It's been almost two years since my husband went to Ft. Jackson for BCT (Basic Combat Training). But I remain obsessed with the Ft. Jackson page
on Facebook, haunting it in hopes that I can be helpful to other new Army families who are as dazed & bewildered as I was in those early weeks.
I'm no kind of expert. Mostly, what I do is simply direct traffic--pointing new folks to the Facebook link for their loved one's specific BCT battalion and/or company (if they have one). Once I get 'em there, they are in far better hands than mine! But those pages aren't always easy to find, and a lot of questions end up asked on the main Ft. Jackson page--where they may or may not get an answer.
Since the same questions get asked over and over every cycle (heck, every week!), I am collecting my BCT Basics here for easy linking convenience.
It's behind a cut due to length...
PLEASE NOTE: As of November 2013, I will no longer be updating this post. My husband is out of the active-duty Army now, and as a result my information about Army matters will rapidly become out-of-date. I'll leave it up in the hopes that some of the links will remain evergreen and useful, but don't take any of this info as definitive anymore.
My loved one has just arrived at Ft. Jackson for BCT. What happens next??
Your soldier-in-training (SIT) arrives first at what's called Reception, or Reception Battalion. That's where the new SITs do all their in-processing: paperwork, medical/dental screenings, shots, haircuts, being issued uniforms and dogtags, etc. They also begin their orientation in Army procedures & values.
Reception typically lasts a few days, but it can last as much as a week or more. During this time, your SIT may be able to call or text you occasionally...but that's not for certain, and you should not be concerned if you don't get any such contact after an initial "Hey I arrived!" phone call. They are very busy and very tired, and there's no guarantee they will have a phone signal or anyplace to recharge their phones. It does not mean anything is wrong if you hear only silence from your SIT during Reception.
At the conclusion of their time in Reception, your SIT will get picked up by his or her assigned BCT unit to begin training. That pickup marks the beginning of their 10 weeks of BCT (time in Reception does not count).
When will I get phone calls from my loved one?
SITs are supposed to get a brief phone call at these points:
- Soon after arrival, just to inform you that they've arrived safely. Sometimes this call comes while they're still at the Columbia SC airport, sometimes later when they are actually in Reception.
- Within 72 hours of being picked up from Reception by their assigned BCT unit, to let you know their unit info.
That's it, folks! Lots of of you will get more calls during those 10 weeks. A lucky few may get a call almost every week. But other than the above occasions, SITs are never promised or guaranteed any phone calls. Calls are a privilege awarded at the discretion of their unit's chain of command, and that privilege can be lost if anybody in their unit screws up.
The most common time to get additional calls is at the end of a phase (about every 3 weeks) or if your SIT's unit wins a competition. But it's really unpredictable. Every unit is different. Some believe phone calls are a distraction and award the privilege very rarely. Others are more liberal. There's really no predicting it from afar. So a good motto is, "Hope for calls but count on the mail!"
Other info about calling:
- Their personal cell phones get taken away when they are picked up from Reception to begin BCT with their assigned unit.
- When they do get phone privileges, some units will hand back the trainees' own cell phones...while others will require the SITs to use pay phones with a phone card. So it's good to be prepared for both possibilities. This means making sure your SIT has important phone #s written down, not just stored in their cell phone, and that he or she has a prepaid phone card to use.
What address do I write to?
You won't know that until your SIT leaves Reception and gets assigned to his or her regular BCT unit to begin training. Addresses are specific to the unit. Typically you will get that info from your SIT, either in that brief phone call mentioned above, or in a letter that will arrive somewhere around the 10-14 day point.
Here is a helpful link for more info about mail:
This page explains how to find out where your loved one is assigned, and how to address your letters once you do. NOTE: Do *not* call the phone # provided on that page unless it's been 7-10 days since your SIT's arrival at Ft. Jackson, and you are immediate family (parent, spouse, sibling) who can provide the SIT's full name and SS#.
Please note that there is often a time lag in their mail at first. Do not panic if you get sad letters from your SIT saying that he's not getting your mail! The time lag is temporary and it gets better soon.
What can I send?
Letters, cards, and family-friendly photos are the best things to send. You can also send phone cards, stamps, and writing materials in your letters.
Although packages are allowed, there are very strict rules about what you can send. No food or candy of any kind, no reading material, no games or other amusements. Most units even restrict what kind of cough drops you can send! Basically, if it's tasty, fun, or entertaining...it's probably forbidden. It's safest to just wait and see if your SIT requests that you send something specific that he/she knows is allowed by his unit.
The sort of things that are typically allowed in care packages are the very basics, like plain unscented toiletry products, foot powder, blister bandaids, cotton swabs, wipes, etc. Bear in mind that your SIT will have multiple occasions to go to the PX to buy essentials like these.
I heard they have to do push-ups for their mail. Is that true?
Maybe, maybe not. Some units make them do exercises for each letter, some don't. It all depends on the Drill Sergeants (DSes). But don't worry...most SITs consider it well worth the price of collecting their mail from home! It's not a punishment, it's an incentive to keep in shape for that PT test they have to pass in order to graduate from BCT.
How do I find out what my SIT is doing?
Well, they will be writing you letters, and if you are lucky you will get some calls, too. You can also follow their unit's progress through the unit's Facebook page, if they have one (not every unit does).
Here are some links that will help.
Basic Training at Ft. Jackson
This page gives a general overview of the training calendar, from week 0 (Reception) to week 10 (graduation), and each phase in between. It also gives you links to pages about the specific BCT units. You'll want those links once you know which unit your SIT belongs to.
Fort Jackson BCT Unit Links
This is my own compilation of links to Ft. Jackson BCT units, both on the Ft. Jackson website and on Facebook where available. I can't swear that I have found every page that's out there, but I've collected every one that I could verify.
Fort Jackson Facebook Page
If you can't find a Facebook page for your SIT's unit, ask on the main Ft. Jackson Facebook page. Some kindly volunteer will probably be able to direct you to the right place.
When will I know the graduation date?
As soon as you find out your SITs unit info, you can look up that unit's Family Day and Graduation Day on the Ft. Jackson Graduation Calendar. To find it, click on this page and look for the Downloads link in the left sidebar. You'll see a link called BCT Graduation Calendar. You should also get a graduation packet in the mail from your SIT's unit with more information about time, place, maps/directions, getting on post, etc.
How much time do we get to spend together at graduation? What happens after graduation?
There are two big days, Family Day and Graduation Day, usually a Wednesday-Thursday. Each day kicks off with a brief (about an hour) ceremony in the morning. At the conclusion of that ceremony, you get to spend the rest of the day with your SIT. On Family Day, your SIT must stay on post. On Graduation Day, you are allowed to take your SIT off post. Both days, your SIT will have to report back to his or her unit at a specified time. The exact time will be announced at the ceremony that morning, but 8:30 p.m. is pretty typical.
Most SITs are scheduled to ship to their AIT (Advanced Individual Training, i.e. the job-specific training that follows BCT) on the day after graduation. Don't be fooled by any dates in their original paperwork that suggest they'll have time off in between BCT and AIT--in most cases they do not! Dates in their original paperwork are only an estimate. They get their final updated orders at the end of BCT.
I heard we can drive our SIT to AIT. Is this true?
It depends. Typically, it is permitted for immediate family members (such as parent, sibling, or spouse) to drive their SIT to AIT if A) it's arranged ahead of time (your SIT will get asked about this as the time draws closer) and B) the AIT location is east of the Mississippi. If this is approved for your SIT, you will get to hit the road right after graduation.
Your SIT's orders will specify a time by which he or she must report at their AIT destination, and usually it's pretty darn prompt so you won't be able to count on a leisurely road trip enjoying each other's company. There is some chance that you will arrive at AIT and get told that your SIT can have a weekend pass to spend more time with you--but you can't count on that, and you won't know till you get there.
This is all really stressing me out, I'm going crazy waiting to hear something, help help HELP!
Hey, there's a reason that the unofficial Army motto is "Hurry up and wait." Keep taking those deep breaths, keep repeating that Serenity Prayer, and know that you will get word soon--and in the meantime, trust that your loved one is in good hands and doing the very important job of learning to be a soldier.
Yes, it's hard to wait and wonder, especially for those who are accustomed to being in touch by phone, text, IM, email, etc., practically every waking minute. But it is very important to learn patience and self-reliance when you are part of a military family. BCT is a long stretch to be out of touch with your loved one, but it won't be the longest and it won't be the last. In your soldier's future there will be field exercises where they disappear for 30 days or more and you don't hear a word. There will be 24-hour CQ shifts. There will be unexpected schedule changes that ruin your weekends and upset your vacation plans. There will be deployments. There will be times of total communication blackout. It will be hard. It will be scary. You will have to be a strong person.
But the more you practice patience and fortitude now...the more you build your support system...the more you learn to handle being alone with courage and grace...the more you learn to keep yourself busy and prevent your mind from straying into those scary places where all your worst fears and insecurities lurk...the better prepared you will be for those difficult times ahead.
Loving a soldier is not an easy road, and nobody will ever pin a medal on you for it, no matter how well you do. But your soldier will know and appreciate it, and your support will mean the world.
Welcome to the Army family. :)