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Parents of Military Children...Help, Please

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SisterMilkshake posted 8/6/2014 15:34 PM

My DS18 is off to basic training on Monday. I am a mess! He is our late in life baby. I have been a stay at home mom, basically, for 35 years.

Do you have any tips on what to expect, as a parent, from basic training? I know that he will not be able to contact us for awhile. I am hyperventilating just typing that. He has never really been away from us, other than a few long weekends and a period of about 10 days when he was 3 years old.

Any tips on what he should/shouldn't bring to basic?

He is going to be gone at least 15 weeks. After 11 weeks he will have a family day. We live in the Midwest, he will be down in Fort Benning. He will then have his more specialized training for 4 more weeks. He will then graduate. We can not make both trips. What would you consider the more important trip to make?

GabyBaby posted 8/6/2014 15:46 PM

I was that 18yr old who went off to join the military.

As a parent, writing to him is great. We get so homesick in those first several weeks that any letters from home are like gold.
As for what to pack, tell him take only what he can carry in an overnight bag. Anything more and he'll likely be targeted by the drill instructors. I made that mistake and fully packed the largest duffel I could find in addition to a smaller suitcase. We were not allowed to drop our bags. We had to stand and hold them until told otherwise. The lighter his load, the less likely he'll drop his bag and get screamed at.

Once he's out of basic, you can send more clothing, though he wont have a real use for them for a while.

As for which trip to make? Find out from your son. He may need that mid-visit to push through. He may be ok and will want to see you at the end when he's ready to move on to full status.

Congrats, SMS. It is scary, but your son is doing something honorable.

Please dont send "care" packages while he's in basic. He won't be able to eat any food sent since it will be taken away. Stick to easily stored (and portable) items like etters and pictures.

[This message edited by GabyBaby at 3:48 PM, August 6th (Wednesday)]

Newlease posted 8/6/2014 15:50 PM

I don't have any children in the military, but I found this link that may help:


SisterMilkshake posted 8/6/2014 16:00 PM

Thanks GabyBaby. For your reply and your service. We are terribly proud of DS. He is a wonderful child, maybe if he was horrible it wouldn't be so hard!

I didn't know they could receive letters. That is good to know. Can they write back? I imagine he will be exhausted and won't have the energy. I am glad you mentioned the care packages, too. If they were able to receive them, I was going to send weekly packages of brownies (his favorite) to him. Now I know not to.

Thanks Newlease for that link. Very kind of you to find it for me.

misskirby posted 8/6/2014 16:04 PM

I'm the wife of a guy who went off to basic training while we had a little boy at home, so I can give you that perspective. He is Air Force, so some might not be the same. He got one phone call at the beginning, telling his mailing address and that he was okay, and that was it for a while. Hearing the fear and tremors in his voice was horrible. Brace yourself for that. I was in tears after that call. Definitely wrote every day, and from what he says that was amazing. Hearing from home was the best part.

Do NOT take any food, nor you send any. They will be in a lot of trouble. Paper, stamps, addresses are good so he can write if he has time. FWH says nothing with a logo at all. Have natural colored hair. Pretty much they'll take any personal effects and hold them until you're done. If he takes money and it's anywhere not locked up, he'll be in trouble. Plus, probably won't be able to spend it anywhere.

For us, the basic training graduation was a much bigger deal. The follow on training, tech school, was important but wasn't at all as huge as the basic. Not sure if that's the same situation as you're talking about. Is the family day just a single day in the middle of training? The basic training graduation was a big deal, a few days of activities for families and the service members. Would highly recommend that, whichever that might be!

You can do this! He will grow up so much and you'll be proud of him in so many new ways.

TrustNoOne posted 8/6/2014 16:05 PM

Been there. Done this. Have the soldier to prove it :)

Write him every single day. Send postcards. Send cards. He will need that more than you can imagine. Tell him the weather. Tell him the status of his pets. Tell him about the dust bunnies under the carpet in his bedroom. "Talk" to him.

You're sending your little boy to boot camp. You are going to receive home a fine young man - an adult that you will recognize in looks only. You will burst with pride. A United States soldier.

Here are some tips for HIM -

10. Always Look Busy

Drill sergeants hate it when they see soldiers standing or sitting around doing nothing. Looking busy will keep you from getting "voluntold" for extra details or getting smoked (physical exercises used as corrective action). Working on extra details may mean less sleep because you have to get up early or stay out late. If you have down time pull out study materials, clean your rifle, whatever you have to do to look busy. Even if you aren't actually doing anything or are sneaking some extra sleep (don't get caught doing this) just make it look like you're busy.

9. Drink Lots of Water

They are going to hammer the need to stay hydrated into you at basic training. Even still many people underestimate how much water they are losing each day. I witnessed many people passing out from dehydration. Make sure you drink lots of water.

8. Lock Your Stuff Up

I don't know how many times I was woken up in the middle of the night to a drill sergeant tearing apart someone's wall locker and dumping their stuff in the middle of the bay, or worse hiding it around the barracks or tossing it out a window. This continued from day one all the way to graduation. Lock your stuff up. Lock it up whenever you are more than an arm's reach away. It will save you grief and sleep. You will also encounter soldiers who can't keep track of anything and are willing to steal your stuff to replace their lost equipment and uniforms. If you lose or have equipment stolen you are financially responsible for replacing it.

7. Get Used to Waking Up Early

Expect to be up at 4:30 a.m. almost every day. This doesn't include waking up throughout the night to do fireguard and charge of quarters shifts. It helps if you get into an early morning routine before you ship for basic training. You might as well get used to it on your own terms.

6. Start Studying Before You Get There

There is quite a bit of material you will need to familiarize yourself with upon joining the Army. Its far easier to learn these things on your own terms rather than when you are tired, confused, and stressed out. Your drill sergeants will quiz you on the spot about most of these things and it will keep you off of their radar if you already know them.

What you should learn:
•The soldiers creed
•The 3 general orders
•The army values

•Rank structure
•Basic drill and ceremony
•The exercises in the APRT (Army physical readiness training)

These are all things your recruiter should help you learn. Your recruiter can provide with you resources to help you out.

5. Get In Shape

Being able to pass an Army physical fitness test by the time you ship to basic training will make your life easier. Not only will the physical fitness training itself be easier but you won't risk getting stuck doing extra PT when you could be doing something else like having an extra 30 minutes of personal time (which doesn't sound like much but believe me it is). You also won't risk getting sent off to fat camp (I can't remember its official title) which is where you go if you can't pass a PT test by graduation. This means you stay at basic training for even longer. You don't want that. Being able to pass your PT test means one less thing to worry about.

If you wear glasses get used to these. BCGs (if you don't know what BCG means look it up).

4. It's All a Mind Game

You will be yelled at. You will be confused. You will be tired. You will be frustrated. You will make mistakes. Other people will make mistakes. You will all be punished as a group regardless of whether you made the mistake or someone else did. Keep in mind it's all a big mind game. Yes, the Army wants physically strong soldiers, but more than that they want mentally tough and adaptable soldiers. Don't let it get to you. This is part of the training. Don't get mad at each other if one of you slips up. It doesn't matter who messed up because the drill sergeants will always find someone messing up. Keeping this in perspective makes day to day life at basic training a little less frustrating.

3. The Drill Sergeant is Always Right

Get used to saying, "Yes, Drill Sergeant," "No, Drill Sergeant," and "Moving, Drill Sergeant." There won't be need to say much else. Don't say, "I'm sorry," or, "thank you," to a Drill Sergeant and never call a drill sergeant, "sir," or, "ma'am." Drill sergeants will frustrate and confuse you. Just accept this as a fact of life and remember that the drill sergeant is always right. Never talk back or act defiant. This will only make your basic training experience harder.

2. Always Maintain Control of Your Weapon

Shortly after you start basic training you will be issued a M16. I highly advise you familiarize yourself with basic safe firearm handling skills if you aren't already. Always make sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. This needs to be instinctual. Always keep the weapon on safe. Always keep it within an arm's reach or under the watch of a battle buddy you trust. If you fail to follow any of these rules your drill sergeant will make your life hell.

1. Do What You're Told

"Do what you're told. Do what you're told. Do what you're damn well told." This is the best piece of advice I could give anyone shipping off to basic training. Basic training will go smoothly as long as you do what you're told.

GabyBaby posted 8/6/2014 16:15 PM

I didn't know they could receive letters. That is good to know. Can they write back?
Oh yes! There's daily mail delivery (except Sunday of course). One of my sisters timed her letters so that I got one nearly every day. It was AWESOME!!!
If you could do that for your son, I bet he'd love it. Write to him a day or two before he leaves so there's a letter waiting for him.
Write to him from his pet's perspective, lol. Be silly, be serious...bring home to him.
That's one of the biggest things you can do.

We were allowed to write back, but time is limited.

[This message edited by GabyBaby at 4:20 PM, August 6th (Wednesday)]

Lucky2HaveMe posted 8/6/2014 19:08 PM

Please dont send "care" packages while he's in basic. He won't be able to eat any food sent since it will be taken away. Stick to easily stored (and portable) items like etters and pictures.

My girlfriend's DS enlisted. His bday was during basic so she sent him a care package and was sure to include enough treats for everyone. His drill sergeant made him eat it all by himself in front of everyone and then jump right into drills. He was one sick puppy.

Once he was deployed, he enjoyed getting DVD movies. Newer releases that he wouldn't have seen. Those were a huge hit with everyone.

kernel posted 8/6/2014 19:52 PM

I was one of those green young kids that went off to basic training as well - Air Force. The very best thing you can do is write as often as possible. Get all your relatives to write at least once. Post cards, letters, a poem, whatever. Mail is GOLD. It helps so much with the homesickness.

And yeah, do what you're told. Period.

[This message edited by kernel at 5:44 AM, August 7th (Thursday)]

rachelc posted 8/6/2014 20:44 PM

My son went to Benning too. What Trust said. And they will break him. That's their job, even if he's perfectly in shape and follows orders they'll find something to make his life difficult. It's just part of the plan. letters are the best!
When hubby was there at age 17 his mom sent cookies. The big guys got them and guess who paid for that?
My son went in at 267 and came out at 215. The skinny guys usually gain.
Please go, if you can, to the final graduation, it was spectacular. And so meaningful, I loved it.
Was very good for son but of course we were knee deep in war and he went right away . Don't think we're sending many now...
On the way home we traveled with him through the airport. The respect he received from perfect strangers was the greatest thing I've seen. Just awesome .

[This message edited by rachelc at 8:47 PM, August 6th (Wednesday)]

itainteasy posted 8/7/2014 08:40 AM

My ex fiance did basic training at Ft Benning.
I wrote him a letter every day. So, once I had an address for him, after the day or two delay from the postal service he started getting a letter every day from me.

He told me that my letters were the only thing that got him through training. He wanted to quit EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. But, getting mail call at the end of the day kept him going. I knew I couldn't send him any packages at all, so I just wrote and sent pictures.

Does your DS have a girlfriend? If they are going to stay together, warn him that the drill sargents are going to tell him that his girl is off "cheating with Jody". (they may have a new name for the "stud".)

They told my ex this every day, because the "girlfriend back home" was a distraction from what the Army wanted of him.

My ex did buy into the cheating thing a little bit. I got some very upset letters from him, telling me that if I wanted to date someone else, just tell him and end it cleanly.

(then he went and cheated on me when he was full status, which is why he's an EX, but I digress..)

That girlfriend stuff aside, any letter he gets from home will lift his spirits and make him want to keep going. My ex liked when I sent letters that had "scents" from home...sometimes I'd spray perfume on them...sometimes I'd put a little essential oils on them--vanilla (cookies).."fresh" scents that reminded him of clean laundry..there was even a "grass" scented oil I found. He said those were nice.

Good luck to your DS, and I'm proud of him, too!!

solus sto posted 8/7/2014 09:51 AM

((((SM)))) no advice, just hugs.

pmal64 posted 8/7/2014 11:08 AM

when my nephew went off into the army last year their platoon had a facebook page.I don't know who ran it or posted the pictures, but my brother and SIL had a big time picking their "soldier" out of the pictures that were posted. it helped SIL deal with him being gone.

sportsfan posted 8/7/2014 13:39 PM

We housed a high school senior several years ago for roughly 6 months. His parents divorced, neither wanted him. Our DD asked if he could stay for a couple of nights as it was very cold here at the time and he was preparing to sleep in his car - so we took him in (didn’t even know who he was until he walked through our door).

He was very quiet - polite - but without any direction. He decided to join the army but showed up at the recruiting facility only once. The sergeant would call encouraging him to come in but he wouldn’t - he was afraid.

But upon graduation he committed to the army. Before leaving for boot camp he cried with us in our driveway as we had become close. We would miss him.

After 2 tours in Afghanistan, a Purple Heart, a move to Fort Hood, a marriage and a child of his own he came back last year for a visit. He had changed. What left as a child returned as a man - collected, sure of himself and honorable.

He’s in town again and will visit with us tonight. He told me last year that I was his mentor - that I have been the greatest influence in his life. He wanted to be like me. Not a chance - I don’t hold a candle to this man.

Congrats, SMS … your boy will return a man!!

Cally60 posted 8/7/2014 21:21 PM

What left as a child returned as a man - collected, sure of himself and honorable.

I once knew a high-school teacher who ran the "punishment" room, to which students had to report when they'd been thrown out of a lesson for misbehavior. Some of his most regular clients went into the military. These students would often return to see him, proudly wearing their uniforms. Sometimes it was as soon as they made their first visit home after they'd enlisted, but their new sense of self worth and change in attitude was often dramatic.

And a second anecdote, which I can't resist sharing. (Maybe it's a well-known saying, I don't know.) I had a colleague who had served in the Royal Air Force. He was of well under-average height and told me that when he joined, his superior officer had told the recruits:

"The uniform won't make you a foot taller, but it will make you feel a foot taller."

I hope the basic training won't be too hard for you or your son, SisterMilkshake. In this week of moving commemorations and evocations, of the start of World War I, I found the tears spring to my eyes as I read of your pride and anxiety concerning your son's brave decision to enlist and the basic training. I wish him a wonderful and very successful career in the military. I have the greatest admiration for those who have the courage to enlist and for those who love them and wait at home. (And, as someone from overseas, I have noticed and really love the high degree of respect usually shown in the States towards present and former members of the military.) My thanks and appreciation to all who have served or who are doing so. And to their families. As the old song says "Bless 'Em All".

[This message edited by Cally60 at 9:26 PM, August 7th (Thursday)]

Cally60 posted 8/7/2014 21:31 PM

The husband of one of my dearest friends served in the Gulf War. After he'd left, she gave all her friends postage-free service personnel air-mail letters and begged them to write to him. I was a little surprised and not quite sure what to say to him. But I wrote anyway. Having read all your comments about how much it means to receive mail, I now understand. Thank you.

DMS88 posted 8/8/2014 13:24 PM

I joined the Army at the age of seventeen (both parents had to sign to let me join as a minor). It has been decades since I went to basic training, but I can tell you mail call was a big thing. The drill sergeant would have a stack of mail and call out your name. It was always a thrill to get a letter.

I would check with your son to see if care packages are allowed and if they are what the Drill Instructor's policy is about the food. I would get these huge boxes of treats from my mother. I wasn't allowed to store food in my locker, so I ended up sharing with my platoon. I was well liked by the platoon.

I don't think he will be allowed to drink because of his age (when I went in if you were old enough to be in the service you were allowed to drink at the on post clubs), but if he does get a 4 hour pass some time during basic tell him to NOT drink. We got a four hour pass halfway through basic and were allowed to go to a little cantina where pizza, soda and beer could be bought. I was a non-drinker, so I had soda, but most of the platoon drank and drank and drank thinking they would go back to the barracks and sleep off the buzz.

We got back and the Drill Instructors were standing in front of the barracks in their Physical Training Uniform. We were told to get into our PT outfit and report to the training field for guerrilla drills. They had us doing non stop calisthenics until all the people who drank started puking their guts out. I had diet Pepsi so I was laughing my butt off.

If you want him to write often send him off with postage paid postcards with your address on it. This way he only has to write a message and pop it in the mailbox.

The biggest advice I can give him is to do what you're told. The soldiers that have the hardest time are the ones who are determined that the Drill Instructor will not 'break' them. If you irritate your D.I. he will focus all of his attention on you. When a D.I. is yelling at you it is just business...unless you pissed him off and then it is personal. Follow orders and he will be alright. Basic was an adventure, but it only takes on that quality in hindsight. Very few people enjoy it while it is happening, so don't get discouraged if you get sad letters from him.

I would go to Basic Training graduation. I know we had a big parade and awards. I don't even remember my Advanced Individual Training graduation.

Skan posted 8/10/2014 17:43 PM

Loads of great advice here already. I'll second, third, fourth, etc., the write letters. Write every day even just a postcard. If you write a postcard PLEASE don't call him by his boyhood cutsie name and sign with hugs and kisses. I guarantee that will be the one that gets passed around. In your letters, tell him every time that you're proud of him, that you love him, and you can't wait to see him. Those letters will be read over and over again during the many low spots.

When you get your first call from him at bootcamp and he sounds like he's about to cry, tells you that he made the biggest mistake of his life, and that he hates it there, empathize but don't cry, freak out, or call the camp insisting to speak to the CO to give him a piece of your mind. Remind him that he's tough, that you raised a good kid, that you believe in him, and that he can do it. This is part of the process of breaking down the individual to build a member of the team. It's not personal.

And for gawds sake, if you or a member of your family is a member of the military and writes to him, please ask that person to NOT write their rank on the return address! Especially if they are an officer. Ask me how I know ....

Blessings on your son.

SisterMilkshake posted 8/11/2014 11:51 AM

Just got back from dropping off DS to be shipped off. I did good, I didn't break down. However, I had a real hard time letting go of him physically. I just kept wanting to hug him and not let go. I am, of course, bawling my eyes out now.

Thank you everyone for taking the time to share tips, reassure, experiences and the hug. It was both reassuring and terrifying at the same time.

DS especially liked the list TrustNoOne shared. He found it helpful. He also enjoyed all the first hand accounts and stories shared here.

Thank you so much for the tips to me to make sure I don't make my son a target. I would have done some of those things. Glad I got the heads up.

sportsfan, you are a freaking hero in my book! It takes a special man to take in a teen no one wants. Yes, indeed, you are that man's mentor and I believe you made a difference in his life in the most positive way possible. I hold you in a special place, too, as you were the very first person here to PM me and welcome me to SI and impart some good advice to me.

Again, thanks so much. If I didn't reply to you specifically, don't think I didn't appreciate and read (and re-read) all your tips. I will be coming back to this thread many times to read it again.

I know this is about DS, but I can't help but to feel so sad. solus sto, your hug touched me so much and made me cry, but in a good way.

itainteasy posted 8/11/2014 11:56 AM


You're gonna need hugs today. Hang in there.

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