by Meg Flanagan
Your loved one is off to join the military. As they head to basic training, often called “boot camp,” you’ll need to do a little learning of your own. Welcome to your new role as a military-connected family member!
Let’s walk through everything you need to know so you can be ready, prepared, and able to support your new service member, no matter what branch of the military they’re joining or where they’re attending basic training.
1. The truth about communication during boot camp
I absolutely dislike sharing this news but I’ll do it fast: Your loved one will not be contacting you frequently during basic training.
There it is: the hard truth.
Your military recruit is going to be spending almost every waking second engaged in hard physical and mental training. They will wake before dawn and stumble back to their bunk well after dark. Their eyes will close before their head hits the pillow.
There will, frankly, not be a ton of time for writing letters.
And it’s not just writing letters your future Marine, sailor, soldier, airman, or guardian won’t have time for. They also will not have phone or internet access. That means that phone calls, texts, and emails will not happen during your loved one’s time in basic training.
Take a moment and sit with this idea.
However, no news truly is good news. If you aren’t being contacted by their training officers, then your military recruit is probably fine (perhaps a little leaner and meaner (with some scrapes and bruises) than when you last saw them, but overall fine). You will get calls and other communication is when you person is injured or in danger.
2. Your loved one will get one phone call
Upon arrival at basic training, your loved one will be able to call you for just a few minutes. Everyone in their in-processing group will be making this same call, so it truly will only be a very brief call.
On the date that you anticipate your loved one will be arriving at boot camp, have your phone handy and be ready to pick up unknown numbers. Today’s technology makes getting this call easier. In the past, before cell phones, families would need to wait by their house phone for the call.
During the very brief call, your loved one will be sharing that they have arrived safely. That’s it. It’s not the time to pass the phone around to every family member. Acknowledge their arrival, send your love, and wish them luck.
3. Use official channels for news and support
There are many, many ways to get reliable news about and from your military loved one. The best option right now is to follow their unit or base social media channels. Always follow the official social media profiles and feeds, not family-created ones.
The information that is shared on the official feeds is, well, official. Its vetted by the chain of command and pushed out by the public relations or communications staff. This info is safe, meaning it doesn’t share classified data or troop movements.
Unofficial channels are great for behind the scenes stuff. Things you can only ask another (fill in connection to military service member here). There are plenty of parent, spouse and significant other groups, list servs and websites. However, these are not sharing officially real info. Everything there is based on individual experience.
If your loved one needs help of any kind (medical, transportation, financial, food, mental, whatever), there are official military-connected options. All branches of services have financial loan options. Most units will band together to help provide transportation, whether its to work or home from a bar. There is food support and assistance available through the chow halls or government run programs. Your loved one is covered by the military for all medical expenses. Their housing is provided by the military, either in the barracks or through BAH allotments in private housing.
There is almost zero need to contact or use the services of “supporters” beyond the options provided by and through the military. No one outside the military can provide real, reliable information about your service member. There is almost zero need for the types of supports or services they are claiming to provide either.
4. The military’s basic training takes time
Joining the military is not like getting any other job. Training is intense and takes time. Each branch of service has their own schedule for basic training and each one takes a different amount of time, according to military.com.
- Army basic training takes 10 weeks
- Marine Corps basic training takes 12 weeks
- Navy basic training takes 7-9 weeks
- Air Force basic training takes 8.5 weeks
- Coast Guard basic training takes 8 weeks
This may be the longest that your military recruit has been away from home (and from you). That’s okay. It’s all part of the process.
5. The military takes care of new recruits’ basic needs
Your loved one will need to take very little with them to basic training. Honestly. Their chosen branch of military service will provide them with very strict packing guidelines. Generally, they’ll need to take:
- change of clothes
- prescription glasses
- prescription medication
- Social Security card
- other personal documentation: driver’s license, birth certificate, etc.
- whatever else they have been specifically told to pack for basic training
Your person will be given everything they need. Everything. Underwear, clothes, shoes, socks. Anything your loved one arrives with will be stored for them and returned upon completion of their training cycle.
6. Send letters, not care packages during basic training
As a military family member, you’ve likely heard all about care packages and how amazing they are, how much service members love receiving these boxes.
There is an exception: boot camp.
At basic training, care packages are not allowed. That’s right. They’re forbidden.
That means you need to pay attention to the rules. They apply to you. Don’t think you’ll get around the rules. Make it easy on your military recruit and follow all basic training rules.
Why can’t you send a care package to boot camp? Your loved one needs to be 100% mission-focused. Everything is very strictly controlled during basic training, even what they eat and drink. Sending care packages, including food-based items, could disrupt the training cycle.
Instead, send upbeat, loving, and positive letters. Some ideas:
- cards for special occasions like birthdays and holidays
- newspaper clippings for favorite sports teams
- G-rated photos (don’t even think about sending sexy photos of yourself or others)
- small diversions like comic strips or crosswords, mazes, etc. that can fit in a letter
Keep things light and cheerful. Remember, you’re trying to help your loved one power through a very challenging few months. They will be tired, physically exhausted, and mentally drained. Any distraction could impact their training. You want to be a support system to them, not another obstacle making like more difficult than it already is.
You will receive your loved one’s mailing address approximately one week after they arrive at basic training. This will be communicated to you via official mail or from their recruiting station.
7. Boot camp graduation is truly a celebration
Graduating from basic training is a big deal! It signifies your person’s full acceptance into their branch of service and is Day One on the job. The graduation ceremony itself will be full of pomp and formality. Look for communication from your loved one about:
- dress code
- attendance options
- ticketing requirements
Be prepared to enjoy this ceremony in any weather, rain or shine. Pack appropriate clothing with you for the season and location. And comfortable shoes, too. There’s a lot of sitting and standing, so being comfortable is key.
After graduation, your loved one will likely get a few days leave. There may be stipulations about that leave. For example: it must be local or it must be to their home of record. Or there could be no stipulations. Be sure to triple check the rules about where your person can go on leave and then follow them stringently.
On leave, relax and enjoy the time together. It will go by quickly and your loved one will report back for additional training and to truly begin the rest of their military career.
Following post-basic training leave, your loved one will travel to a different location to continue their military training. This next phase of training will be job-specific. Each military job requires specialized training. Your loved one will choose or be assigned their job at basic training based on a variety of factors. Some recruits enter basic training already knowing their job.
After their next phase of training, there may be more training or they may report to their first duty station. It will depend on the branch of service your loved one is in and their career path within the military.
8. Get used to a new normal
After all of the initial job training is complete, your loved one will be going to their new “home.” Their first duty station is where they will live and work for at least the next several years.
The home they lived in prior to the military may become their home of record, or legal address for tax and voting purposes, but they will no longer live there. Their old home will be where they might return for vacations (AKA “leave”). But now, the military decides where they live and how often they move.
Your loved one will likely deploy, or leave their duty station to complete a military mission. This deployment could send them anywhere in the world for 2 to 18 months. The time, purpose, and location varies based on your loved one’s job and unit assignment.
After deployment, they will return to their “home” duty station. They will not return home, to the place they lived before joining the service. The end of deployment does not signal the end of their military contract.
Again, welcome to the military-connected family! We’re sure glad you’re here!
- What to Expect When Your Loved One Joins the Marines
- 27 Great Gifts for Your New Boot Camp Graduate
- 11 Amazing Military Graduation Gifts They’re Guaranteed to Enjoy
Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!