John Winger is a cab driver who, in the span of a few hours, loses his job, his apartment, his car, and his girlfriend. Realizing that he is a loser with no prospects, he decides to join the Army. Talking his best friend Russell Ziskey, a teacher of English as a second language, into joining with him, they go to a recruiting office and are soon sent off to basic training.

Upon arriving at Fort Arnold, they meet their fellow recruits, and their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka. Moments after arriving, John angers Sgt. Hulka and is ordered out to do push-ups. He stands out as a slacker throughout basic training. Their commanding officer is the arrogant and incompetent Captain Stillman. As basic training progresses, Russell and John become romantically linked to female MPs Louise Cooper and Stella Hansen. Not long before graduation, Sgt. Hulka is injured when Stillman, trying to impress a visiting colonel, orders a mortar crew to fire without setting target coordinates.