I remember the day like it was yesterday.
My husband and I had been married for less than a month when the day came for him to leave for Basic Training. It was heartbreaking. I was pining away for Family Day–we both were. Those 9 weeks of training were the longest we had ever been apart (we lived 8 miles apart before we were married). When Family Day rolled around, I flew across four states just for the occasion. And it was TOTALLY worth it! (Side note: 4 modes of transportation was a lot though–I recommend simplifying if you can. haha)
There are quite a few things to share about Family Day, but let me start out with a quick disclaimer. Each battalion may vary in their Family Day procedures a little bit. The following information is all based on my personal experience. While it might not be identical to the Family Day of your soldier’s battalion, you can expect something similar! One more quick note: sometimes the day before graduation is dubbed Family Day, but that is not the Family Day I am discussing here. That’s part of graduation weekend activities. Here we are talking about the Family Day that takes place in the middle of your soldier’s training cycle.
What Family Day is:
Family Day is essentially a weekend break for your soldier. It is designed for family (and friends) to get the opportunity to spend time with their soldier-in-training. It’s gives your soldier a breath of fresh air and some quality time outside of the platoon.
What Family Day is not:
It is not a two-day pass of freedom for your soldier. (Unfortunately!) He will have many, many, many rules to follow while he is spending time away from his training area. While he won’t have to physically train at all during the Family Day weekend, he will absolutely have to adhere to a (large) set of rules. It’s also not an overnight pass. That was a hard one to swallow.
When Family Day Occurs:
It occurs over a weekend– meaning Saturday and Sunday. Usually it takes place about half-way through the training cycle. But not always. The Family Day for my husband’s company was in the ninth week of his fourteen weeks of training. If you are your soldier’s first point of contact, then you will receive a letter from the commander (that all-important letter I have referenced before) stating when Family Day occurs. If you are a girlfriend or friend and aren’t receiving communications from your soldier’s commander, you might be able to access the information via your soldier’s Company Facebook page.
Who can Attend Family Day:
Family Day is completely open to all family, fiancees, significant others, relatives, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, frenemies, and neighbors of the soldiers in training. There are no tickets or reservations required. And if no one comes to spend time with a soldier, he or she can still enjoy some time away from the training area.
The Family Day Schedule:
This is a brief synopsis of what mine was like:
- 7:30am arrive at the Basic Training area
- 8:00am an “introduction to the Army” briefing
- 9:00am soldiers and families reunite
- free time all day off-post and on-post
- 7:00pm drop-off time
There are no activities planned for the family and soldier to participate in together. The solider will have a special formation beforehand (early on the first morning of the Family Day weekend). During his formation, the Drill Sergeants will go over the Family Day rules.
Meanwhile, the families will gather in a classroom and receive a brief “introduction to the Army Family” as well as learn the rules that the soldiers will be under during Family Day. You will learn a little bit about what your soldier has been doing the past few weeks, and then A LOT about the rules. During the introduction, you might get addressed by one or two of your soldier’s Drill Sergeants, but most likely the Company Commander. At my Family Day, we were also given a chance to ask questions that are related to Family Day. It wasn’t a question-and-answer session about how to deal with the Army or ask about your soldier’s future assignments– but if we were confused about the rules, that was the time to ask.
After the families are released from their briefing, the soldiers will be finished with theirs. At the Family Day I attended, the soldiers were all outside finishing up their briefing when we walked out of the classroom. We reunited right there outdoors once they were dismissed. Some Family Day procedures may include having the soldiers come to meet their families indoors in the classroom. I think it just depends on which briefing is finished first.
Once you pick your soldier up, HE IS YOURS UNTIL drop-off time. Yes, there is a drop-off time. And since it will vary from Family Day to Family Day, I won’t state an exact time here. But just know, that time means EVERYTHING. If you drop your soldier off even two minutes late, it is highly probable he will be recycled and have to begin training all over again. Do not, under any circumstances, drop him off late. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way for you to “take the blame” for him. Even if you are 100% at fault for why he is late. That is the Army life. It’s the soldier’s responsibility, completely, to be back at the appropriate time. He cannot be shielded by wives or parents or even his children’s excuses. So, no matter what you do on Family Day, DROP HIM OFF ON TIME.
The second day, Sunday, is similar to the first day of Family Day. The only difference is that there is no family briefing. Your solider will have to report to his morning formation, just like the day before. Though he probably won’t be told all the rules again, he will definitely be told what time he needs to return by. Once he is released from formation, you may pick him up and take him off just like yesterday. His drop-off time MIGHT be earlier, since it is the day before training. ASK your soldier. Do not drive off until you know what time he needs to return by. Once you know, drive away and enjoy your day together!
**Special note to those whose Family Day falls on a Federal Holiday weekend: You lucky duck! It is extremely likely that your soldier will get a 3-day weekend with you! Obviously, you need to double-check the commander’s memo (the invitation either mailed to you or posted on Facebook) because it will confirm or deny this phenomenon.
Family Day Rules for the Family:
The Army can’t really issue out rules to the family or friends of the soldier, but there are still a few that exist:
- Do not go anywhere on the training grounds except where the signs and aides tell you to go. You are NOT allowed to go into your soldier’s barracks. There will be a sign or two directing you to the parking lot, as well as aides (soldiers) who will be directing you from the parking lot to the gathering area (our gathering area was a classroom). Don’t go anywhere except where you are designated to go.
- You can’t let (or make) your soldier drive. Anyone except the soldier is allowed to be the driver, because they aren’t permitted to get behind the wheel.
- You can’t go very far away with your soldier. He will have mile restrictions that, as his visiting family, you must stay within. The mileage restriction is usually a 25-mile radius, but you will be given the exact rule during the briefing. Don’t worry though, there will still be plenty to do within the restriction! Your soldier will just be thrilled to be leaving the training area footprint with you. This rule obviously only applies when you are with your soldier. There is no restriction on the visiting family outside of Family Day hours. It’s a rule simply to keep families from taking the soldiers too far away, risking no return for evening formation.
Family Day Rules for the Soldier:
There are many. So many. 🙁 Unfortunately, this is not a complete list. Don’t worry, because you will be told (and possibly be given a pamphlet on) all the rules. It might vary from battalion to battalion, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind.
- The soldier cannot drink, nor can he smoke.
- He can not wear anything besides his uniform in public (no going swimming or changing into comfy clothes).
- As stated above, he is not allowed to drive AT ALL. Nor is he allowed to travel outside a certain mile radius. Though it’s a strange rule, he may not sit on the ground (don’t ask…).
- He cannot bring snacks, or any other prohibited items, back to his barracks at the end of the night.
- Until he is dismissed from formation (in the morning), he cannot leave the training area.
- He can’t return late (missing the return formation).
There are more, but those are the basics. <–haha see what we did there?
Family Day Warnings:
During our family briefing, we were given some heavily suggested “guidelines” that technically weren’t rules, but were basically warnings. While the soldier is allowed to make purchases, and often families like to go shopping during this time, we warned to be wary of making big purchases. Unfortunately there are quite a few shops surrounding Army posts (at least the ones where Basic Training takes place) that target brand new soldiers. They sell boots (an expensive item) and other pieces of equipment that your soldier might want. After so many weeks of training, he be tempted to buy because “he needs a better or newer thing that he has worn out during training.” It’s totally a reasonable thought from your soldier-in-training. But BE VERY CAREFUL.
The Army only allows certain items to be used. There are regulations on any piece of clothing or piece of equipment. Many surplus stores sell dupes and “similar” items that are not Army standard. If he buys an expensive pair of boots but they don’t qualify according to Army standards, he won’t be allowed to wear them. To be on the safe side, don’t shop for anything Army-related off-post. He has already been issued the amount of equipment and uniforms that he will need to complete Basic Training. (And there is a mini store [the PX] nearby bootcamp where he is occasionally allowed to restock on small items: soap, pens, paper, etc.)
There are also a lot of “deals” that air on Family Day weekends. Car dealerships will prey on new soldiers who have a pile of cash and haven’t been able to spend it. Just be careful and remember your soldier can’t have much at all in his barracks. Even if he makes many, many purchases, it is likely he won’t be able to bring most of it back with him to the barracks. (Especially not a car!) You don’t want the Drill Sergeants to confiscate his new purchases!
Family Day Suggestions:
Your soldier will probably have a lot to tell you! Try to go somewhere you can talk and catch up. Drive around town and find a place to walk. It has been a while since he has enjoyed a leisure meal, so you could treat him to one. Often this will be your soldier’s first chance to receive military discounts at restaurants and stores! The day will go by quickly, so don’t try to do too many activities at once. Just focus on being in the present moment, and giving your soldier a well-deserved break from his daily training.
If there is something he has been running low on, like letter-writing supplies or calling-cards, it is a good time to go shopping for some (though the PX remains a good backup resource for his needs, if you don’t have time to go shopping together). Whatever you do, don’t worry about trying to meet his Drill Sergeants or “see your soldier in action.” You will see his leadership at the graduation ceremony, and there may be a ceremonial display of training during the graduation weekend. Family Day is all about spending the day away from the training grounds with your soldier! I also recommend that you spend the final half-hour of the day just chatting in the parking lot–that way you can squeeze out every last minute of the day without risking him missing formation.
Purchasing Souvenirs of the Day:
If you’re anything like me, then you’ll want to purchase a little token to remember the trip by. It is very likely that there will be a table of gift items available for purchase before and after the “introduction to the Army” briefing at the start of Family Day. Many military units sell gift items on days such as Family Day, as fundraisers for future unit events. However, if those aren’t being sold, you can also purchase military-themed gifts at the local Post Exchange located on post. Another option is to visit one of the local military museums, as they always have a gift shop with plenty of merchandise.
Final Thoughts about Family Day:
Family Day was two of the best days we had during our first year of Army life. It’s such a welcome break from being apart, and really helps alleviate the burdens of separation. Even though it’s not an overnight pass, consider visiting your soldier for Family Day! While travel is expensive, and it makes sense to place a priority on graduation day, Family Day is still a great opportunity for families to reconnect. If you can make it work, I would definitely recommend visiting for Family Day.
If you have any further questions about Family Day that I didn’t cover here, leave a comment below! Thanks for stopping by. If you want any further information on dealing with having a soldier in Basic Training, consider reading my posts about writing Basic Training letters, and how to address them.
**Read next: 5 Online Sources for Spouses During Basic Training**