Sunday, February 5, 2012

BMT: Illness and Sanitation

This seems like an odd topic for BMT, but I promise you, it's huge.

I've mentioned before that your MTI's first priority is your safety and well-being.  A significant part of that is your physical health.  As a trainee, the onus is on you to ensure that you're taking good care of yourself while you're at Lackland, so that you may progress in your training, rather than be placed on a medical hold.  Once you get down there, you'll understand why you want to graduate as soon as possible.  Being held up for any reason is heartbreaking, as it further delays your chance to see your family/loved ones, and separates you from your original flight.  Take care of yourself.  Do everything you can to make sure you're in the best of health.

BMT = Increased Risk
It is extremely common to get sick at BMT.  You're in a new climate (heat and humidity), there's different flora/fauna/insects in the area, you're living in close quarters with 50 other trainees, you're stressed out, you may not be hydrating properly, and you're not sleeping enough.  All of this contributes to a reduced immune system, leaving you susceptible for illness.  

What happens if I get sick? If you're sick and need medical attention, your MTI will allow you to go to Reid Clinic, which is the health clinic for trainees.  They open around 0600, so you will typically eat breakfast in the dining facility, sign out at CQ, and then walk with a wingman to the clinic.  While you're at the clinic, you'll have to call your CQ via in-clinic phones to let them know that you're still there waiting.  Don't ask to go to the clinic if you don't really need to - it's not worth the waste of your time.  They'll usually just offer you a "cold pack" or a "pain pack" and send you on your way, after waiting forever.  These are paper bags that contain over the counter medication, such as a pain reliever, throat lozenges, decongestants, etc.  Typically the clinic require you to try a couple cold packs/pain packs before they take it to the next level of care.  You're still expected to train when you have a cold, even if you've gone to the clinic and gotten a cold pack.  Push on, trainee, push on.  This can make training extremely challenging, when you're have to give it your all, despite illness.  Yes, they do have sick call at BEAST, if you should get sick out there.

If you have a physical ailment, such as a blister, they will give you a blister pack, which contains some bandages and moleskin, but not much else.  Those three packs (blister, cold, pain) will go with you back to the dorm.  You'll notify your MTI that you have them in your possession, as he/she has to keep a medication list.  You'll store them in your security drawer, and you're allowed to carry a day's supply in your pocket.

As a Dorm Chief, my Training Superintendent told me that "Dorm Chiefs don't get sick."  You miss too much while you're gone and as a student leader, the impact is felt even more so.  I almost followed that directive, and toughed out most of BMT.  I never went to Reid until 7WOT, after our final PT eval.  I was sick all through BEAST with early symptoms of Bronchitis, but managed to hold it off with a cold pack.  I was not going to risk my timely graduation and all of the pomp and circumstance that came along with it, especially as a Dorm Chief.

Medical Waivers
If the clinic staff deem it necessary, you may be placed on a medical waiver.  If you're really ill, they may place you on bed rest for the day, but it's a rare occurrence.  You can get waivers for a number of items, including the following:
  • Running - No running, or self-paced running.
  • Eating - Extended time to eat meals.
  • Shower - Extended time for showering, usually due to a skin condition that requires a special body wash.
  • Spandex - Ability to wear/not wear spandex due to chafing and skin irritation.
  • PT - Limitations on the types of strength training activities a trainee can perform.
  • Drill/marching - No drilling or marching.  These trainees have to walk at ease in the back of the flight, behind everyone else.
When you return to the squadron from the clinic, you'll check back in with CQ and provide your MTI with your waiver.  He'll/she'll make a copy of it and return one to you.  You're required to have a copy of your waiver on your person at all times.  Be prepared for MTIs to ask you why you're not doing XYZ along with the rest of the flight - you'll have to give your reporting statement and let them know you have a waiver.  If requested, you'll retrieve it from your pocket and show it to them.  Waivers do have an expiration date - don't get caught trying to pass off an expired waiver - they do check.

Take care of yourself!
MTIs really emphasize that it is your responsibility to take care of yourself.  Your body is property of Uncle Sam, and if you get sick you jeopardize graduating on time, moving onto tech school, and entering the operational Air Force at the projected time.  This is costly for everyone, and if your MTI knows you've been failing to take care of yourself properly, they're not too sympathetic.

Taking time out of your training to go to the clinic or being put on bed rest disrupts your very busy training schedule.  If you miss a mandatory class while you're at the clinic or on bed rest, your MTI will be forced to reschedule that for another time.  This may mean attending that class at another squadron or missing out on a more exciting, non-mandatory class/event (like pugil sticks) because you have to attend a make-up class during that same time slot.  In the worst case scenario, it may mean you don't get to attend BEAST with your flight, as you haven't taken the appropriate mandatory classes in time, so you'll end up going with another flight during your 7WOT while the rest of your flight is strutting around in their blues.  Drill/marching waivers may mean you miss out on Control (a drill assessment that is a factor in Warrior Flight competition).

Steps for Self-Care
  • Hydrate!  On the back of every bathroom stall door, there's a poster that shows you urine colors to self-assess whether you're hydrating enough.
  • Sleep.  Get as much sleep as you can.  Try to stick to your MTI's schedule.  It's tempting to stay up and write letters after lights out, but get to bed as soon as you can to maximize your sleep.
  • Wash your hands and/or use sanitizer.  Wash your hands frequently and use the hand sanitizer that they've "provided," as well as the dispensers before every meal.
  • Don't touch your face!  You'll soon learn that touching your face is a huge no-no.  MTIs and classroom instructors will be all over you if you put your hand on your face, due to the fear of getting germs from your hands near your mouth and other facial features.
  • Don't bite your nails.  Again, they'll yell at you because your dirty hands are now on your face and in your mouth.
  • Eat properly.  Make smart choices, fill up on protein, fruits, and vegetables while in the chow hall.  Limit the carbs you consume.  Make sure you're eating, period!  Don't not eat because you think you don't have enough time.  Trust me - your MTI and your flight members are watching, and will report you if you're not eating, which is equally as bad of an offense.

Worst Case Scenario
If your condition is significant, you will be removed from your squadron and sent to the 324th (formerly the 319th) for medical hold.  There you'll wear a colored armband to identify your status.  Medical holds aren't the only trainees sent here.  Those awaiting discharge (for controllable and uncontrollable circumstances) are also sent here.  Trainees who prove mentally unstable and suicidal are also here.  Trainees in the Get Fit flight, who have failed to pass their PT tests, are also sent here.  It's not a happy place, and it may represent being that much closer to being discharged and never fulfilling your dream of becoming an Airman.  

If you're lucky, you'll recover from your illness or condition and be sent back to a squadron (notice I didn't say your squadron) to resume training where you left off.  We had a trainee that was on medical hold for four weeks due to dehydration.  All of those relationships you built at your original squadron will be lost, and your flight mates will graduate and be off to better things long before you.  You'll be sent to another squadron to try to fit in with a new flight that's already bonded.  It's a difficult transition.

If you're not lucky, you'll be discharged and sent home, either honorably, less than honorably, or dishonorably, depending on the circumstances.  Some trainees are sent home to recover, and then have to go through MEPS again to be cleared to come back.

Final Thoughts
The moral of this story is take care of yourself.  While it may seem like a good idea to get sick and be sent to the clinic in hopes of a waiver that gets you out of PT, it's not.  Don't prolong your stay at BMT or jeopardize it completely.  Getting out of PT may be a temporary relief, but eventually you're going to have to do your final PT test.  If you're not physically prepared at that point, it's only going to drag out your BMT experience even longer.  Don't feign mental illness or suicidal thoughts to get out of BMT.  You were mature enough to enlist, you need to be mature enough to suck it up and see it through.  Plus, they can tell if you're faking it, and you risk UCMJ action and a negative discharge that will scar your working career for life.  Stay healthy so you can graduate and get on with your Air Force career!