Book Review: The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook

One month after September 11, 2001, Michael Volkin enlisted into the Army Reserves. According to him, he left home "without an ounce of military knowledge", but he took notes on everything he did and saw during BCT. After graduating, he also picked the brains of his fellow soldiers - what did they do to get through BCT, how did they adapt, what do they wish they knew going in? With this information he assembled The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook, with the goal that no other soldier should have to go through BCT without an idea of what to expect. Let's take a look at what this book offers, and if it fulfills his promise!

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: Drill Sergeants: The Mental Game
  • Chapter 2: Fitness
  • Chapter 3: Prepare Yourself Early
  • Chapter 4: Phases
  • Chapter 5: Reception
  • Chapter 6: Battle Buddies
  • Chapter 7: The Gas Chamber
  • Chapter 8: Schedule Breakdown
  • Chapter 9: Day 1
  • Chapter 10: Make the Most of Your Meals
  • Chapter 11: Dress Faster than Superman
  • Chapter 12: How to...
  • Chapter 13: Study Guide
  • Chapter 14: What do I Take with me to Basic Training?
  • Chapter 15: Top 15 Most Common "Do Not's" for Recruits
  • Chapter 16: Interview with a Drill Sergeant
  • Chapter 17: Tips for Success
  • Chapter 18: Changes
  • Chapter 19: Frequently Asked Questions

Chapter Breakdown

The first chapter deals with perhaps one of the most iconic and intimidating images of BCT - the Drill Sergeants. Although not a very long chapter, these pages provide a nice insight into what drill sergeants are doing (and what they can't do). These men and women are often misunderstood and under-appreciated (or outright hated), and getting a glimpse of what goes on inside their campaign hats makes it easier to understand their very specific form of motivation.

Chapter 2: Fitness, is worth the cost of the book alone, if you aren't in top Basic Training shape. There are, of course, workout plans and schedules to improve your running, push-ups, and sit-ups, but also numerous stretches, tips to improve running form, advice on picking out the right running shoes, and additional exercises to help keep your workouts interesting. The third chapter is best summarized by its own title - don't wait until BCT to lose weight, stop smoking, get in shape, change your sleep schedule, etc.

Chapters 4 and 5 cover the different phases of BCT: Red, White, and Blue, and the Reception Center. Chapter 6 covers your Battle Buddy. There is nothing ground-breaking in these chapters, but this is good information if you don't know it.

One of the most anticipated and feared moment of BCT, the gas chamber, is covered in Chapter 7. There are two main challenges in the gas chamber - lifting your mask to state your name, rank, and social security number and the final walk out, which is done with the mask off and eyes open. Ways to minimize the discomfort for both challenges are given.

A week by week breakdown of your time at BCT makes up Chapter 8. This chapter also gives you hints, tips, and things to be aware of and mistakes to avoid. Interestingly, there is also a breakdown of Air Force Basic Military Training (although we have a review of a book dedicated to USAF BMT here) and the Coast Guard. Although the book says there are breakdowns for each branch, the Navy and Marine Corps are not covered.

Chapter 9 gives you 6 different soldiers' views of their first day in Basic Training. Although each story is slightly different, there are a lot of similarities in each soldier's experiences and this chapter will give you a nice range of possible "challenges" that you will face on that first day! Don't worry too much though - no matter how prepared you are, it is the Drill Sergeant's job to make sure you feel stressed and uncomfortable!

The next several chapters offer some very useful advice that, along with the fitness information, make this book essential reading before BCT. In BCT even commonplace events like getting dressed, eating meals, moving around, and making your bed become opportunities for mistakes and for Drill Sergeants to "correct" you. These chapters give you a lot of useful and practical advice, so hopefully you can avoid the ire of your Drill Sergeant, and he can move on to teach other soldiers! Chapter 13 gives you a lot of basic military information that you can find on this very site. Things like Army ranks, Army values, and the phonetic alphabet are all covered, along with military time, General Orders, and the structure of the Army.

Chapter 14 covers preparations to make before leaving for BCT, what to pack, and what to leave behind. Chapters 15, 16, and 17 are full of little useful bits of information to make your time in BCT pass by as smoothly as possible, and although the Drill Sergeant interview gives a lot of the same information that you got in chapter 1, the lessons are worth hearing again and again. The FAQ in the final chapter, although short, covers a nice assortment of topics - from the ASVAB to the meaning of HOOAH (or HUA).

In the appendixes you will find a large section of charts and logs to record your workouts and track your progress, as well as a fairly thorough glossary of acronyms and military terms.


Although fairly small (just 167 pages from cover to cover), much of the information in this book is worth its weight in gold - or rather the blood, sweat, and tears that you will save! The fitness preparation alone will make your weeks at BCT much easier!

If you are thinking about enlisting, just talked to a recruiter, or even if you are getting ready to ship off soon and want to know what's in store for you during your Basic Combat Training, this book is an invaluable resource!

You can purchase this book through the links below:

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