FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 14, 2018) -- Every year, 18,000 recruits come to Fort Sill to attend the 10-week Basic Combat Training (BCT) course to become Soldiers.
This includes high school students in programs where they will return to their schools for their senior year; trainees who have served in other military branches, as well as trainees with college degrees who have been selected to attend Officer Candidate School.
Upon completion of BCT and subsequent job-specific training, the new Soldiers will fill ranks in the regular Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard.
Drill sergeants greet arriving recruits at the Fort Sill gates and shuttle them to the 95th Adjutant Battalion (Reception) for in-processing, said Fort Sill Drill Sergeant of the Year (Staff Sgt.) Michael Hnat.
For the next four to seven days, they receive haircuts, shots, uniforms; eye, dental, and medical examinations; and complete administrative paperwork.
Then between 180 and 250 recruits, still at the 95th, will be assigned to a battery in one of the 434th Field Artillery Brigade's four BCT battalions: 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery (FA); 1-31st FA; 1-40th FA; or 1-79th FA.
Most recruits here go into field artillery (13 series), or air defense artillery (14 series) Military Occupational Specialties. But a large number of them also will become combat medics after completing advanced individual training (AIT) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Hnat said.
BCT is broken into three phases of about three weeks each: Red, White, and Blue.
The first day of BCT, or Day 0, the recruits meet the battery command team of about 12 drill sergeants, the battery first sergeant, and the battery commander, who holds the rank of captain. They receive an overview of what their next nine weeks will consist of.
Capt. Jean Tomte, D Battery, 1-79th FA commander, said he tells the trainees that they are becoming a member of a time-honored team that is bigger than themselves, and that they must earn a spot on the team.
"I stress that they are going to be challenged like never before; however, every challenge faced will bring a sense of accomplishment," Tomte said. "I urge them to remain focused on their goals, and to picture themselves shaking my hand at graduation -- the day they become a Soldier."
Trainees also get to hear from their drill sergeants about their own personal experiences of when they went through BCT, and what it takes to succeed.
"It puts the trainees at ease, letting them know we've all been through it," Hnat said.
The trainees also get to meet the battalion command team.
One of the first team-building events is the Teamwork Development Course (TDC). Here, groups of about 15 trainees have to work together to cross a variety of obstacles, such as using planks to cross a "stream," and under a time limit.
There is also a lot of classroom instruction, including land navigation; Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) defense; Physical Readiness Training; Sexual Harrassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, and Master Resiliency Training. MRT covers dealing with stress, and teaches coping skills.
Toward the end of Red Phase, trainees tackle another obstacle course, Treadwell Tower.
Rappelling the 40-foot Treadwell Tower builds their confidence, instills discipline in them, and also teaches them about proper care of military equipment, Hnat said.
Also, at Treadwell they learn to secure a harness (Swiss seat); how to scale walls, and cross rope bridges.
Building upon their training, recruits perform hands-on training in their second and third weeks with land navigation; and CBRNE, where they go into a gas chamber wearing protective gear.
Trainees go to a grueling obstacle course through a series of events that includes rope climbing, hurdling, balancing, running, jumping, and a zip line.
Drill sergeants instruct the majority of training, but specialized training like CBRNE uses chemical specialists. And, infantry Soldiers will assist with running the obstacle courses, and some of the ranges, Hnat said.
Trainees perform their first Field Training Exercise or FTX. It lasts 24 hours and covers fighting positions, and reacting to ambushes and small arms fire.
Trainees perform numerous ruck marches as they walk with packs weighing up to 35 pounds, which may include a change of clothes, food rations, and foul-weather gear.
Toward the end of Red Phase, trainees are introduced to M-16 rifle or M-4 carbine marksmanship. They go to a 25-meter range to learn to zero, or set the iron sights on their weapon.
At the Engagement Skills Trainer they fire electronic M-16s at virtual targets as they get familiar with the weapon. And at live ranges, they will fire at 300-meter targets, and pop-up targets.
In subsequent phases they learn to use the grenade launcher, and M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun.
During White Phase, the trainees experience their second FTX. It's longer than the first FTX, they live in the field, and use their land navigation skills, as well as tactical training. The FTX is conducted near a mock village and covers infantry tactics, and some urban operations.
Each phase builds upon the previous, emphasizing Army Values and Ethos as well as warrior tasks and battle drills - the skills needed to survive in combat. Warrior tasks are individual Soldier skills critical to survival; battle drills are team skills designed to ensure a unit correctly reacts and survives in combat.
It's during Blue Phase that trainees learn combatives, or hand-to-hand fighting techniques. They also compete in a pugil sticks tournament to build esprit de corps. Then trainees complete another obstacle course.
During weeks seven and eight, trainees receive transfer orders for their AIT schools, or their next duty station.
The final FTX is over two nights and trainees are evaluated on everything they've learned in BCT.
"They also do the night-time infiltration course where they are low-crawling under livefire from machine guns," Hnat said.
After FTX 3, trainees go through a Rite of Passage ceremony. They recite creeds, and drink non-alcoholic grog, and for the first time put on their Army beret, symbolizing that they are now Soldiers.
But it's not over yet.
They must go through a Period 4 inspection which is conducted by their battalion commander.
"Their uniforms and all their equipment are inspected," Hnat said.
One day before graduation is Family Day. During a ceremony, families and relatives get to see what their Soldiers learned during BCT. The Soldiers are then temporarily released to spend some time with their families.
The next day is graduation at Cache Creek Chapel where all the graduating Soldiers in the battery are recognized, as well as their drill sergeants.