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Surviving Coast Guard Boot Camp (Page 3)

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.

Above Photos Courtesy of United States Coast Guard

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