Basic Military Training: How To Prepare For Family Day and Graduation

When Kyle left for Basic Training, I was only a Sophomore in college. At the time, it felt like the hardest thing we would ever overcome. I felt so overwhelmed and worried, and it was incredibly difficult to accept that I no longer had control over our lives. I said goodbye to him in a parking lot, outside of the hotel he would be staying at with the others. The next morning, he boarded a plane to Fort Benning, and there was no turning back. 

Looking back at me that night was a very young man, still so unsure about himself. He was scared, but he wasn’t afraid to show it. And I had to be stronger than I had ever been before. I had to tell him that this was the right choice, and that he was on his way to being a man he’d be proud of; a man that I was already proud of. I could see the strength in him that I had always loved, even when he was blind to it.

I remember standing there, wondering when we would talk again. Would it be days? Weeks? Months? When would he graduate? When would I see him again? I looked for answers everywhere, but there was nothing that eased my mind. A huge question mark hung over our future, but I simply smiled, reassuring him that everything would be okay.

All of the chaos and confusion made me wish I had an outlet to find these answers. Flash forward to a few years later, and this dilemma may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but in that moment it wasn’t. I’ve learn a lot through our military relationship, but at the time, I didn’t even know where to begin. And If you’re facing the same situation I was, know this: There are lots of great resources to find more information about your loved ones’ BMT process, as well as upcoming events as you get closer to graduation day. You just have to know where to look! Here are some places to start:

FACEBOOK

I got very lucky, because the wives of Kyle’s drill instructors actually created a Facebook page dedicated to keeping us up to date. They posted weekly updates, pictures, phase transitions, etc. And as they got closer to the end, they posted order forms for company shirts, maps of the base for family day, and all kinds of useful info. It really helped me to feel more secure, and I was able to prepare for the trip to see him. It made me feel like they really cared about including his loved ones. So try giving the unit or division a quick search, or visit their home page to see if they have any links to a possible Facebook page.

MILITARY.COM

If you’re looking for the nitty gritty details and a full breakdown of Army BMT, you can find it here. They have details about BMT for each branch, since it does vary a bit. This helped me in understanding the “phases” (which are red, white, and blue) and what each of them mean. If you’re looking for simple facts, this is a great resource for you and your soon-to-be service member. Military.com also provides information about upcoming changes to each branch, a benefits overview, and other basics of military life.

NEWSLETTERS

Some companies offer a newsletter for everyone back home, which is a great way to keep families informed. The newsletter could contain important information about graduation day, as well as family day protocol. I was extremely nervous for family day, because the base is huge and I didn’t want to get lost. Kyle’s recruiter is the one who told me about the newsletters, which he often sent over to me via email. It’s a much more versatile way to keep everyone in the loop.

Throughout this process, keep in mind that each company/division is different. We were lucky that the wives of the instructors took the time to include us, and they put many hours into their pictures, order forms, and maps. They took it upon themselves to keep everyone informed and ready for what’s to come, and to some extent, you have to trust that they’ll do just that. In some cases, you’ll get a lot of your information from your service member as they’re given a bit more freedom towards the end. But if your feeling like you’ve been left in the dark, here’s what you need to know:

WHERE TO STAY

We can’t all afford to spend a week in a hotel for graduation/family day. I know I certainly couldn’t at the time. But many military bases have a lot of options in the surrounding area that will cater to your needs. They’re accustomed to families coming in and out for these events, so they often have lodging that’s specifically for these families.

When we went down to see Kyle graduate, we stayed in a cute log cabin just outside the base in Columbus, GA. They had amazing deals for military families ($85/night) to stay in a beautiful, clean log cabin with 4 bedrooms.. It was a no brainer. Plan ahead, and look for places more specific to why you’re there.

PLANE TICKETS

If you’re flying there, be careful not to buy your ticket too early. If you need to buy it early, get flight insurance just in case you need to change it. Graduation days can change for a lot of reasons, and you don’t want to be stuck flying down a week early. For example: Kyle was stuck in reception (in-processing during the first week of training) for almost 2 weeks because the previous cycle had some processing delays. So graduation got pushed back, and I was really glad I waited to buy my ticket.

WHAT TO BRING ON BASE

The three most important things that I brought with me:

1. My ID. Obviously I had my ID to fly, but given that I had never been on a base before, I didn’t know how often I would need it with me. And guess who learned the hard way by forgetting that precious ID in the room on Family Day? Yup, that would be me. Have that thing glued to you!

2. A jacket. If you’re headed south, don’t let that southern weather fool you. It can be hot one minute, and freezing the next. Family Day was super windy and I had goose bumps everywhere. Add it to the fact that I was extremely anxious, and I was practically shaking. Even if you’re wearing a beautiful dress, trust me, bring something warm too.

3. A camera. The pictures we took that day are worth a thousand words. This doesn’t need much explaining!

WHAT TO DO

Family Day usually starts bright and early with a ceremony, and then your service member is free to spend the day with you. But keep in mind that there are some restrictions to what they can do, all of which are usually rattled off by their company commander and drill instructors. Don’t ignore these restrictions, because they really are there for a reason.

Many of the families were staying at hotels, and one of the most serious restrictions was that soldiers couldn’t go swimming in the pool or anywhere for that matter. Instructors have seen their fair share of accidents happen, and they’d much rather just avoid it all together. The restrictions are focused on safety, so families are free to explore the area with their service member as much as they want otherwise. Typically, they must return at a designated time so that they can prepare for graduation day, but I’m sure this varies as well.

WHERE TO GO

Family Day and graduation are usually held at two different places, so it’s important to have atleast a rough idea of where to go. The night before Family Day, there’s often a gathering for family members to attend on base. The purpose of this is so that you can meet the drill instructors that have spent the last 3 months with your loved one, and you can stay informed on the next days’ activities.

In true military fashion, things are always changing, so this meeting will help to ease your mind and clear up any questions you may have. No matter what cycle you’re part of, everyone there works really hard to make this experience the special event that it is, so they’re more than happy to offer their assistance. Like I said before, not all companies are the same, so this process can vary a little bit. But don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help!

 What were your experiences throughout this process? Was information easy to find? Share any questions or comments you have!

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