While unknown to those outside of the military community, the defeat and belittlement that we faced in boot camp built up a positive mindset within us. While this sounds counterintuitive, some sense may be made of this. From the outside, it would seem as though repetitive belittlement and defeat would initiate a coping mechanism of shutting down and losing touch with our inner emotions. After experiencing the world of basic training, I discovered that just the opposite is true. Those of us who made it through basic training built a strong set of resiliency skills that took us out of the present. Instead of harping on how horrible our lives were, we thought about how great it would be to graduate. We thought about how proud our significant others, parents, and siblings would be when they first saw us in uniform. These thoughts caused an influx of positive emotions that got us through the worst of our situations. A survey I conducted proved that I was not alone with this claim. Out of the 28 soldiers survey, 93% of them agreed that they implicated a method of deep thought to think about a more positive time.
Sometimes described as a world of hate, there was no escaping harsh criticism and mass punishment while in basic training. 78% of the soldiers surveyed said they thought about quitting due to being punished for someone else’s mistake. This total lack of control and constant failure caused each of us to “dig deep” in a quest to find resiliency skills from within
Very often, we found inner strength by thinking about times in the past that made us happy, or by thinking about seeing family for the first time while in uniform. By thinking these thoughts, we were able to escape the harsh reality we were suffering. These thoughts motivated us and gave us a positive approach in dealing with the now, to be rewarded later. On the contrary, if someone was unable to build or find the resiliency skills required, they would begin to blame others for the tough situation and consistently make excuses. With the military being about getting the job done, it wanted nothing to do with those filled with doubt and excuses. Clearly, two very different approaches result from the very basics of the training environment, yet this is just the beginning.
It may seem strange that it was crucial for us to maintain a positive mindset for the “boot camp” method of training to be successful but Thomas Davis brought some clarity as to why. According to Davis, author of “Effects of Stress, Coping Style, and Confidence on Basic Combat Training,” recruits who were able to positively cope with the situation were less likely to drop out of the training. Along with that, those who had a positive mood were able to respond to different situations faster than those who were negative. I experienced this first hand when I was paired up with a soon to be drop out for the confidence course. The confidence course is all about combining team work with confidence to navigate through some tough and dangerous obstacles. My partner had been negative about his current situation throughout the entirety of training and when it came time for him to perform tasks, he was not mentally there. Being the guy that had to raise me over an 8 foot wall, he failed to find a method of completing the task because instead of problem solving, he was complaining. This was common throughout training but the Army made sure it had no part of it. We are now seeing that this method is not only revealing those who spend their day complaining and doubting, but also those who cannot perform tasks under pressure.
Even with the given evidence, some argue that basic training is successful because it helps the recruit separate themselves from their emotions but with that logic, they would lose their greatest advantage to completing basic training. As stated above, we looked to past memories and future experiences to get through our training. When I was having a tough time, I did not try to cut off my bad feeling because that is near impossible, especially in the basic training environment. Instead, I thought about seeing my girlfriend for the first time in three months, and how proud she would be. These thoughts gave me an adrenaline rush and pushed me through the tough times. A friend of mine in basic had a father who was currently serving in the Army and wanted nothing more than to prove to his dad that he had what it takes. By reaching this emotion, he would wake up with enthusiasm every morning and did whatever required to become a successful soldier.
According to John Bornmann, Author of “Becoming Soldiers:Army Basic Training and the Negotiation of Identity,” boot camp is the first time that many recruits are challenged. These challenges provide the recruits with confidence and pride once they are accomplished. John went on to say that basic training created a sense of social acceptance since everyone was going through the same experience. All of these things I’ve listed are emotions of some type. Finally, while we all have a unique reason for joining the military, we all shared something in common. An incomparable love for the country that we were aiming to serve. This feeling of pride and aspiration is one that guides nearly all of us within the United States Army. So to say that the military’s hostile environment is in place to separate us from our emotions just does not work.
Throughout training, we went to hell and back to earn the coveted title of a United States Soldier. It is a grueling yet rewarding process in which only those who are cut out to be a soldier survive. The military has been successful in producing effective soldiers for years yet little is known about why, yet through my experiences in basic training, the “boot camp” method caused us to find or create strong resiliency skills. This caused us to either find motivation causing us to take on a positive approach, or to find a negative approach to the entire situation. Those of us with a positive mindset found the tools and motivation to get through some of the toughest experiences of our lives.
Bornmann, J. W. (2009). Becoming soldiers: Army basic training and the negotiation of identity (Order No. 3349632). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304880565). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.rowan.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304880565?accountid=13605
Davis, T. W. (2006). Effects of stress, coping style, and confidence on basic combat training performance, discipline, and attrition (Order No. 3207963). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304960885). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.rowan.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304960885?accountid=13605