The extent of my military basic training knowledge I learned from the film Full Metal Jacket. That was enough to turn me off from the whole idea. These boot camp stories, told by the soldiers/sailors who lived them, have not changed my mind at all in that regard, but they are very entertaining.

1. The Pinecone Incident

I was at Basic in Fort Benning, and we were zero'ing our weapons as a company. Zero'ing a weapon is when you ensure it shoots where you want it to by shooting a paper target repeatedly. Now, I am a terrible shot. 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 reverted to another company earlier along in Basic Training. So, not only do you lose your buddies, but you catch a couple extra weeks of training with a unit that knows you’re a shitbird of some sort.

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 pinecone 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 fucking pine cone!” Keep in mind, this is a forest in Georgia, there’s a metric shit ton of pinecones. So I jog off and work on my “mission.” Every pinecone I bring to him is not his pine cone. This continued for about 15 minutes while the rest of the company, sitting in a clearing eating MREs, cheered me on.

Finally, I breathlessly run up and hand him another pinecone, about to jog off to grab another. He looks at me, then the pinecone, then me. “STEVE!” he yells “You found Steve, private!” I shit you not, I had never been more relieved in my entire life, until his face scrunched into a grimace. “Wait, private, where’s his family? … WHO THE FUCK TAKES A PINECONE AWAY FROM HIS FAMILY!?” So, terrified, I spend around half an hour scavenging for appropriate sized pinecones, while he fires maniacally. Eventually, I hunt 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 “emotional duress.”) Anyway he lets me fire (after I prop up the family to “cheer me on”), I go prone, and I zero on the first iteration. He picks me up again, cracks the only smile I ever saw from him, and says, “It was all in your head, you dumb fuck. 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.

2. Party In The USO

Now, for the army at least, one of the first “hardcore” tasks you get in training is being sent to the gas chamber. Think a concrete box filled with “Ow, goddamnit it’s in my eyes!” So, we march into the suck square, and they close the doors. We rip our masks off and breath in that sweet hookah from hell. After an existential crisis, and rethinking some life decisions (about five minutes total), everyone is looking 31 flavors of fucked up. This shit burns your eyes, your nose, and especially your lungs - like you deep-throated Satan’s member against your will. Anyway, everyone’s puking, or crying, and they finally opened the doors to get out, so we stumble out. To dissipate the effects, you enter a large clearing, and walk in a circle for a few minutes, with your weapon in one hand, your mask in the other. In the middle of this circle is a raised platform where a drill sergeant will perch, making sure we don’t die. However, as we burst from the chamber, we heard a voice from the platform. “Hey privates, this is your fucking shit!” He proceeded to blast Miley Cyrus’ beloved “Party in the USA” over a loud speaker, dancing the whole time, while a group of vomit-encrusted, grown-ass men walked around him crying. It was like the strangest religious ceremony of all time.

3. Use The (Air) Force

Brother was in basic. He was in the chow hall and witnessed a TI (authority figure) call out someone who had placed their flashlight in their belt. I guess you’re not supposed to do that. So the TI lights him up, “Is that where you keep your fucking flashlight?! Is it a fucking light saber Luke?!” He made him stand at the end of two cafeteria lines, holding his flashlight like a light saber and striking dead the airmen that were leaving the two lines. At one point, there was a lull in traffic and the TI screams, "OH, SO FUCKING LIGHT SABERS DONT MAKE NOISE WHEN THEYRE MOTIONLESS”? So old buddy has to make the “bzzzzzhmmmm” noise as he waits for his next victim.

4. The Shouting Match

After breakfast we headed back up to the compartment to get ready for the day. AROC yelled, “Port side 5 minute pump and dump.” I whispered to my bunk mate, “I need a little more romance than that.” Chief overheard me somehow and got up in my face. I had to follow him to the head. Then stand in front of the mirror point at the mirror and say, “You’re an idiot.” Then point back at myself and then say, “No, I’m an idiot.” Forced to keep that up for 30 minutes.

5. You’re Not Special

One morning inspection our platoon Sgt. decided that the bed layout of the troop next to me was utter shit so the Sgt. flipped the mattress so hard it landed on my bunk covering my layout. So after the Sgt. finished reaming out the troop next to me he takes one look at my bunk and starts reaming me out because apparently I think I’m special and deserve two mattresses.

6. The Squirrel

We had to salute - every living being. Literally. So I’m walking back from a med appointment I had when a squirrel crosses my path. So I render a snappy salute and bark out a “Good morning, sir!” just as an officer is walking across the street from me. He ran across the street to investigate just who the hell I was saluting. I responded, “The squirrel, sir!” He said, “What the fuck?? You saluted a squirrel??? “Yes, sir!” “Who’s your company commander?” “Petty Officer Shanks, sir!” “Ok, move on dumbass. And stop saluting squirrels.”

7. Fly You Fools

Once we were drilling outside and a recruit wasn’t “sounding off” loud enough. Our DI saw a flock of birds chilling on top of a power line and told the recruit, “You obviously don’t practice yelling enough. Go yell ‘Fly, you fools’ at those birds until they fly away.” Recruit runs under the power line and starts screaming, “FLY!! FLY, YOU FOOLS!!” at the top of his lungs. Birds don’t budge. Some of them actually look down at the guy with obvious contempt. We continue to drill for another half-hour or so with that hapless recruit providing hilarious background noise.