Mentoring Authors One Scene at a Time – Thriller/Military/Non-Fiction/SF/Fantasy
This is a difficult post to write, especially the first in this series, because the real answer is – it depends.
Soldiers are constantly in different phases: recovery, preparation, combat – among others. So, their daily routine will change depending on which phase and what location they are in.
Soldiers also have different job. There are over 100 different jobs in the Army, and each one has its own rhythm and structure.
Let’s start this blog series on Writing Soldiers with the daily routine of Combat Soldiers at their home base. There is some controversy about what makes up a Combat Soldier, because many non-combat Soldiers experience combat situations and the lines are kind of blurry. However, the truth is that there are some jobs that are intended to be in combat situations and some that are not, and some that cross the line between the two. The Army divides MOS (professions in the Army) into combat and support, and the daily life of each is significantly different.
Here is a basic daily routine for a normal Combat Soldier, approximate times in a normal day at the base where they live (not in a combat environment/ deployment like Iraq or Afghanistan). This is the daily routine after basic training:
If someone is not present, then the squad or group that the missing soldier is a member of will begin calling and looking for him, trying to trace steps of where he might have went the night before. Usually, in the morning, the squad and team leaders will knock on all the barracks’ doors and check the rooms to make sure everyone is awake, before the formation, but they will recheck the barracks again if someone is missing. Nowadays, finding someone is somewhat easier as you can call a Soldier’s cell phone. In the 1990s, it was more problematic, unless the soldier had a beeper, which wasn’t often.
Once the soldier is found, a number of things could happen. He could be verbally reprimanded, counseled on paper (especially if this wasn’t his first offense), or put on extra duty and possibly given an Article 15. I’ll discuss punishment in the Army in a later post.
Physical Training, called PT, is normally done in squad size elements. Sometimes a platoon might do PT together. Usually, about once a month, the company will do physical training together, usually consisting of a long run or rucksack march. Twice a year all Army Soldiers are required to pass a Physical Fitness Test.
All senior enlisted and officers are trained in Army PT, the manual for this training is currently (as of Summer 2019) the FM 21-20 Physical Fitness Training. This is augmented by the experience of the Soldiers’ leaders, who may have lifted weights or competed in sports in high school and college. Sometimes, the Soldiers will do workouts from the Army PT manuel, sometimes they will play sports, sometimes they will go to the gym or run or swim. It is mostly up to the leaders.
The leaders are held responsible for keeping their soldiers in shape and within the height/ weight standards required by the Army. Also, if leaders keep a high enough standard in their team/squad/platoon so that their Army Physical Fitness Test scores are the highest average of any other unit, then they could receive an award or a good bullet in their evaluation report. The physical prowess of the unit reflects on the leaders.
Also, Soldiers that score well in PT are more likely to receive favorable action, especially in the selection of Army School participation. The main reason for this is because most Army schools require students to pass a PT test when they attend, and Soldiers that don’t attend dishonor their unit and also use up a slot for that school that could have gone to someone else.
Soldiers that cannot pass the height/ weight standards or pass the fitness test will be flagged, which means they will not be allowed to go to training schools, get promoted, or anything else that is favorable until they are able to pass the standards. If they don’t progress and get to the level where they can pass, they can eventually be processed out of the military.
Most of the Army has normal 9 to 5 jobs in offices. They make the military work either by doing logistics or administration or medical work. Combat Soldiers (infantry, armor, artillery, etc.) spend their days improving their combat skills. They will usually go to the weapons range at least one week out of the month. They will also go to other ranges to practice their combat skills such as patrolling, reconnaissance, driving, maneuvers, and tactics.
They can eat lunch at the range, either be brown bagging it if the group is senior, or being issued MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), or be having hot meals delivered out to the range by the dining facility, commonly called Mermites (because that is the name of the containers the food is transported in).
Also, some may be using government computers in order to do required training, either certification courses or pre-promotion courses that teach advanced elements of their job and leadership.
Lastly, there is usually a cleaning that is done right before work call and at the end of the day. Usually, the lowest ranking are involved and supervised, or there may be duty roster.
There is sometimes night training, where the soldiers practice patrolling at night or night shooting with Night Vision Goggles (NVGs or NODs). Also, some operations, such as parachute jumping, take place in the evening or require preparation or night movement to the jump site. If none of these things are happening, then the Soldiers can eat dinner and go to the gym or relax in their rooms or go out on the town to eat or go to bar or shopping. After they are released, they can live a normal life for the most part, if there are no requirements.
Additionally, weekends are usually free for the Service members if there is no training scheduled. Normally, National holidays are free and the military might give an additional day, making it a four day weekend.
It’s important to note that some Soldiers live in barracks, some live in on post housing, and some live off post.
In basic training, enlisted soldiers usually live in open bay barracks that either have bunk beds or single beds and each Soldier is given a wall locker to store all their clothes and equipment in, which during basic training has to be configured in a very exact way.
Usually, the younger, single Soldiers of low rank live in barracks (though they are building single NCO barracks nowadays at some bases) which greatly resemble college dorm rooms. Most of these are rooms are for two people with a bathroom. The higher your rank the more likely you are to have a room to yourself. Some have kitchens with full ovens and a full size fridge, some have a community kitchen for the floor, some don’t have any access to a kitchen. Most people that live in the barracks have meal cards and eat for free at the dining facility. The rooms are usually divided by sex, and sometimes the floors are divided by sex too.
Housing on post is usually restricted to married Soldiers with families, normally lower ranking, though the unit commanders and highest enlisted are required to live on base too. There are some bases that have brand new buildings that are very comfortable and some that still have older buildings that have a lot of problems. Most bases have schools on the base that military children (called dependents) can attend. The size of houses usually depends on the rank of the Soldier and the size of the family.
Many times, married Soldiers, senior enlisted Soldiers, and Officers are permitted to live off post (in some overseas bases this is not the case, or is restricted). In this case, the Soldiers look for a house like any normal civilian would and either buy it or rent it. They are given additional money every month (called Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH) to offset the cost of housing and utilities. The amount of BAH depends on the rank of the Soldier.
Next post I’ll cover what a day looks like when deployed.
Check out my Writing the Military page for all my posts about life in the military.
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