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Coast Guard Bootcamp

Just like the Air Force and the Navy, the Coast Guard only has one location for enlisted boot camp: Cape May, New Jersey. Like the other services (with the exception of the Marines), male and female recruits train (not live) together. While the Coast Guard is not owned by the Department of Defense (in peacetime, it’s run by the Department of Homeland Security), have no doubt — Coast Guard boot camp is run just like any other military boot camp. Counting ther 1/2 week you spend in “forming” (inprocessing), you’ll spend a total of 7 1/2 weeks at Cape May.

Like the other services there are things you can do in advance that will help you get ready. First, your recruiter should give you a list of what you can and cannot bring with you. If it ain’t on the list, don’t take it. Don’t even try to think that “this item,” or “that thing” will be the exception. That list has been around for a lot of years, and there are no “exceptions.” One of the first things you’ll experience at Cape May is a complete search of your personal possessions. Anything not approved will be confiscated and stored until after graduation. Anything on the Contraband list will cause you to wish you’d chosen another career.

Your recruiter will give you some additional items that you CAN bring, such as a watch, writing paper, pen, stamps, checkbook, etc. Do not bring an excessive amount of cash (Plan to arrive at with no more than $50 or so).

Set up a bank account (with an ATM card) before you leave. All of your military pay will be made by direct deposit, and if you wait to arrive at Cape May to set up a bank account, I can almost guarantee you won’t get it done in time, and your first paycheck will be delayed. Make sure you bring your bank account information with you.

If you are married, bring a copy of your marriage certificate. This will be required to start up your housing allowance. Additionally, it will allow you to complete paperwork for your spouse’s military ID card (the paperwork will be mailed to your spouse, along with directions on how to take it to the nearest military base in order to receive an ID card — or, he/she can save the paperwork and get an ID card issued at your first permanent duty assignment).

As with the other services, no smoking is allowed during boot camp. If you currently smoke, now would be a good time to stop. It’s a lot easier to quit when you don’t have the additional stresses of boot camp, then to wait until you are there.

while you will not be required to cut your hair for Basic, you will be required to keep it off of your collar at all times when in uniform (which is most of the time in Basic), so you may wish to consider cutting your hair short enough so it doesn’t have to be put up.

If you’re like my kids, and don’t know your social security number by heart, memorize it. Your social security number becomes your “identification number” and you’ll use it for almost everything (Privacy Act permitting).

If you don’t know how to swim, try to learn before you leave for boot camp. Soon after you arrive, you’ll be screened for swimming skills, and those that can’t swim will have to undergo special instruction (General Advice: when in boot camp, it’s always better not to require “special instruction” in anything).

Memorize Coast Guard ranks (both officer and enlisted), which are the same as Navy ranks, before you leave. This will be one of the first things you’ll be required to study, and knowing it in advance will allow you to use that time to study other things (time is always in short supply in Basic). It won’t hurt at all to study and practice the fundamentals of drill. As a minimum, you should practice the military salute in front of a mirror until you can do it right without thinking about it. You’ll also want to know the Coast Guard Core Values, and your Basic Training chain of command.

Finally, your recruiter should have told you to memorize the 11 General Orders for a Sentry.

Medication. Over-the-counter medication is not allowed in basic training. If you bring any with you, it will be taken away. All prescription medication will be re-evaluated by a military doctor upon arrival. If the doctor determines that the prescription is necessary, the civilian medication will be taken away, and the recruit will be re-issued the medication by the military pharmacy. This includes birth control pills (for women). Women are usually encouraged to continue taking birth control pills during basic training, if they took them before going to basic, to ensure that their systems maintain their regular cycle.

I’m often asked what females do during their (to put it politely) “time of the month,” at basic training. The answer is nothing different. Pads and tampons are readily available, and women use them and continue with training. Bathroom breaks are given often enough that changing pads/tampons are not a problem. Many women report that they don’t have a cycle during their entire time at basic training, due to the high levels of activity and stress. The thing to remember is that thousands of women have been to basic before you, and they survived just fine.

Before you leave home, tell your family that if an emergency arises (a real emergency, such as a death or serious illness in the immediate family) they should contact you through the Red Cross. Your family should know your full name, your social security number, and your company address. Within three days of arriving, you’ll be sending a “preprinted” postcard home that has your company address on it. It’s a good idea to call your family from the USO after you arrive. Any future phone calls you make while in boot camp will be at the discretion of your Company Commander.

Your mailing address will be:

SR ________________
Recruit Company ____________ (assigned upon arrival)
Munro / Healy / James Hall (assigned upon arrival)
1 Munro Avenue
Cape May, NJ 08204-5083

You will begin your adventures with the United States Coast Guard by arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport. Once you arrive, you are required to retrieve your bags, then report immediately to the USO which is located in Terminal D. If your flight is delayed and the USO folks have gone home, they will leave directions for you on the USO door.

Enjoy the bus ride to Cape May. It is the last bit of freedom you will have for the next eight weeks. In the Coast Guard, the fun starts immediately when the bus arrives at the Recruit Processing Center on Cape May. As soon as the doors to the bus opens, you will be greeted by that unique military animal which wears a Smokey-the-Bear hat. In the Air Force, they are called Training Instructors (TI). In the Army, this animal is called a Drill Sergeant. In the Marine Corps, he/she is referred to as Drill Instructor. In the Navy, it’s Recruit Division Commander. In the Coast Guard, this screaming machine is known as a Company Commander.

However, you’ll call them “Sir,” or “Ma’am” (at least for the first two weeks).

However, during the second week of training, you’ll take a class about Coast Guard rates and ranks. After that, you’ll be required to refer to your instructors properly, such as “Petty Officer Johnson.” If you mess up and are caught addressing your instructor as “Sir” or “Ma’am” after your first two weeks of training, your CC will be happy to remind you that he or she “works for a living,” and reinforce his/her kind reminder with a little physical activity in order to ensure the blood is properly circulating in your brain.

When the bus stops, and the doors open, you will likely hear a variation of the following speech (screamed, of course — It’s rumored that Company Commanders have forgotten how to speak in a normal tone of voice).

“Welcome to Cape May. The first thing you’re gonna do is shut up, sit up and take your hats off … and GET YOUR STINKIN’ LEGS OUTTA THE AISLE – look straight ahead, don’t look at me … you’re gonna do what I say, when I say it and how I say to do it……. You’ve got ten seconds to get off this bus, and you’ve just wasted three!”.

The good news is that you will only keep this particular Company Commander for about three days — long enough for the “forming” process. The  bad news is that this three days does not count toward your total seven weeks, and that the Company Commander you will meet for your actual training will be ten times worse.

As soon as you step off the bus, and the CC yells at you for a little while, you’ll immediately begin the inprocessing tasks. You’ll be issued a book known as the “Helmsman,” and anytime you are not actively doing something, the CCs will expect your nose to be in the book. You’ll spend your first hours of boot camp filling out forms, and giving a urine to test for drugs and alcohol. Females will also be given a pregnancy test.

Virtually every task you’re ordered to do is timed; five seconds to write a name on a tag, ten seconds to find paperwork, etc. And a Company Commander provides cadence, like a countdown. If you make a mistake, you will be yelled at. It’s that simple — mistake equals yelling. It’s all part of the process to add stress to the training; to break down the civilian in order to build a self-disciplined member of the Coast Guard.

Get plenty of sleep in your last couple of days as a civilian. No matter what time you arrive at Cape May, your first day will not end until about 0030 (12:30 AM). Once you “hit the racks” on that first night, you won’t have much time for sleep. A CC will be screaming and yelling at you at 0530 (5:30 AM). (Company Commanders have one very useful purpose in life — they make excellent alarm clocks. There’s no way to shut them off and go back to sleep).

The next two days will be spent inprocessing. You’ll fill out about a billion forms, and guys will get their heads shaved. You’ll undergo medical and dental screenings, get a whole bunch of shots, receive your first uniform issue. Anytime you’re not actively doing something, you’ll have your head buried in your Helmsman book (if you know what’s good for you). On the second day, you’ll undergo a urinalysis test. According to a recent graduate, this is where the CCs began to really turn up the heat.

You cannot wear contact lenses during basic training. You also cannot wear your civilian glasses, once you have been issued your official government-issue glasses. GI glasses are not pretty to look at. In fact, most people call them “BC Glasses,” or “birth control glasses,” on the basis that nobody has ever been known to “get lucky” while wearing them. During your first couple of days of basic training, you’ll undergo a complete eye examination. If you require glasses to have 20/20 vision, you will be issued BC Glasses (takes a few days after the examination to get them). BC Glasses have thick, hard-plastic frames, with thick, hard-plastic lenses (very hard to break). Think of the movie, Revenge of the Nerds. Once you receive them, they are the only glasses you are allowed to wear, while at basic training. However, if you don’t really need glasses to see, you won’t be required to wear them. Once you graduate basic training, you can wear your civilian glasses again, as long as they comform to military dress and appearance regulations. Generally, that means their color must be conservative (no green, glow-in-the-dark frames), no designs or decorations on the frames, and no tinted lenses when indoors, or outdoors when in military formation (ie, when lined up for marching). Of course, this only applies when wearing a military uniform. In civilian clothes (after basic training) you can pretty much wear whatever kind of glasses you want.

Finally, on the 4th day, your entire company (about 50 to 60 men and women, although some “companies” have been known to be as large as 150 men and women) will be escorted to a room and you will meet your Company Commander and his/her assistants. This day starts your official boot camp training.

The first week will be the toughest. Just like the other military boot camps, you’ll probably find that nobody does anything right during this first week of training. During this time, the CC is going to be evaluating everyone to hand out additional duties (including leadership positions) later in the week. Every day starts at 0530 (except Sundays when you get to sleep 15 minutes later!), and lights out are at 2200 (10:00 PM).

In Navy boot camp, recruits live in what is called a “ship.” Although the Coast Guard is also a seagoing force, you’ll call your living area a “squad bay.” Just like any military boot camp, your squad bay will be “ship-shape” at all times.

In the Air Force, it’s called “Dorm Guard.” In the Army, it’s called “Fire Guard.” In the Navy and Coast Guard, it’s called “Standing Watches.” Regardless, it’s all the same. It means that you get to spend significant amounts of time (which could otherwise be used for sleeping) guarding the barracks (excuse me, “squad bay”) to make sure someone doesn’t steal it. You get to entertain yourself by listening to people snore or talk in their sleep (“Oh, Margaret, do that, again!”).

During the first week, you’ll be introduced to drill, and begin (almost) daily physical exercises. Additionally, you’ll undergo a class on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, where you will learn about punishable offenses, and the different ways that the Coast Guard can punish you, should it turn out you’re nothing but a common criminal.

In the Air Force, it’s called “set back.” In the Army, it’s called “recycled.” In the Coast Guard, if you fall behind on training (or, if the Company  Commander decides you can use a little additional “motivation”), you can be “reverted.” This means setting you back to another company several days (or weeks) behind the company you are currently in. This is the primary threat that CCs use to keep troops motivated. Like the other services, you can earn “demerits” when you do something wrong. Except the Coast Guard doesn’t call them “demerits.” They call them “performance indicators,” or “performance trackers.” Too many of them babies can get you “reverted.”

Micheal recalls “performance trackers:”

Performance Trackers – each recruit is required to carry two in his/her left breast pocket folded a certain way. Basically it’s a piece of paper where on top you fill out your name, company, week and day of training you’re in and lead Company Commander’s name. Below you have space to state the “offense” you committed and below that you have space what you did/plan on doing to fix the problem. Then you have Coast Guard’s three core values listed and you must check whichever one you beleive you violated, and below this you have a whole list of possibly every thing one can do wrong, you must check whichever one(s) you did wrong. Also you gotta make sure you don’t overcheck or undercheck. If you overcheck, the Company Commander will have a little “repair” session with you since you have so many things going on wrong, if you undercheck, the Company Commander will start looking at you very closely since you don’t have enough wrong things going on with you.

Coast Guard basic training has one feature that the other military services do not — the “Performance Enhancement Platoon.” Years ago, all of the services had special units/companies/platoons/flights where TIs/CCs/RDCs/DIs/DS’s could send problem recruits for a little “extra motivation.” However, the military JAGS (lawyers) all got together and decided that these “punishment units” were too much like correctional custody, which is a punishment authorized under the provisions of Article 15 (nonjudicial punishment) of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). The view was that if you sent a recruit to such “punishment,” you must grant him/her all the “rights” of receiving an Article 15, which means you must show an offense under the UCMJ, you must allow the recruit to consult with an attorney, you must provide a hearing, and the length of time (up to 30 days) in the “punishment unit” (correctional custody) is limited to the rank of the imposing commander. All of the services did away with such units, and/or replaced them with official correctional custody facilities.

However, the Coast Guard is not part of the Department of Defense, and its obvious that their lawyers have taken a different view. The Coast Guard still has a “punishment platoon,” known as the “Performance Enhancement Platoon.” Michael recalls:

You’ll usually arrive on Tuesday evening in the Healy Hall first floor with all you belongings and you better have one sharp looking uniform. Before everyone arrives they’ll make you stand at attention waiting. When everyone arrives they take you to the classroom in the same building where you go through a little indoctrination on purposes of PEP, how you should be proud to be in CG and stuff like that. Everything, as you can imagine, is not spoken in normal tone of voice. Then you grab your rifle and run outside where the real fun begins. By that time it should be around 8:00 pm. For the first night all you do is some serious Incentive Training (PT+some other rather unusual excercises – see below) until taps, so no shower. Next morning you rise at 5:00 am so you can beat all the companies to chow, where you sit at a separate table right near the Company Commander table. You have only 10 minutes to eat everything and you better not leave anything on the plate.Then you’ll do PT, and more PT, and more PT — all this with your rifle of course. For the rest of the week (you stay there til Saturday morning), you’re given around 30-40 minutes every day to do personal hygeine stuff+uniform maintanance. Sometime during the day you also go to classroom instruction where they reinforce your belief that CG is the best thing in the world. The above routine is usually repeated every day and sometimes they even wake you up in the middle of the night to do some motivational stuff on you (after all, they’re required to give you only 4 hours of sleep). This happens about three days a week.

Incentive Training – regular PT routine plus some excercises such as the Cockroach Crawl (crawl like a roach with your rifle), Daisy Chain – you grip rifle but of the person in front you you and run around the parade field with everyone running at the same pace and in step. Harder to do than it sounds. The Sniper – you take up the sniper position and the Company Commander sets a coin on the sight, you lay like that for around 30-60 minutes without dropping the coin. Same thing can be done with person standing up and aiming or sitting on one knee. The Chair – sit as if you were sitting on a chair with your back against the wall and arms streched out. The Think Position – sit on the deck cross-legged with rifle in your hands with and arms streched above the head.

Then there is quite a lot of little things aimed at personal humilitation — they do make you feel like crap.

Ah.. also in PEP you wear pink belt and whenever you walk around everyone must raise their right hand (might be left.. I forgot) and shout “PEP” with every step as loud as you can.

Here’s some important advice from Mike (a different Mike from the one above), who recently graduated from Cape May: “If you’re ever out walking by yourself (not in formation), make sure you greet each and every Company Commander that you see.” If you pretend you don’t see them, and ignore them, they will make a special point of *NOT* pretending they didn’t see you, and *NOT* ignoring you.

The serious classroom work begins during week 2. During this week, you’ll receive classes on Military Civil Rights, Stress Management, the Coast Guard Boot Camp Chain of Command, Rates and Ranks, and Addressing Military Personnel (Officers are called “Sir,” or “Ma’am,” enlisted are addressed by their rank & last name). Additionally, you’ll undergo a survival float test, to test your ability to stay afloat in the water. Of course, all of this is in addition to drill, physical conditioning, cleaning the squad bay, inspections, and just plain getting yelled at.

During the third week, you’ll get training in the Freedom of Information Act, Military Pay & Allowances, Deck Hand Protective Equipment, Sexual Harassment, the Montgomery G I Bill, Coast Guard History, Coast Guard Missions and Traditions, Deck Seamanship, Code of Conduct, Advancements (Promotions), Lines, Knots& Marlinspike, and introduction to the 9mm handgun.

Unlike the other military services, you won’t get to fire the M-16 rifle in Coast Guard basic training, but you will get classroom training in the 9mm handgun, and you’ll get a chance to fire the 9mm during week four of your training. The Coast Guard takes 9mm training very seriously. Listen to EVERYTHING you are taught. The slightest mistake in handling/shooting the 9mm can result in your being “reverted” in training. Another thing that the Coast Guard doesn’t have that is common in other military basic training programs is a confidence (obstacle) course.

During the fourth week, the training will consist of Leave And Liberty, Rating and Nonrating Duties, Classified Material, Uniform Devices, Vessels and Aircraft, Performance Evaluations, and the Assignment Process. You’ll also visit the 9mm handgun range and fire the M-9 handgun.

At the end of the fourth week, you’ll take “mid-term” exams, covering everything you’ve learned to this point. If you fail the exam, you’re allowed one re-test. If you fail the retest, expect to be “rephased” to learn it all over again.

Also during the 4th week, you’ll take your PT Test. If you fail this test, you’ll be required to get up each day one hour before everyone else, and attend special training. If you then cannot complete the requirements by the 7th week of training, you’ll be reverted.

In order to graduate Coast Guard Boot Camp, you will have to meet the following physical standards:

Event Male Female
Push-ups (60 sec) 29 23
Sit-ups (60 sec) 38 32
Run (1.5 mile ) 12:51 15:26

Swimming Test:

Tread water 5 minutes
Jump off 5ft platform into pool, swim 100 meters

About mid-week, during the fourth week, your company will finally get its company colors. Up until that point, your company wasn’t worthy of carrying “colors,” so it marches around with a bare guideon. To celebrate, the Company Commanders take the entire company down the the beach! Unfortunately, it’s not for a BBQ and volleyball. While there, your company will do some serious Incentive Training (PT exercises designed by sadists), for about two to three hours.

At the end of the fourth week, you will fill out an Assignment Data Card (ADC), affectionately known as a “Dream Sheet.” This is how you tell the Coast Guard what assignment you would like. You request your assignment first by geographic location, then type of unit (i.e. Cutter, Small Boat Station, Patrol Boat, etc.) The Coast Guard has a priority to fill certain billets as follows: Operational Afloat, Operational Ashore, Operations Support, and finally General Support. Therefore, 85% of all recruits usually find their first duty station is Operational Afloat (usually a Cutter).

In the fifth week, the training will consist of Deck Maintenance & Painting, Survival Equipment, Boat Crew & Buoyancy, Coast Guard Terms Ethical Conduct, Personal Floatation Devices, Personal Finance Class, Flags & Pennants, Emergency Drills, Emergency Equipment, and Fire Terminology (Didn’t know that fires had their own special terminology, did ya?) At the end of the fifth week, you’ll also find out what your next duty station is going to be.

The week after that you’ll get training in Fire Prevention, Fire Extinguishing Methods, Firefighting Equipment, Engineering, Watchstanding, Hose Handling Techniques, and Career Counseling.

By week seven, it’s almost over, and you’ll note that the Company Commanders seem almost (almost — but not quite) friendly toward you. You’re no longer a raw recruit, and — by this time — should be showing some evidence of self discipline. During this week, you’ll get training on Heaving Lines, Line Handling, and the Coast Guard Alcohol & Drug Policy.

The seventh week is the “biggie.” This is the week of your final exam (and final PT test for those who are in “remedial PT  training.” You must pass both in order to graduate. If you fail either one, you get one retest. If you fail the retest, expect to be “reverted” to an earlier company to try again later.

Assuming you pass your final exam and PT Test, and haven’t racked up too many demerits (excuse me, “performance indicators”), at the end of week seven you’ll get an 8-hour pass to go off base.

The final week is a breeze. You’ll receive your assignment, and do the paperwork to prepare for graduation and departure. You’ll receive some classes on First Aid Introduction, First Aid Initial Care, and Preparation for Assignment. Finally, on Friday morning at 1100 (11:00 AM), you’ll march in that graduation parade.

During the graduation ceremony, awards will be presented. The Coast Guard awards the honor graduate ribbon to the top three percent of each graduating company (standings determined by written tests, instructor evaluations, PT scores, and performance in practical exercises). Additionally, individual awards are also given for the highest academic, seamanship, leadership, best shipmate, manual of arms proficiency, pistol expert fire, and physical fitness achievements.

The Coast Guard is different from the other military services, in that all of the outprocessing (assignment) actions are done before graduation, so recruits are free to depart Cape May immediately after the graduation ceremony.


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