1. Your name (as you would like it to appear on the website): Rachel (rachelxy)
2. Where did your soldier attend basic training? Fort Leonard Wood for BCT
3. When did he attend basic training? January – 18 March 2010
4. How often did you hear from him? (Phone and letters) They were given their cell phones about once a week, and the rest of the time the phones were locked up. Phone calls were very short- usually less than 10 minutes. They did get “double” phone time on Valentine’s Day and we could talk for 20 minutes. Most phone calls were on Sunday afternoons, but sometimes it was another day of the week like a Tuesday evening or Friday afternoon. My soldier was one of about 6 guys in his platoon who wrote letters regularly- he wrote about a page every day and mailed them every 3-4 days. Mail is SLOW! Both the letters I wrote to him and the ones he wrote to me were received a week after we’d sent them.
5. How long was it before you heard from him the first time? He called for about 2 minutes when he arrived at Reception- basically just enough to say “I’m here and alive, sorry I have to go, love you, bye.” Then it was over a week before I heard from him again. The first Sunday he was actually in training they had their phones for about 5 minutes.
6. How long did it take to receive a mailing address for him? Over 2 weeks, because he sent it in a letter. In retrospect, I should have gotten the address from him over the phone the first time he called from training so he could have received letters from me much earlier.
7. Were there any restrictions on what you could send him? I didn’t send him packages unless he specifically asked for something, because I didn’t want to risk getting him in trouble. He said any packages had to be opened in front of the Drill Sergeants and same with any “thick” letters or cards, but they didn’t have to show regular letters. Drill Sergeants also looked at any photos they had. Definitely not allowed was any food or candy. Cough drops and vitamin C drops ARE allowed (sugar-free), and he said everyone trades them like prisoners trade cigarettes! I also sent him a new pad of writing paper and stamps after a few weeks.
8. Were you sent information about family day and graduation? Yes—technically the letter from the commander was supposed to be sent to his parents, since I’m a girlfriend not a wife/family, but my soldier had my address memorized better than his mom’s and he said they were only given a couple minutes to address and stuff the envelope to be sent out. The graduation date and a form letter arrived about 5 weeks into training. Very brief information, basically just giving the date and saying that soldiers who met graduation requirements would get an on-post or off-post pass until 9pm. The letter also had a website address for the fort for more general graduation information. I found the whole thing confusing and not very helpful.
9. Did he have a family day? If so, please describe: Family Day and Graduation were on the same day. This was originally not communicated well—my soldier told me several times in his letters that the Drill Sergeants told them Family Day would be the day before graduation, so I booked my flight to Missouri for 2 days before graduation and ended up with a whole day to waste by myself. Just before the graduation ceremony the rules for the off-post pass were explained: Soldiers could not consume alcohol, use tobacco, or drive, and they needed to stay in uniform the entire day. After the graduation ceremony I had to sign him out with his platoon’s Drill Sergeant. Again, technically I should have been his wife to be allowed to sign him out, but they didn’t question it. I just had to write my phone number and promise I’d have him back on time.
10. Please describe the graduation ceremony. His graduation was indoors in an auditorium. The ceremony was at 9:00am, but already when I arrived at the main gate of the post at 7:30am there was a line and when I got inside the auditorium seats were already filling up. They started with a briefing about the rules for the Family Day pass after graduation, and directions on how to get to gym where the reception would be. Then they showed a slideshow that included a bunch of Army and patriotic photos. Then the four platoons of soldiers marched in and took their seats (the whole right side of the auditorium was reserved). Then there was a slideshow of pictures from my soldier’s actual training. Then each platoon marched up on stage and yelled out names and hometowns. A couple awards were given out and Drill Sergeants were recognized. The whole thing took only less than an hour and a half, because there was another unit’s graduation that same day at noon so everyone needed to move to the gym for the reception.
11. Is there a website for his basic training unit? Is there a place to see pictures of his training online? Yes- it took a bit of clicking around on the FLW website to find it on my own. Then the website address was given in the form letter I got with graduation information. The photos are not of the current group (which I figured out because the grass was too green to be Jan/Feb!), but it gives you an idea of what they’re doing.
12. Any other tips or information?
– Start writing letters right away! Mail is the only thing they have to connect them to the outside world. If he’s a sports guy, include stats printed from his favorite websites, if he’s into politics include major news stories.
– Don’t worry about writing boring letters—he loves to hear about your stupid co-workers or what you cooked for dinner because it helps him feel involved in your life while he’s gone.
– Keep your cell phone on you at all times, because you never know when the Drill Sergeants might decide to unlock their phones and the time is so limited.
– Drill Sergeants love to use mail as a reason to smoke the soldiers with extra PT. Don’t feel guilty about that—any extra push-ups he has to do to receive your letters are well worth it, and really, they do the PT anyway, so if it’s not from this then the DS’s will find something else wrong anyway.
– Learn the acronyms as best you can. Your soldier gets so used to using them that he sometimes forgets to actually explain what they mean. I used websites like this one to learn as much as I could about the army so I could feel like I was involved in what he was learning and doing on days I really missed him.