Boot Camp is divided into four sections. The first section deals with how characters become recruits. The second section talks about the training itself, and details the boot camp where training takes place. The third section discusses the characters’ placement after their graduation from recruit to private.
Section OneNo man is born a soldier – he has to be trained. Before even that, he has to be selected, which means he has to make the initial choice himself. The military training process is specifically designed to test every recruit’s commitment and weed out those who do not want a military career. After all, anyone who does not want to be in the military will not give his all, and that could get him and his teammates killed. The first step towars becoming a Mobile Infantry Trooper is entering an enlistment centre. SICON does not have recruitment centres; it has enlistment centres. A recruitment centre actively pursues people and encourages them to join. An enlistment centre is simply a central place making it easier for those who wish to enlist to do so. Most enlistment centres are located in spaceports. The buildings are large, clean and cheap. The location makes it easier to ship out, once the recruit has reached that point. At the same time, spaceports are usually set off to one side of the city (because of the fumes), which means getting to them is a trek for most people. No one wanders past the spaceport, or just happens to walk by the enlistment centre. Approaching it requires a conscious decision, as does entering. This helps cut down on the number of recruits who enrolled on the spur of the moment and regretted it later. All of SICON’s enlistment centres have the same style and the same basic feel. A low but wide gallery stands in front, all glassed in, with a single large desk facing the front doors. Behind that are elevators leading to the top floor. The walls are painted a soothing colour, the carpeting is smooth and soft but firm, and small lights hidden along the upper edge of the wall provide a soft, even light. It is a very calm scene, very mundane, with no trace of the military anywhere – until candidates notice the man waiting behind the front desk.
Like the instructor of History and Moral Philosophy, the man behind the desk is a veteran, retired from active duty. Like many instructors, this man has seen some harsh wounds. Each of the men who sit behind the desk has lost at least one limb, often more. Many of them are missing an arm and a leg, or both arms and a leg, or one arm and both legs. These men are always polite and able to answer questions about the enlistment process and about SICON and the Mobile Infantry in general. They are also gruff and warn the boys not to enlist. These men are selected for one reason and one reason only – their lost limbs. In fact, each of these veterans is a particularly graphic example of the grotesque results of combat. This is the first thing potential recruits see when they walk into the enlistment centre. The calm, quiet setting makes the sight even worse because it does not match. These young men expect to see a kindly older man sitting behind that desk, waiting to welcome them to the service and show them the ropes. Instead they get a grumpy old man, lean as a scarecrow, who has lost one arm at the shoulder, one leg at the knee and the other leg halfway up the thigh, perched on a comfortable upholstered chair, eyeing them with distaste and a little disgust. The shocking reminder of how real war can be, and how much damage the human body could sustain before finally collapsing, fills most men with dread. This is enough to dissuade the more weak-willed, particularly when the veteran waggles his stump at them and warns that they could wind up the same way. The veteran’s grumpiness is also deliberate. Potential recruits think that the military wants them, even needs them, and so they expect to be treated with respect and appreciation. This partial man laughs in their faces and calls them puppies and babies and fools. He tells them how little SICON cares whether they join, how actually SICON would prefer if they did not enlist at all. This is actually true. At least half of all would-be recruits wash out somewhere between being sworn in and graduating from basic training. That means that, for every hundred-man unit, SICON had to pay for the training of between one hundred and fifty and two hundred men. It would save time and money if those who were not fit to serve left before ever taking a single test or filling out a single form. The man at the front desk is there to encourage that decision. Of course, SICON is not above staging a show for the candidates’ behalf. Veterans who lose limbs in battle are fitted with powered prosthetics as effective as the original limbs and sometimes better and, with clothes on, it is impossible to tell the difference. These veterans are not really that grouchy, either. They are instructed to be surly and condescending and rude, in order to scare away young kids who cannot take criticism. It is a deliberate demonstration and has proven very effective at reducing the number of youths who make it to the next stage.
Once a candidate has met the basic requirements and passed the front-desk amputee, he is sent upstairs for his physical. This is not a simple quick once-over, however. The civilian doctors at the enlistment centre have been given specific instructions. Each physical is painstakingly thorough and drags on for hours on end. Every possible nook and cranny of the recruit is probed, poked and pricked. Blood is taken from multiple points. Blood pressure is checked constantly, as are heart rate, temperature and cholesterol level. The candidate is hooked to at least three different monitors at all times, covered in electrodes, given an IV, and equipped with a catheter – it is not uncommon for a recruit, upon seeing the catheter, to protest that the examination will not take that long. The doctors and nurses usually respond with a knowing smile and a deliberate glance at the thick sheaf of papers to be filled out. Several hours later, the recruit discovers that the catheter was useful after all. Samples of every possible bodily fluid are taken, as well as samples of bodily wastes. These are each labelled and analysed, and the results carefully noted. The physical serves several purposes. First, it is yet another test of the candidate’s perseverance and tolerance for abuse. Anyone who cannot endure five hours of medical tests will not survive sitting motionless in a ditch for hours on end. Not every member of the military faces a situation where such a skill is necessary, but enough do that SICON makes sure all of its people can accomplish that task when required. Waiting downstairs was the first test of patience, but the physical is more difficult because it involves movement and dealing with other people.
The doctors are not quiet while administering the physical. When not giving the nurses orders, or asking the candidate questions, the doctors are talking about the various soldiers they have treated over the years. They go into sickening detail about illnesses, diseases and war wounds, lingering on what was removed and how and what complications occurred. The nurses reply with reminiscences of their own past patients, trying to top the doctors’ stories. At the same time, the doctors talk about how hard it is in the military, what a difficult life it can be, how little reward it offers for such exertions and such danger, and so on. Many candidates have cracked when faced with these graphic descriptions of the wounds they could suffer and retreat from this unbiased account of military life from civilians who have certainly seen it all.
The physical also tests a candidate’s ability to follow orders. The doctors and nurses demand various motions and activities from the candidate, including the answers to many very personal questions. Candidates are expected to reply immediately and to obey every order at once. After the third time that the doctor tells him to bend his left knee or hop up and down on one foot or stick out his tongue, most candidates get irritable. Many demand to know why they have to do this again. Some refuse. The doctors are very clear on the matter: ‘do what I say or you fail the physical and are barred from military service.’ This is a lie, of course. The doctors cannot fail anyone, any more than SICON can reject anyone. If a candidate is able to convey his intelligence, independence and interest in joining the military, SICON is required to enlist him and find him a job that matches his physical capabilities. However the candidates do not know this, and that bluff is enough to scare away many would-be recruits, particularly those who have been rethinking the idea since entering the enlistment centre.
Because the candidate strips at the start of the physical, and is not allowed to dress again until the ordeal is finished, the physical also tests composure and selfconfidence. Many young adults are cocky and overconfident, but that changes quickly when forced to parade about naked for several hours. The fact that the doctors and nurses are all fully clothed only heightens the discomfort. The doctors often select one male recruit and one female recruit to examine simultaneously, which means these two young adults are forced to spend several hours unclothed in eachother’s presence, trying not to stare. The doctor and nurses comment on the candidates’ physical attributes throughout, comparing sizes and shapes and other details until most candidates find themselves squirming and blushing. Soldiers cannot afford to be squeamish, particularly about their own bodies and this tests the candidate’s ability to handle such situations.
Despite having to accept everyone, SICON does want to know a candidate’s physical condition. Those who are pronounced fit can take part in regular training and have a wider variety of potential jobs. Those with disabilities require specialised training and are ineligible for any career that requires full and easy movement. The Mobile Infantry, for example, does not take anyone not in excellent health and fully mobile. The suits mirror the body’s movements, and someone with impaired motion would not be able to utilise the suit properly.
The physical also includes a subtle array of psychological tests. The doctors find out how well the candidate responds to authority, to orders, to mindless routine, to unnecessary repetition, to long delays, to an utter lack of privacy and many other details. By the end of the physical, the doctors know everything about the candidate’s physical condition and a great many things about his mental and emotional state as well. They can detail the candidate’s previous diet and exercise levels, estimate the level of stress, discuss the candidate’s physical strengths and weaknesses, and make an educated guess about lifespan (aside from external dangers, of course). All of the forms have been filled out and copied, and these are placed in the candidate’s military dossier. If the candidate chooses not to enlist, or leaves the military before graduating, the dossier is moved into the civilian database but it is not destroyed. That information about the individual could prove useful at some later point, whether to provide the candidate with useful information about his own health or as a way to gain some power over the individual.
After the physical, the candidates are sent back downstairs to see the amputee veteran at the front desk. They have their medical reports and the doctors and nurses do not accompany them. This is not a sign of trust. Rather, it is yet another chance for the candidates to back out. Any candidate who returns to the front desk without his medical report is simply sent home. The veteran at the front desk glances at the medical reports then asks each candidate if he still wants to enlist. If the answer is ‘yes,’ the veteran calls in two witnesses. These are also military personnel, usually administrators at the enlistment centre. Some are veterans like the amputee, but others have simply pulled light duty. The witnesses are asked to examine the medical reports, and inspect the candidates themselves – these are cursory examinations only, purely as a formality. Then the veteran asks the witnesses if they have examined the materials, and they affirm that they have. He asks if they see any reason the candidates should not be accepted for service, and they reply no. They then warrant that each candidate seems fit, prepared and present of his own volition. The veteran then turns to each candidate and asks him to raise his right hand and repeat the SICON Military Service oath.
After taking the oath, the veteran gives each candidate a copy of the oath to sign. The witnesses sign as well and then congratulate the new recruits, who have now formally enlisted in the Terran Federation military. For many, the swearing in is a letdown. After all the waiting and testing and second-guessing, after having so many people ask again and again if they really want to join the military, the actual oath-taking is quick, painless and undramatic. Receiving a pilot’s license involves more fanfare. As with every other aspect of military life, this is not accidental. SICON wants its soldiers to be proud of who they are and proud of their service, but not for flashy reasons. It does not give many awards and its uniforms do not have many frills, even the dress uniforms. This swearing-in ceremony is the first indication that the military is a serious place and not the grand adventure many potential recruits dream about.
Now that the candidates have become recruits, they may expect the amputee veteran’s attitude toward them to change. It does not. He congratulates them on enlisting, hands them their papers and tells them to be back at his desk in 48 hours. Many recruits ask why they have 48 hours and he tells them it gives them time to set their affairs in order, say their good-byes, tell their parents and so forth. He also tells each recruit what will happen if he does not return at the appointed time: absolutely nothing. Any recruit who does not reappear as instructed has his dossier stamped ‘Term Not Completed Satisfactorily.’ No fines are levied, no punishments handed out. The only consequence of that stamp is that the former recruit can never again apply for military service. He can, however, still earn his citizenship through other routes. After explaining this and pointing out that many young men never do return, the veteran says good-bye and turns away,leaving the young recruits to their own thoughts.
The next two days are tense ones. Many recruits did not tell their parents they were joining – even for those who did, their parents may not have believed they would go through with it. When these young men return home and reveal that they are now soldiers, they may face anger, grief, denial and even ridicule. For the next two days the parents may avoid them or plead with them, yell at them or bribe them to set aside this foolishness and not go back. Many recruits cave at the pressure. Nor is all the pressure parental. Friends often rally to sway the recruit, as do girlfriends and boyfriends, teachers, co-workers and other relatives. Explaining to a sibling can be difficult, particularly a younger brother or sister who idolises the recruit. The worst pressure, however, comes from within. Before going to the enlistment centre, joining the military sounded like a grand, heroic, wonderful thing. It was an adventure, offering travel, training, lasting friendships and adventures to impress relatives and admiring civilians later on. The enlistment process changed all that. Now the recruit realises his notion was merely a fantasy and nothing like the reality. If the enlistment was any example, military life is cold and rough and embarrassing, filled with long, boring pauses and meaningless orders. Soldiers are treated more like objects than people, or perhaps like animals, told to sit and stay and left alone for hours. Is that really worth doing?
The obvious barriers are disapproving parents but other people and activities tug at the recruit. If he had an after-school job or a summer internship, they may offer him a full-time position. A college may offer him a scholarship. His friends may plan to start their own business or band and invite him to join them. His parents may try to bribe him with a trip somewhere, or his own car, or some other luxury. Other stumbling blocks may be less personal. The news reports talk about recent skirmishes with the bugs and about the soldiers who were killed. Footage shows Mobile Infantrymen being carried out on stretchers or in body bags. This reminds the recruit of the doctors’ stories and of the amputee. Is the thrill of being a soldier, even the lure of citizenship, worth the risk of losing a limb or one’s life?
Each recruit has his own reasons for going back even after the reality sinks in. Some return out of duty, still believing this is the best way to repay the Federation for all it has given them. Others go back out of honour – they swore an oath and mean to uphold it no matter how much they now regret it. Some still let anger guide them, furious at parents and friends for trying to control them and determined to get away and start over. For a few it was never a choice – the life they leave behind has nothing to offer and anything looks good in comparison.
Upon returning and presenting his papers, the new recruit is sent upstairs to meet with the Military Careers Officer. This is a retired officer, usually part of the psychological warfare or occupational therapy units. He already has the recruit’s Federal Education scores and a copy of the doctors’ report, which show the recruit’s physical capabilities and educational background. The officer’s job is to decide each recruit’s military potential and put him in the career that will best match his abilities. The recruit’s interests are not a concern. The recruit is given a form listing every career in the military. He ranks them in order of preference, highest to lowest. The Military Careers Officer examines the resulting list and may comment. More often he pulls out a sheaf of standardised tests and selects one for the recruit to take. Most recruits put ‘pilot’ at the top of their list because that is considered the most heroic and prestigious job in the military. Fortunately, it is very easy to determine whether a candidate is actually suited for that occupation. Math is critical for a pilot and a series of escalating questions tests the recruit’s ability in that area. Those who pass are given a series of additional tests, particularly reflexes and spatial perceptions. If they pass both of those with high enough marks, they are sent to flight academy. Few pass – piloting is extremely difficult and requires not only excellent reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination but also superlative spatial perception and an intuitive grasp of higher math. In most cases the officer will focus on each job the recruit listed in order of preference, starting with the highest. Some have overlapping skill sets and can be eliminated together.
Those recruits whose first choice is something other than pilot usually have a good reason for their selection, like the mechanical wizard whose first preference is Engineering or Research & Development. As a result, they stand a much better chance of getting their first choice. This is particularly true for anyone who has advanced training. The two other careers that can be determined immediately are Special Services and K-9 Corps. Recruits either have psychic abilities or not – those with psychic abilities can be sent to Special Services to hone their skills through training but a non-psychic will never become one. The K-9 Corps works with Neodogs, and each soldier is bonded to a single animal. The pairing is intense and intimate and only those who truly love animals, and dogs in particular, are suited for the task.
Some people assume that Mobile Infantry is the lowest career available and is the job assigned to any recruit too incompetent to qualify for anything else. This is not true. Many people are discounted for Mobile Infantry for physical reasons, whether matters of health or of mobility or of sensory perception. Others are barred from that service for psychological reasons. In between taking the aptitude tests, the officer chats with the recruit. These officers are expert at psychology and their seemingly idle conversation is a series of questions and verbal openings designed to draw the recruit out and study his mind. By the end of the placement process, the officer knows how the recruit thinks, what he wants, what he is willing to do and what he is capable of doing.
The testing process can last anywhere from hours to days, depending on how long it takes to find a suitable match. The officer will place the recruit in the first position on his list that actually fits, unless the recruit has a change of heart and wants to revise his preferences. Thus some recruits prove their own judgement and fit their top choice, while others go down their entire list, being rejected for one career after another. As mentioned before, SICON cannot turn away anyone who volunteers and fulfils the basic requirements for service. That means that the most uneducated, untalented, uncoordinated, unintelligent recruit will still receive an assignment. Veterans joke about bottlewashers but even the military does need people to dig latrines, empty garbage and scrub sinks.
In between tests, the recruit is housed in a small barracks in a neighbouring building. Everyone else enlisted within the last week or two is there as well, either undergoing the same process or waiting to be shipped out. It is the first taste of military life, but time in these barracks is nothing like real training – the recruits are left to their own devices when not taking tests, and other than meals and lights-out no one tells them what to do. After taking the last tests, the Military Careers Officer calls the recruit back in to discuss the results. He is open about the recruit’s failures and will go down the list of possible careers one by one, explaining why the recruit was not eligible for them. Then he explains why he put the recruit where he did, in the Mobile Infantry.
Some recruits are thrilled to be in the Mobile Infantry. Others are less enthused, believing that they have been relegated to the role of grunts. Whenever a candidate seems disappointed, the officer waits until he leaves and then sends a specific signal downstairs. The veteran at the front desk or one of his cronies makes sure to ‘accidentally’ bump into the recruit on their way out and ask what career the recruit has received. Upon hearing that it is the Mobile Infantry, the veteran gets enthusiastic. He was Mobile Infantry and he begins to talk about the virtues of that branch, and how important it is to the Federation’s defences. This boosts the recruit’s spirits, at least until he reaches boot camp.
Within a day of receiving a career, the recruit also receives his orders. These tell him which training camp he will be attending, what ship he is taking and when it leaves. Sometimes the ship leaves within hours. Other times it can be up to ten days, particularly if the ship has to pick up a full complement before making the trip. This provides more time for the recruits to socialise. It also gives each recruit a chance to adjust to the idea of his new career. He is no longer just a new soldier – now he is a new trainee pilot or a new technician or a new Mobile Infantryman.
Some recruits try to change their assignments. Usually this is because they know someone at another facility, or want to stay in town for a particular upcoming event, or dislike the climate of their future home. Each of these requests is met with a simple denial, not rude but utterly inflexible. The military does not negotiate with its enemies and it does not negotiate with its own personnel. For those who do ask, this is the first hint that the military will not tolerate foolishness and does not coddle its people. Those who persist in demanding an assignment change may get their wish, but not in the way they want – their departure may be moved up to an immediate takeoff and their location may be switched to some place far colder or warmer or more isolated. Requests to speed up the departure are also met with a firm no. The military has its own pace and its own reasons for everything it does. Soldiers do not need to know those reasons or approve of them – all a soldier has to do is follow orders.
While the recruit waits to depart, he packs. Many recruits report to the enlistment centre with a large trunk, a backpack and one or more suitcases. They are quickly disabused of this notion. Each recruit is handed a regulation military rucksack upon entering the barracks. That one rucksack holds everything the soldier owns, including uniforms. Anything that does not fit in the rucksack has to be sent back home, or given away, or sold, or simply tossed but it will not be accompanying the soldier when he leaves. This is a difficult moment. It is a symbolic severing of ties, cutting the past loose and letting it drift away. The military wants this to happen, which is why they keep the rucksacks small. Training involves moulding these young men into proper soldiers and specifically into SICON soldiers who think the way SICON intends. That is difficult when the recruits dream about their old lives and the friends they left behind. Removing mementoes of the past helps to set the past itself aside, so that the recruits are more receptive to training and to forming new habits.
Every barracks has at least one veteran in charge and he often wanders the halls, laughing at the recruits in their eagerness and ignorance. He is rarely pleasant, and often insulting, but he will answer one question: ‘What should we pack?’ He suggests that anything small or valuable should be sent home if possible – it will only get damaged or stolen. Glass should also be sent back, since the rucksack and its contents will see hard use. Most recruits are cautioned to bring only a few photos, a civilian set of clothes (for leave), one or two small items like favourite books and tools for a favourite hobby, like woodworking or painting or playing guitar. Musical instruments are the only objects recruits can carry outside their rucksack and those who play and have instruments are encouraged to bring them.
The recruit is also given a set of basic military clothing, consisting of underwear, trousers, undershirt, overshirt, socks, shoes, jacket and hat. These are simple, sturdy garments. They may not fit very well, because the military does not bother to measure soldiers. Anything that does not fit well enough the soldiers are encouraged to mend themselves, or pay someone else to repair. Finally the day arrives. The recruit shoulders his rucksack, checks to make sure his papers are in hand and walks out of the barracks and over to the waiting military vessel. He presents his papers to the soldier waiting there and climbs on board, leaving his old life behind.
Military training begins the moment a recruit returns. New skills may not be taught until boot camp but certain ideas are planted from that first moment. The first and most important idea: the military is your family. SICON wants soldiers to think of the military first, before parents and friends and lovers. The military is both mother and father – it protects, nurtures, teaches and punishes when necessary. In order to foster that idea, SICON has to tear the recruits away from all their old attachments and give them reasons to form new ones.
The first inkling of this is the testing process. The Military Careers Officer treats the recruits with cold professionalism. He clearly sees each recruit as a test case, a riddle to be solved, rather than as a person. The veterans in charge of the barracks are swaggering bullies, picking on all the new recruits, making fun of them and laughing at their chances of even surviving boot camp. The other military personnel are all aloof, looking down their noses at the recruits. The pilots are particularly brusque and say little more than telling the recruits where to sit and to buckle up for the flight. This is also part of SICON’s training strategy. The military is a team and every member has to learn to work together in a team. Soldiers depend on one another for safety and that requires absolute trust. The military uses the herd mentality to build this tight bond. By driving recruits away from everyone else, SICON encourages them to turn to one another for support. The military wants each soldier strong but far stronger in a group. Safety lies in numbers. The characters may dislike members of their squad but trust them completely and the squad functions as a single unit, protecting itself and its members. The trip to boot camp reinforces that message, as the recruit looks around and recognises at least one person who enlisted when he did and got the same career path he did. The trip to boot camp also drives away all memory of the recent enlistment barracks. The days or weeks spent there were a transition only. Boot camp is far more difficult and recruits begin to realise this on their flight out.
SICON is in no rush for its recruits to begin training and has other things to show them along the way. It sends its military transports, those used to ferry recruits to their first assignments, to bring the recruits to their new homes. The ride is not the shortest or smoothest it could have been. In fact, the ride is the longest, slowest, most turbulent route possible. The entire purpose of this delay is to keep the recruits awake. After receiving assignments, most recruits do not sleep for the first night, sometimes the second as well. The veterans deliberately roam the barracks halls at night, speaking loudly and running into objects and waking everyone up. The idea is for the recruits to stay awake until they reach their training camp and be exhausted when they arrive. The military transports used for these trips have also been slightly modified. Military engineers made the engines as loud as possible. They still work fine, but now they sound like an old man having a coughing fit. This is meant to keep the recruits awake but also to stop them from talking to one another. The military wants the recruits to bond with their own squadmates, to the exclusion of other friends. Those other new recruits are also following their training assignments but they may not be in the same squad, and that is important. The roar of the motors blank out all conversation and then once they arrive at boot camp the recruits get sorted into their respective squads. Suddenly best friends since childhood are in a different squad and can only be visited on weekends. In the meantime the recruits spend every waking hour with their own squad and soon learn to trust their squad mates completely.
At the enlistment centre each recruit underwent a series of physical, psychological and educational tests. All of that information is sent to boot camp ahead of them, so that the officers can read the dossier at leisure. Despite this prior knowledge, the camp commander arranges for each recruit to run a gauntlet immediately upon arrival. The Gauntlet is a combination of obstacle course, hunt and mock combat. Most are set up along the following lines:
A portion of the training field is marked off with stakes and ropes. Hills and holes are created within this space, along with rocks, paths, valleys and niches. In some locations the obstacle course includes the nearby woods, a neighbouring river or any other natural obstacles the area provides. Those soldiers already partway through their training help prepare the Gauntlet for use. Everyone in camp takes part, often spurred on by personal Gauntlet memories. Once the recruits arrive, they are shuffled off to present their papers to the base commander. Then they are told they can go sleep as soon as they have run the Gauntlet successfully.
Most recruits agree and stumble immediately toward the starting line. Smarter recruits take a minute to catch their breath. The Gauntlet is always run at dusk, when the sun begins to sink below the horizon. There is still enough light to run, but the rays can be blinding to anyone facing the direction. Running the Gauntlet can be another early adventure, particularly if several recruits arrive together. Since they are the new kids, the other soldiers shun them or mock them and the recruits will once again turn to each other for support. The first portion of the Gauntlet is simply an obstacle course. Some of the obstacles are clearly visible, like the hurdles, but others are less obvious. This portion is designed to throw the recruit off-kilter, making him rely on his intuition to complete the route in one piece. Several veterans armed with simple staves lurk above the maze portion, ready to attack anyone who tries to dart past. A small wall has been erected for the recruits to climb over, plus the section has ropes in many places, and a series of tiny ponds or brooks as well. It is pretty uneven and it is easy for the recruit to lose his footing and fall.
The second part of the Gauntlet is a hunt or race. The recruits complete the maze and are now standing near the front of the camp. But the veterans who were attacking them are right behind – recruits are not allowed to carry weapons and have not been issued any since arriving. The recruits are told that a tent on the far corner of the marked area is their safe zone and destination – they have to get to that tent by nightfall. This becomes a race between the recruits and the soldiers, to see who gets there first and whether the recruits can evade the soldiers’ attacks. The third portion of the Gauntlet is combat. Upon reaching the tent, each recruit is handed a bamboo switch and told to go back out and fight. If he refuses, the soldier comes in to get him. The soldier will attack even if the recruit does nothing, though he will never go for a killing blow or disfigurement.
The Gauntlet has two purposes. The first is to set the tone for the rest of training: short, violent, nasty and way too early. It is impossible to go through the Gauntlet and still think that military life will be fun and relaxing and mildly entertaining. The second purpose is to gauge each recruit’s abilities. Even with the medical records in hand, camp commanders like to assess each new recruit personally. He watches from just outside the marked-off area, as does the company sergeant. They note down what each recruit does and by the end of the night have an accurate assessment of each recruit’s strengths and weaknesses.
There are a few fundamentals applied to the Gauntlet, however: Nothing about the Gauntlet should be lethal except by accident. Guns are not used during the course, and those weapons that are used will leave bruises but are unlikely to seriously injure someone. The Gauntlet cannot have any permanent structures because the entire camp is temporary buildings and tents. Earthworks can be dug and piled and tamped, but little else can be altered. The Gauntlet is designed to test reflexes, co-ordination, agility, stealth, perception and intuition. It does this by throwing surprises at people, who then react accordingly. It is not intended to simulate real combat conditions and the armed veterans are allowed to bruise and slightly batter but nothing more.
It can be a solo test, requiring each recruit to complete the entire course before another can take a turn. This makes the process far more competitive and each recruit is encouraged to finish the course as quickly as possible.
The other option is to send all of the recruits through at once. This gives them more chance to form an alliance, especially against the shadowy attacks halfway through the course. Even when done cooperatively, the Gauntlet still has a race element to it and each recruit is encouraged to get the best time. There is no award for doing so, beyond the respect of the other soldiers and a close watch by the staff sergeant. No one is allowed to leave the Gauntlet partially finished and soldiers will be sent out to goad along any recruit who pauses too long in one spot. Those who collapse or pass out are awakened by a bucket of water and told to continue. Those who are defeated by the other soldiers, usually everyone, are informed that they have just died and are miserable excuses for human beings, much less would-be soldiers. This also sets the tone for the rest of boot camp.
After all of the recruits have finished the Gauntlet they are returned to their barracks and allowed to sleep for several hours. Note that no one leaves until all of them have finished the obstacle course, however long that takes. Veterans have learned the knack of sleeping anywhere and so those standing guard just beyond the staked-out area are deep asleep with their eyes open. The recruits are not that lucky. They have already endured a hellish flight, followed by an awful obstacle course through mud and dirt and slime, followed by a beating from a soldier they do not even know. Most of the recruits are completely exhausted and barely staying upright. By the time they do reach their cots, the recruits are so exhausted they collapse upon them and fall asleep immediately. This also builds a strong association, linking bed with comfort and safety in their minds.
Some recruits are too wired to sleep, even after so much exertion. A few are thrilled at the exercise and activity, and far too cheerful so late at night and after so much exertion. Others cannot move without groaning and hate their life, the camp, the city, everything. They want to go back to their cosy little house and fancy little car and rich little friends and find a job that pays more than the whole web combined. These recruits often slip away that night, or see the camp commander first thing in the morning about resigning. They are given Honourable Discharges and sent home. For the rest, this is the first night of the rest of their lives. For days afterward their bodies will ache from the event, reminding each recruit what he went through and how much he still has to learn.