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So your boyfriend has joined the Army. By putting name to paper, he has committed the next four, six, eight, or maybe even ten years of his life to serving his country. Maybe he has already left, or maybe you're desperately trying to spend every last minute with him before he does. Watching my boyfriend swear in before being immediately whisked away to catch a flight to Fort Jackson terrified me. I had no idea what to expect in the next two and a half months. Suddenly, the man I had seen almost every single day for the last two years was gone, and I had to learn a new normal.
Military girlfriends are usually afterthoughts in the Army, which is why so many young military couples feel pressured into marriage before they may have typically in the civilian world. The fact of the matter is: the willingness to stand by your boyfriend despite what it entails for your relationship indicates it is a serious, probably very loving relationship that should not be taken lightly.
Although basic training is different depending on the soldier's location, platoon, drill sergeants, etc., here are some things to expect while your boyfriend is in boot camp and how to "survive" the experience. It is going to be hard, but there is nothing like seeing the pride and confidence on your boyfriend's face at the end of this experience.
1. The first two weeks are the toughest.
When I caught my last glimpse of my boyfriend as he left his swearing in, I was in shock. I shed a few tears with our last goodbye, but everything was so rushed that I only had about 30 seconds to whisper I loved him, and slip my first (of many) letters into his jean pocket before he was ushered out the door and into a bus headed for the airport. I was silent on the drive home, trying to make sense of this new life I agreed to. A day or two later, once you fully realize what boot camp entails, it hits you.
About a week after my boyfriend arrived at Fort Jackson for basic training, I flew across the country to California to visit some relatives. Surprisingly, this was one of the hardest experiences I had over the two and a half months. Throughout basic training, you will look for signs of your boyfriend everywhere; you'll find him in places, objects, songs, and activities. Being in a new environment, where nothing around me was reminiscent of my boyfriend was excruciating. California was where the weight of my situation crashed down upon me.
2. Communication will be almost nonexistent.
I had read somewhere that soldiers received a thirty-minute phone call every Sunday. That first Sunday I waited with my phone fully charged all day, praying to hear something. There was no call. I did the same the next Sunday and then the Sunday after that—nothing. I received my first letter about three weeks in and my first phone call, four. There were three phone calls during the (almost) three months my boyfriend was gone; the first two lasted about six-ten minutes, and the last was thirty minutes, received a week before his graduation.
I know what you're thinking, "three months with almost no communication, how can I do it?" Here is my advice... write letters. Write as many as you can. Write when you wish you could talk to him, write when you are sad, write when you are happy, write when something important happens, and even write when you have nothing to do. Once you get those words on paper, it will feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. It will feel like you are talking to him, no matter how hard that may be to believe. You will never have an experience like this again, a situation that forces you to sit down and take the time to compose. Putting that kind of effort into communicating and likewise receiving such effort in return is very romantic, and our relationship grew stronger because of it. It was like Christmas morning every time I received a letter with my name across the front, stamped by the US military. Besides, writing down your feelings is also great therapy.
Try to remain as positive as possible when writing because, although it may not seem like it at the time, basic training spans over a short period of time. If you have negative things to say, it may be good to write it down in a letter; however, do not send it. Your soldier is dealing with his own stress and is looking for positive reinforcement, negativity can wait a few months.
3. Focus on yourself... You will get into the best shape of your life.
I cannot stress this enough: DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH THE GYM. From the time my boyfriend left to the time I saw him on his graduation day, I had lost over ten pounds. I used the time he was gone to focus on myself. I began fueling my body with healthy foods and went to the gym almost every day. Use exercise as a source of stress relief, and get those endorphins pumping! I found myself looking forward to the distraction of putting on headphones, listening to my favorite songs, and losing myself in a gym routine. When I started seeing results, I was motivated by the new, healthy me that would surprise my boyfriend at his graduation. My advice to you is: use this opportunity to work on yourself; dedicate yourself to your work, education, physical and mental health, and hobbies.
4. You may become resentful... and that's okay.
My boyfriend's decision to join the Army left me feeling neglected and even resentful. I could not experience most stereotypical benefits of a relationship, no longer taken on dates, given flowers, told I looked beautiful. I felt as though I was single and yet still attached. It was at that point that I decided whether my relationship was based on convenience or love. For me, it was the latter. I concluded that a few months... even a few years of separation was better than an eternity of it. So for me, this experience was worth it. This being said, it is okay to be angry, it is okay to be sad, and it is even okay to be resentful. You will experience many natural emotions during this experience, and I promise that you are not alone in feeling this way.
5. Find others like you!
You might find that none of your friends can relate to your position. I live with three other women, each with boyfriends they see on a regular basis without restrictions. I was unable to talk to or hear the voice of the man I love on Valentine's Day, but I had to watch friend after friend get ready for their extravagant date nights. In times like this, it is important to find others who can empathize with you. Although I don't know any other military girlfriends where I live, there are hundreds on Facebook. Join a few Facebook groups and you may be relieved at what you find... you might even make some friends.
6. You may be able to find pictures of your soldier.
When my boyfriend was at Fort Jackson, I was able to pay a small $3.00 charge for "Activity" photos (link below). Here, you can navigate hundreds of photos from basic training activities at Fort Sill, Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Jackson, and Fort Benning, taken by groups of volunteers in the areas. Look carefully! They all look really similar in their uniforms.
Also, if you know your boyfriend's company you may be able to find pictures of him on Facebook. Search for his company and location. Good luck!
Basic Training Activity Photos
7. Graduation will be everything you hoped it would be.
Finally, the moment you have been waiting for is here! Three months of waiting for this very moment. The days before will be the longest days of your entire life. I could have been in Disney World, and still, it would have been excruciating. But it will all be worth it once you see him.
Family Day is very dramatic. You will get there, wait in line for an hour or so, and then be seated in bleachers designated for your loved one's unit. A few speeches will be made and then colored smoke will appear from the forest in front of you, followed by music, and finally, your soldier will march out in a sea of hundreds. The anticipation will be intense. Then in a "safe and orderly fashion" you must descend the bleachers and "tap out" your soldier. After your reunion (quick hugs and kisses included), you can spend time with your boyfriend on base until about 7 PM. During this time, holding hands, hugging, and kissing are not permitted, and you and your soldier will be screamed at if you're caught violating these "rules." Even still, there is nothing in the world like being with your man again.
Graduation Day allows more freedom. After the ceremony, your boyfriend is finally allowed off post (if he is POV) and you can FINALLY embrace. For the next one or two days, it is like old times. Make the most of these few days, they will be wonderful. And then when he has to report to AIT, just know that he will (probably) have his phone.