Unexpected Lessons from Army Basic Training

By | December 15, 2021

[December 15, 2021]  August 1974 was hot and humid in the Deep South.  I know because I was in U.S. Army Basic Training at Fort Polk, LA.  The state of Louisiana is known for its heat, humidity, dangerous snakes, pine trees, cotton, and great country folks.  I learned a lot, much about myself and the Army.  There were also many unexpected lessons.

I was not fond of Basic Training because it was hard; people yelling at me, waking up way too early in the morning and not getting enough sleep, exhausting physical training (and getting shin splints), nasty attitudes from the Drill Sergeants, and the bugs, snakes, and other critters that had free rein over my body.  I learned that it was a tough life, something I did expect but underestimated.

Traditionally you learn a lot being in the Army.  Being part of something bigger than yourself (protecting the country) attracts many to the military.  I also learned about teamwork, adaptability, resourcefulness, persistence, extreme discipline, that details matter, values like loyalty and integrity, motivation, focus, organizational skills, hygiene, taking responsibility, and producing results.  Nothing should be a surprise.  To me, however, I was surprised.

I also learned a few unexpected lessons:

  1. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t speak unless spoken to by a Drill Sergeant or Officer.
  2. Nobody cares what you think, and they don’t want to hear about your feelings.
  3. Never, ever, ever complain. Such talk is whining, and you will be reprimanded for it.
  4. There are lots of jerks, morons, and incompetents in the Army. Deal with it.
  5. Cover your ass. Something will go wrong, and you don’t want to be punished for it.
  6. You are entitled to nothing. Remember that you are a maggot
  7. Take nothing for granted. Assume nothing.  Be prepared, always!
  8. Practice may not make perfect, but you will practice ad nauseam.
  9. Don’t stand out in the crowd, or you will be “volunteered” to do something unpleasant.
  10. You can’t rely on technology because, at some point, it will fail you.
  11. Don’t think you can take a shortcut because you will get caught and punished.
  12. Good enough is not always good enough.

These unexpected lessons made me a humble person as much as the predictable lessons.  Not that I was pompous or conceited, but I did overvalue my abilities and intelligence.  Those of us who had any tiny bit of arrogance got it driven out of us the first week of Basic Training.

And, if you don’t like the Army or what your job is while there, it is expected that you will just suck it up and move on.  Or you could just get the heck out.

—————

Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

35 thoughts on “Unexpected Lessons from Army Basic Training

  1. Wild Bill

    Thinking about my basic combat training days gives me nightmares to this day.

    Reply
  2. Randy Goodman

    “Good enough, is not always good enough.” Wow, never thought of it this way.

    Reply
  3. Ernest

    Mr. Satterfield, just found your website and I am thoroughly impressed with the many topics you cover. Leadership is BORING but important to learn, develop, and encourage. Without it, nothing happens. So, despite leaders making many mistakes, let’s remember they are human. Only the best of us raise to the top.

    Reply
    1. Kenny Foster

      Hi Ernest, welcome to the leader forum of Gen. Satterfield. He doesn’t require it, but we call him General because he is a retire US Army General and we like to give him that respect. Once again, welcome. We hope to hear more from you.

      Reply
      1. Tuttis MacDonald

        Right… welcome Ernest. We are a good group of those who want to learn about doing our jobs better. We do this by learning basic lead skills. This site by Gen. Satterfield is the ideal site for those wanting a daily dose of leader advice.

        Reply
  4. Doc Blackshear

    Great list of things unexpected. I would say, based on my knowledge today, that I would expect to learn these lessons. Of course, at the time, Gen. Satterfield was a young man without any military background or understanding of what to expect. He was new and untrained. Later in his life, I’m sure, he would expect these. 👍

    Reply
    1. Greg Heyman

      Yes, thanks Doc. That is why we must be humble. We all makes mistakes and we don’t want the hammer coming down on us hard. If you are humble, people will cut you more slack.

      Reply
  5. Goalie for Cal State

    #7 Take nothing for granted. Assume nothing. Be prepared, always! (my favorite)
    #6 You are entitled to nothing. Remember that you are a maggot (funniest)

    Reply
  6. Army Wife

    Just think how the new generation would deal with Number 10. I’ll tell you, they just might be lost.
    BTW, I read the General’s new book “Our Longest Year in Iraq.” It is a must read.

    Reply
      1. American Girl

        Hey Gen. Satterfield, good to see you read out comments. Thanks for what you do here by providing this leadership forum. Without this forum part of your blog, I think many of us would not be such huge fans. Army Wife nailed it when she (am I assuming she’s a ‘she’? – how sexist of me, but I digress) wrote that the new generation would be lost without their technology. How very sad.

        Reply
    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      You’re right, Army Wife, and yet the snowflakes keep up their retarded behavior without even ‘seeing’ that they are weak, pajama-boy, basement dwelling dweebs.

      Reply
      1. Shawn C. Stolarz

        Hi Bill, long time no hear from you. With Christmas coming soon, it is time for us to have a plan when our relatives come over for Christmas Dinner. How should we treat them … being snowflakes. Should we be blunt and speak our minds? Or should we hid behind a shell of politeness?

        Reply
  7. Willie Strumburger

    Good quote, “These unexpected lessons made me a humble person as much as the predictable lessons. Not that I was pompous or conceited, but I did overvalue my abilities and intelligence. Those of us who had any tiny bit of arrogance got it driven out of us the first week of Basic Training.”

    Reply
  8. Jonnie the Bart

    No. 12 surprised me. Good enough is not always good enough.
    I guess that means that you are pushed to do better than you think you can do to fix or solve a problem.

    Reply
    1. JT Patterson

      Something like that. It means that we are always pushing to be better. What you do today, can be improved upon tomorrow. Always going from point A to point B. Never stop. Never be satisfied with what you do now so that you can motivate yourself to do better tomorrow.

      Reply
  9. Army Captain

    Gen. Satterfield, you are spot-on with today’s article (15 Dec). I learn similar lessons in the Infantry Officer Basic Course, at Fort Benning GA. You learn that you are part of a team and the team comes first. Their mission overrides individual issues because if you have a problem, you are responsible for getting it fixed.

    Reply
    1. Laughing Monkey

      I’m happy you responded to this article with this comment. It is always good to hear from someone with direct knowledge and can validate what is written. Thank you Army Captain and for your service, as well.

      Reply
  10. Max Foster

    I searched the Internet for the same topic and found lots and lots of articles on this very subject. There is some parallels here. Of course, WHY you joined needs to be answered and that has an impact on the lessons you learn. ALso, how well you were raised. I found that many folks are not raised properly by their parents, yep, that’s a fact. What do I mean? Well, too many parents teach their kids to be victims. Now, those parents set their kids up for failure in life when they do that. Some of the kids don’t “wake up” themselves and life in fear and hate the rest of their lives. That is why Christianity works so well … rejects hate and fear and assumes love and tolerance.

    Reply
    1. Valkerie

      Excellent point Max and well written. In other words, we are teaching our kids to be “snowflakes.” That is so sad.

      Reply
      1. old warrior

        Yep, and what do you expect from communists and socialists who think they are superior to everyone else? I expect that an ass wuppin’ is way overdue.

        Reply
        1. Wendy Holmes

          Hang in there, old warrior. You are soooo right. Everyone today is too scared to criticize others because they might get fired or demoted. That means bad behavior and stupid talk gets ‘rewarded’. No wonder we hear about so much stupidity.

          Reply
    2. Erleldech

      Well said, Max. But some of them will wake up when they are mugged by reality. 👍

      Reply
  11. Bryan Z. Lee

    Excellent article on unexpected lessons. Yes, I can see what you are getting at, Gen. Satterfield. These lessons should already be in your wheelhouse by the time you are a grown man but there are too many sissy men roaming the countryside in search of their mommy these days.

    Reply
    1. benrhodesatDOS

      Yes, true. My favorite is #2. Nobody cares what you think, and they don’t want to hear about your feelings.
      That is the way it should be. Only your momma should care about your feelings. Why? Because how you feel is irrelevant. Oh, did I hurt your feelings? hahahhahah

      Reply
      1. Jeff Blackwater

        Ben and Gil, you guys just kill me. These are lessons that are clearly unexpected, when you are just 18 or 19 years old but lessons I would expect, for the most part.

        Reply
    2. Yusaf from Texas

      I was thinking the same thing, Gil. That is also why I keep coming back to this website by Gen. Satterfield. In fact, I might be the longest commenting fan here.

      Reply
      1. Latham 3

        Great article. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield. 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸
        I’m one of the many patriots reading your blog.

        Reply

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