, as a flare shot in the sky and the whole field was lit-up by an orange light with all of our silhouettes. I got some burns on the inside of my knees from the friction of them rubbing against the sand. We also got to shoot at night, which felt very fast due to me being absolutely tired. 


Now let me get to the meat of my experience, the bay life and the drill sergeants.

My platoon was a rowdy one from the get go, in fact our whole company was. The whole company was composed of people like me, 17 year olds in high school who were split options. Picture in your mind what 40 seventeen year olds living together was like. 


Me, Slater, Spoon, and Valentin often clowned around with each other. Spoon would often take people’s things and write his name on it with PERMANENT marker. Let’s just say it was funny when you were not his victim haha. Spoon also had his wall locker messed up, so instead of unlocking the padlock he could just pull it open with brute force. We dubbed this “the fridge”. 


Slater was the butt of a lot of jokes; an out of order toilet within our platoon became known within the whole company – at his expense.  One particular event that made me laugh a lot pertaining to him was that a drill sergeant asked him why he was moving his head around since we were parade rest instead of at ease – but you have to adapt you know – and he replied with, “I was under the impression we were at at ease”. As usual, the drill sergeant made him push, and I was next to him attempting to hold in laughter. 


Every night we would have a “council” meeting where we just chilled at me and Spoons’ bunk and just talked about stuff, they particularly helped me in a confusing situation I was in. Especially Valentin, he offered a very matter-of-fact opinion on the situation, which in hindsight I should have listened to. 

  Me and Spoon developed a lot of lingo that went through the platoon, particularly this one term: Next Guy Problem – basically putting the workload/issue onto the next guy so they get the brunt of the situation.


The biggest “Next Guy Problem” that occurred was during our fireguard shift before the final field exercise, The Forge, in which the platoon thought of the great idea of a fight night in the bay. Lo and behold someone got their shoulder dislocated and they all attempted to pop it back in place, Spoon and I both looked at eachother, said the line, and got back into our night clothes to avoid getting the blame. 


We got smoked a lot. And I mean a lot. During Red Phase we got the worst smoking, we were sent to our PT pit midday, with the sun beating down on us and we were physically punished for about 40 minutes straight. I lost a lot of water weight from that experience. We were awoken plenty of times in the night due to the Fire Guard not being on point and Drills catching them not being correct. I remember rushing off my top bunk often and even witnessed someone straight up roll off their top bunk.

Some smokings were a combination of mental and physical wear.  One Sunday our platoon acted up SO BADLY that we had to stand at the position at attention for five – yes FIVE – hours straight with our rifles. Let’s just say I learned I had a lot of patience in those five hours with the sun beating down onto me trying not to lock my knees from standing so long.

Anyway, I made it through and graduation week was a blessing. We got a “buddy day” where we could go around base and Spoon and I immediately ventured to Popeyes and I ate myself a good chicken sandwich. After the graduation ceremony, us Split Options left immediately. I managed to slip a goodbye to Slater and Valentin. Then I began my trek home.


Two Plane rides, a 16 hour layover in Denver, and a two hour drive later, I was home. 20lbs lighter and bald. I made it home a soldier. In the words of the song that most played in my head, Black Flag’s “Rise Above”, I rose above.


 Now next summer I will be getting trained at my MOS (military occupational specialty) in Texas for my AIT (advanced individual training).


I faced a lot of things that would break people, now I know I have a mental resilience I did not know I had. To my friends that sent me letters and supported me: thank you for helping me not feel as lonely at Basic. Big shout-out to the NCOs at my recruiting station. Final shout out to the teachers who supported me when I galavanted my enlistment way back in January.


If you are interested in more information on the Split Option Program or my experience feel free to contact me:

Email: [email protected]

Instagram: @steph.untitled