Thursday, November 11, 2010

Air Force Basic Training Tip: Conquer the Snake Pit

The following article was just published by in their Recruit Newsletter

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During basic training in all military branches recruits are yelled at, pushed to the physical limit, and taken to the edge of the mental breaking point. However, there is a challenge unique to Air Force basic military training (BMT). It’s a challenge that Air Force trainees must overcome not just once or twice, but three times per day. They face this obstacle three times a day because it is located in the chow hall and they must pass it, literally, every time they eat. This obstacle is known as the Snake Pit.

What is the Snake Pit? Is it a pit filled with snakes that trainees must maneuver around while holding their food tray? Or perhaps there is a thin board laid across this pit filled with poisonous snakes, and trainees must edge their way across in order to conquer their Indiana Jones-like fears. Unfortunately, it is neither of these things, and it is much harder to pass unscathed than a pit filled with snakes.

The Snake Pit is in fact the table where all the Military Training Instructors (MTIs) sit during chow. They sit waiting for their prey, the trainees, to walk past as they sit down to eat and walk out to leave. At anytime MTIs will pounce on an unsuspecting trainee and turn an already chaotic experience (eating a meal in a few seconds) into an even more gut wrenching, digestion-blocking meal. The purpose of the Snake Pit is for MTIs to catch trainees off guard and test them on their knowledge of rank structure, military bearing, and customs and courtesies.

Here are three simple tips for successfully navigating the Snake Pit.

1. Don’t get called over to the Snake Pit. Although chances are high that at some point every trainee will get sent to the Snake Pit, there are ways to avoid being a target. When trainees go through the chow line MTIs are looking for any trainees out of step, looking around, or going too slow. Remember to focus on getting your food and don’t chat with the civilians serving it. Before reaching your table you will walk directly toward the Snake Pit. At this point don’t show any fear. MTIs are like hungry beasts that can smell fear and will jump at the weakest looking member of the pack. As you walk past the Snake Pit look confident and focused on getting from point A to point B. However don’t look directly at the MTIs. This is a sure way to get called over and grilled.

2. Know your stuff. If you are ever called over, make sure you know the information in accordance with the week of training you are in. If you are supposed to know the rank structure by now, know it backwards and forwards. Otherwise they will drill you until you make a mistake, and one mistake outweighs a thousand correct answers.

3. Don’t carry anything with or on you that is unauthorized. You will know exactly what you are and are not supposed to have with you. If you are pulled from the chow line and into the Snake Pit, chances are you will have your portfolio (the bag you will carry everywhere) dumped out and ransacked. If anything is missing you’re in trouble. Worse yet, if there is something not authorized in there, you’re in even more trouble. Check and double-check your portfolio every night before bed. You never know when the MTIs in the Snake Pit will strike out and bite.

This article was written by SrA Nick VanWormer, author of The Ultimate Air Force Basic Training Guidebook available at


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  3. LOL...I'm sorry for chuckle, but this is funny to me for two reasons. First, because as a trainee, I had the experience of being stopped at the Snake Pit while attempting to pass by. Second, because only a few years later, I was a Basic Military Training Instructor. While I don't recall every calling a trainee up, I'm sure I probably did. Great tips in this article. Thanks for the memories 😊

  4. p.s.
    Please excuse the typos...trying to post this from my phone🤔