COLUMBIA, S.C. — Back in my day...." It's the opening phrase of a familiar lament by generations of old-timers convinced that youngsters have it all too easy.
And it's a lament heard often in the military, where curmudgeonly veterans despair of today's wimpy training of recruits.
But for once the wise old generation may be entirely wrong.
A recent investigation at Fort Jackson, S.C., - the Army's largest basic-training post, where 40,000 soldiers are trained each year - shows that from push-ups to weapons training, today's recruits work as hard, if not harder than those in years past.
In 1980, for example, male recruits were required to do 35 sit-ups, females 22. Today, those numbers are 42 for men and 40 for women. (See box.)
Between 1980 and 1997, the number of hours recruits spent on tasks ranging from weapons instruction to field training increased from just over 300 to almost 500.
"We still have the finest military in the world, and that couldn't be true without a well-trained soldier coming out of basic training," says Maj. Mat Moten, who was asked to do the review by his base commander.
But convincing old-timers that today's recruits may actually be working harder could be a mission impossible. Pointing to the increasing integration of women and the reluctance to challenge unfocused and out-of-shape recruits, many veteran trainers have great disdain for today's boot-camp.
And the Army is not alone. Despite the rigors of Marine basic training at Parris Island - significantly tougher than the Army's noncombat basic at Fort Jackson - many Marines feel the Corps has gone soft.
Maj. Rick Long, a Parris Island spokesman, says he suspects these perceptions stem from the fact that neither the marines nor the Army tear down recruits and build them up again, as was once common practice. "In other words," Major Long says, "in order for a recruit to learn a skill now you don't have to verbally berate them."
Today, drill instructors never swear at recruits - often to the surprise of the new arrivals. Fort Jackson's Major Moten attributes these expectations of foul-mouthed, screaming instructors to movies such as "The DI" and "Full Metal Jacket."
Tom Wall, a lieutenant colonel and former battalion commander at Fort Jackson, suggests there's another factor driving critics. "Go find me a World War II guy who [thinks he] didn't train harder than a Korean War guy who [thinks he] didn't train harder than a Vietnam guy."
"Were these recruits ever as fit as we wanted them? No."