Power said claims of being among the last “old-school” basic trainees has traditionally been a matter of pride, a matter of jest, among Soldiers. But when they take it seriously, or the media takes it out of context, the facts get distorted or simply ignored.
“Standards change, they always have,” he said. “When I took my first PT test in 1984, we used the old three-event standard; push-ups 68, sit-ups 69 and the 2-mile run, 13.07. Two years later, the standards increased. It got tougher. So you want to talk about ‘back in the day?’ How far back do you really want to go?”
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Gaskin, a 29-year-old combat veteran, and a drill sergeant from 3 Bn., 47th Inf., Reg., said it’s the new Soldiers who ultimately pay for the spread of misinformation.
“They come here expecting summer camp, because that’s what they’ve heard. The first couple of weeks are a culture shock,” he said. “I say to anybody who thinks basic training is soft, raise your right hand, come on out and check it out for yourself.”
Gaskin insists basic training is actually “150 percent tougher” than it was when he attended 11 years ago. Back then, he said, training included a form of hazing Soldiers commonly call “smoking.” According to Gaskin, this is unnecessary.
“Now we’re producing fit Soldiers who are ready for combat,” he said, “because they’ve trained with body armor, they’re geared up constantly, constantly doing battle drills and urban operations training and the kind of first-aid training that will actually save lives on the battle field, not the band-aid approach I learned in basic.
“Soldiers today will graduate knowing the kinds of things I didn’t learn till I got to my first duty station, and then some of it, I didn’t know a year later,” said Gaskin, who has been a drill sergeant for nearly a year. “I told myself it would never be that way if I was responsible for training. The worst thing that could happen to me is to know I had a Soldier here for nine weeks and he goes off to combat and something happens to him because of lack of training.”
Today, most drill sergeants have direct combat experience. Gaskin believes the year he spent in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division makes him a better drill sergeant. Sgt. 1st Class McKinley Parker agrees. The 37-year-old Parker spent a year in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division.
“The most common question they ask is about Iraq – what’s it like. They want to know, and since we were there, we can tell them and drive home the point that they better pay attention to their training, because we were there and we know it’s relevant,” Parker said.
“We do something now that they didn’t do when I was in basic training,” he said. “We have a question and answer time at the end of the day. When I was in basic, you didn’t talk to drill sergeants. That’s changed. We have to be approachable, because you don’t want these guys to have to ask questions when they get to Iraq. Then it’s too late.”
New recruits have also gone from three to 21 days of field training and begin weapons immersion on day three of basic training. They’re taught IED (Improvised Explosive Device) detection skills, participate in convoy live-fire exercises and have the most up-to-date equipment.
Gen. William Wallace, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, pointed out, “We now recognize that with the pace the operational Army is going today, we need to produce new Soldiers who on arrival at their first units are capable of making immediate contributions because they’re being asked to.”
Nay-sayers should listen to Pvt. David Robertson. The 39-year-old retired firefighter reenlisted in the Army after an 18-year break in service. During an interview with the Fort Benning Bayonet, six weeks before his Sept. 28 graduation from 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, Robertson spoke about the differences in basic training then and now.
“Drill sergeants are a lot more caring now,” he said. “You can tell they really care about their Soldiers and they’re genuinely concerned about preparing us for combat.
“They don’t carry on like they did when I went (to basic training) the first time,” Robertson said, “but I think I’m getting a lot better training with weapons and drills and all.”