The title of this article is actually a misnomer: There is no way to make your drill instructor/drill sergeant/MTI/RDC happy. If there were, they would never show it, and they sure as hell would never tell anyone. You can, however, make them less unhappy with your performance during training, and this kind of effort will go a long way toward making your basic training or boot camp stay easier.
Any veteran will tell you that -- in retrospect -- basic training is physically demanding but actually not as hard as it seems from the photos and videos seen all over the internet. Trainees are learning about the history, structure and uniforms of their branch. They will pick up some weapons and combatives skills (depending on their branch). They'll also learn close attention to detail while getting in shape to serve and fight.
They get all of these things, three meals, a paycheck, qualifications for benefits and, in many cases, college credit for all of it, too. How can you go wrong? The answer to that question is by ignoring these simple tips.
1. Be honest.
There's a reason "integrity" is in the core values of most branches of service (and "honor" includes integrity for you Navy types). There's nothing worse than a liar in the eyes of the men and women wearing that campaign hat. Lying is one of the habits in civilian kids they're trying to break, so just don't do it.
Make no mistake, an instructor is going to set their trainees up for opportunities to tell the truth or lie. They will ask questions, sometimes personal ones, to see how they respond. It's important to remember that when they ask questions like this, they already know the answer, so it's easier on you (and your push-up related muscles) to just tell the truth.
2. Learn how to address them.
It might be difficult to remember how to address an instructor, especially when under what might be the worst stress the trainee has ever experienced in their life. Especially in the first few days of training, instructors are going to make an example of those who do it wrong as a lesson to the rest, so don't be that guy.
Movies and television have probably taught you that "sir" works for everyone in the military. This could not be more false. It works for officers, but hopefully, you won't see one of those for a few weeks.
Each branch has its protocol. In the Army, they're drill sergeants. In the Marine Corps, Space Force and Air Force, "sir" and "ma'am" are the proper forms of address, though the Corps calls them "drill instructors" and the Air Force and Space Force call them military training instructors.
Navy recruit division commanders expect to be called "Petty Officer," "Chief" or "Senior Chief," (depending on their rank), along with their last name. The Coast Guard permits "sir" and "ma'am" in the first weeks of training, but once recruits learn Coast Guard ranks, they're expected to refer to instructors by their rank and last name.
3. Follow directions.
Basic training is not the time for creative thinking. You can trust there will be time for that later in your military career, but this is not it. This is the time to follow your instructor's instructions, as instructed. They have a series of lessons they have to get recruits to learn and do not want to fall behind. Wasting time offering a "better way" to do things will only earn a recruit the ire of their instructors.
Recruits in training are expected to uniformly learn and do, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Listen to what they're saying, follow instructions when told to and then repeat as necessary, which will likely be a handful of times.
4. Take it seriously.
It's important to remember that the only funny person in your platoon, flight or whatever your basic training unit is called is the instructor. And they are funny. Really funny. This is not the time to attempt some improv with them, however. They will never be amused by a trainee's antics. Most of the time, laughing is not acceptable because they expect recruits to maintain their military bearing.
There are moments of levity in basic training, where recruits are free to laugh at something funny, but those will come based on your training staff only. Even in those moments, it's important to keep your own jokes to yourself.
5. Don't make excuses.
In basic training, everyone is going to fail at tasks. It's a part of learning. The only way to flawlessly breeze through boot camp is to know everything beforehand, and there's no way any new recruit could. There may even be times where the instructor sets a trainee up to fail as part of the lesson.
It's not meant to make anyone feel stupid (although it might feel that way at the time). Each instructor has their own tried-and-true training methods, especially for the most important lessons. When you fail -- for any reason -- never make an excuse. If you have to answer for yourself, don't make an excuse; just admit you don't have one. Owning your mistakes is a part of being in the military, so it's a good lesson to learn early on.
6. Help those in need.
The basic training outfit is a recruit's first unit, and every member is a part of the team. They can only move as fast as the slowest member, and it's likely composed of people from all over the United States (and sometimes outside the United States). There will be differences in language, meaning and ability that the unit as a whole will have to address.
Simply put, not everyone in the unit will understand things the first (or second) time around. Some of them will fall behind. Don't be afraid to reach out to someone in the unit, even if you don't know them at all to help them keep up, either physically or mentally. This is called "leadership," and it won't be the first time or the last time you do it in your military career.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.
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