If you plan on talking to a military recruiter about your options to join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard, or Marine Corps, when it’s time to get serious about setting a ship-out date for boot camp and generally committing to a career in uniform you will get some information about how to prepare for Basic Training.
A lot of that prep involves getting your body ready for the stresses of boot camp, but some includes mental prep. Those joining the Marines and the Navy will learn directly about something called the Eleven General Orders.
These general orders apply to sentry duty (which most basic training candidates will eventually perform) and there are equivalents in the Air Force and other branches of service. But the Navy and Marines have formally codified a code of conduct for when it’s time to function as a guard or sentry.
Why Do Trainees Perform Sentry Duty?
Why are basic trainees required to perform guard duty? Isn’t it true that they are not qualified to do so yet?
The answer here is fairly simple. In boot camp the trainees are expected to take charge of every aspect of their lives in basic training from the proper maintenance of their living spaces and equipment to ensuring safety in day-to-day operations. That includes sentry duty in and around the barracks area where recruits live and study when not training.
What kind of sentry duty? Controlled entry to the barracks is normally required–the trainees must ask for proper military ID and announce the arrival of outsiders in some training environments.
Safety And Security
And then there’s something some branches of military service call “fire watch” which is basically overnight sentry duty trainees take turns doing–the recruit patrols and monitors the barracks area for a set amount of hours each night before being relived. The recruits are basically tasked with ensuring their own perimeter and fire security for their living spaces.
These are just two examples of the types of scenarios where the principles of the Eleven General Orders can come in handy. Depending on the training environment there may be many other opportunities.
The Eleven General Orders
The philosophy behind these orders is common to all branches of military service and the Eleven General Orders apply in any situation where you might be tasked to perform sentry duty, guard duty, etc.
But they are likely most relevant for most recruits (who are not going into Security Forces or some related area) during boot camp and in the subsequent advanced training where applicable.
Official recruiting sites for the Navy and other branches of military service list out the Eleven General Orders (or the service-specific variations of them) and what it means to be subject to them. New recruits are often urged to memorize them prior to basic training so when recruits arrive they’re already in the right mindset to begin transferring from civilian life to military duty.
The 11 General Orders as presented by the U.S. Navy recruiting official site are listed as follows:
- To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
- To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
- To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
- To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
- To quit my post only when properly relieved.
- To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
- To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
- To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
- To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
- To salute all officers and colors and standards not cased.
- To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.
Some branches of service, such as the U.S. Air Force, do not formally codify these orders the way the Marines and Navy do. The U.S. Army has a list of three general orders it encourages its recruits to memorize:
- 1st General Order: “I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.”
- 2nd General Order: “I will obey my special orders and perform all of my duties in a military manner.”
- 3rd General Order: “I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in my instructions, to the commander of the relief.”
Some sources report that Air Force Security Forces troops memorize a similar list:
- I will take charge of my post and protect personnel and property for which I am responsible, until properly relieved.
- I will report all violations of orders that I am entrusted to enforce and call my superior in any case not covered by instructions.
- I will sound the alarm in any case of disorder or emergency.
It’s easy to see the common threads and themes of these orders no matter what form they might take.
In basic training, there are very few circumstances that could result in a court-martial or other formal military discipline. Performing sentry duty correctly has major emphasis placed upon it in the training environment.
Failure to obey the spirit and letter of the 11 General Orders where applicable might not earn a recruit formal military discipline (again, depending on circumstances) failure to live up to the standards laid down by these orders and others like them could result in a trainee being “recycled” or sent back to an earlier place in the training program with a different group of new recruits.
That might not sound like a horrible experience to an outsider, but being sent back to an earlier stage in training (effectively prolonging the basic training experience) is a very undesirable thing for most in boot camp.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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