What Happens If You Fail Basic Training?

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Basic training is the initial process by which the military takes a civilian recruit and turns him into a solider. The hours are long and the training is arduous, but basic training is designed to give a recruit the physical and mental fortitude he will need for his service ahead. While it is possible to "fail" basic training, this possibility is not as straight-forward as failing a test.

1 Basic Training

Basic training is an exhausting combination of physical conditioning, combat training and indoctrination into military culture, customs and procedures. The process is not designed to be easy; it is designed to push the recruit as hard as it can. No matter how physically capable a recruit is, his drill instructor will push him beyond his current abilities. While there are minimum physical scores and testing results necessary to graduate from basic training, the training is meant to make soldiers perform at levels far above the minimums. Just because a recruit fails at a given task on one day does not mean he will fail basic training.

2 Recycling

When a recruit enlists, she hands herself over to the military. The military wants her as a fully trained soldier, and drill instructors are personally invested in the success of their recruits. Consequently, if a recruit does fail to pass the minimum standards for a particular test, she will usually be recycled back into the training phase leading up to that test. This gives the recruit extra training in the assessment's subject matter, and another shot at passing the assessment.


The military is not for everyone. It is possible that despite the work a drill instructor puts into a recruit's success, he will not be able to meet certain minimum testing scores. If this is the case, then the military may give the individual an Entry-Level Separation (ELS). This dismisses the recruit from his obligation to the military. An ELS is not an honorable, general or dishonorable discharge: it simply sends the recruit back to the civilian world.

4 Procedure

Issuing an ELS is a command decision. While a recruit may request one, it is not an application and there is no appeals process. When a recruit signs her enlistment contract and shows up for basic training, she commits to the military for a certain number of years. Consequently, whatever the recruit may think of her own ability to pass basic training, as long as the military believes it can make a soldier out of the recruit, it will continue to try to do so.

Micah McDunnigan has been writing on politics and technology since 2007. He has written technology pieces and political op-eds for a variety of student organizations and blogs. McDunnigan earned a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from the University of California, Davis.