Friendship is one major key to finishing Basic Training
First of all, if you’re not in the Army or familiar with the term battle buddy, this is what it is defined as: A battle buddy is a partner assigned to a soldier in the United States Army. Each battle buddy is expected to assist his or her partner both in and out of combat. The concept of battle buddies is introduced to each service member upon arrival to Basic Training. Life as an individual disappears in the most uncomfortable, comforting way.
If you’re like me and you have multiple siblings, and you’ve lived a life where you’re almost never alone then this idea of “battle buddy” would irk you to the core, or at least I was. I was fresh out of my first semester of college when I was scheduled for basic training. With that being said, I went to college away from home and I didn’t have the luxury of a car. So, for the most part I was a lone ranger. It’s also notable that I was never a partier, drinker, smoker, or any of that sort and my boyfriend was fourteen hours away at college in another state. Due to all of the above reasons, my college days consisted of me roaming the campus, my desk job, and classes with not much in between. Battle buddies after months of alone time was a halt to my world of freedom.
If you want to make friends in the Army here’s my advice: talk. When I joined the National Guard, the friends I made surpassed the paycheck that I would get every month. Now I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that you’re going to be “buddy buddy” with everyone you meet, but you will find a pack in the beginning. And just like high school, your group of battle buddies changes like the shuffling of a deck of cards. The same group of people in the beginning might still be there in the end, or you might change your interests and end up in a different group.
I made new battle buddies in the strangest of places, in the weirdest ways. I remember my first battle buddy, she was red-headed and very bossy, but we were bunk mates in the phases of initial entry (reception) and screening before you actually go to your basic training company. Everywhere we went, outside of the barracks (building where we slept) if she was there I was an arm’s length away. It gave me a sense of accountability to her and myself, to know that if I was late, then she was late. Even if I was on time and she wasn’t there, we would both get punished for it. We would end up looking down at the cold, wet, South Carolina concrete in front leaning rest position with our arms peaking muscle failure. That front leaning rest position, that I soon became quite familiar with due to her, was the reason why that battle buddy relationship only lasted for a week.
I later on made more battle buddies as time went on. Males and females alike. I seemed drawn toward the comedians and dramatic people, after all, who doesn’t love a good laugh? These battle buddies created days filled with laughter when discipline was off the table. We shared letters from home and showed pictures to each other of what we looked like out of uniform. We told each other stories of our loved ones and bonded over this weird phenomenon where we would remember the lyric of a song but couldn’t remember the artist who sang it or the rest of the lyrics to the song. Because we were from all parts of the United States and some battle buddies were even from other countries, none of us could figure the songs out.
The importance of battle buddies is that they struggle with you. They’re not looking in from the outside. These battle buddies run morning runs together and complete twice daily work outs together. We stood together in freezing temperatures, in the cold rain at the position of attention for hours, in agony and in anger. We ran up the stairs to our bays, an open room that we slept in, after a long day, rushing to the hot showers before they turned cold. We braided each other’s hair, slicked back buns, and arched our eyebrows. All in hopes to cling to our small slice of femininity that the Army so graciously granted us. We bonded like we knew each other all our lives. We shared our past stories of trauma, cried, hugged, and often argued over the littlest things like siblings. But all in all, we loved each other, and we held on to our faith and hope to finish one of the most challenging obstacles of some of our lives.
One of the hardest parts about basic training is being away from your family and friends, away from the familiarity and comfort of being home. Trainees, soon to be soldiers, will often find battle buddies that remind them of their friends back home. I sat and read letters at night in the dark bays from my family as an overwhelming sense of love and sadness caused tears to fall on my wool green, Army-issued bed sheets. And these treasured letters felt like they were worth more than gold, to know that my family took the time out of their day to sit down and write a letter then mail it off. And if you didn’t already know, trainees aren’t allowed to have phones during training and if they do use their phones, it’s after they complete a phase of training, so three to four phone calls over a ten-week period.
Sadness and doubt often happens in the mind of trainees as we had to complete phases of training in order to continue on the path of graduation. Fireguard was conducted which is an hour shift at night walking around the bay and performing cleaning duties as if six hours of sleep isn’t already exhausting and rotated for everyone all week. Marksmanship and weapons qualifications have to be earned, which was extremely difficult for me in the beginning because I never held a weapon ever before in my life. The oh-so dreaded gas chamber was nerve wrecking because it made all the mucus membranes in your mouth and nose burn. Trainees also experience the fun of obstacle course competition and learn team skills.
Soon to be soldiers then learn how to throw grenades and maneuver through obstacles while firing their weapons alongside a battle buddy. We learned map reading, land navigation skills, tactical skills, combat skills, hand to hand fighting techniques and the list goes on. All of these events lead up to the final PT test, the APFT that gave a major disadvantage to females with some of the new events. Then finally complete rucks, mile marches with 50 lbs. backpacks with weapons in hand, and the last field event. This FTX consisted of a three-day execution of all the skills that trainees learned throughout training with real combat scenarios, ending with a final rest on graduation field. The next morning was the crowning of soldier berets, the placement of the U.S. Army patch on shoulders, and the tear-jerking proud moment of the Army strong anthem. Afterwards, soldiers feast on the best breakfast of basic training, while being served by their leaders and superiors. If we failed to complete any of these tasks or get physically injured, we were at risk being reset and starting training all over again or being pushed back to where we left off at an unfamiliar and new company.
For all these previously stated reasons, having a battle buddy to help you laugh or smile during this ten-week, time of uncertainty and challenges, means all the difference. Battle buddies continues to be an Army standard in all of training and it is important to ensure soldier safety and accountability. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now.
So, if you know someone who is starting their military career, write them letters in training, send their phone texts that they can read when they are allowed phone privileges. If you know someone who is currently in their military career, ask them to share a story with you about their battle buddies. I’m almost certain it will bring back memories and they won’t mind.