NEW LONDON, Conn. — At first glance, the screaming and yelling that’s happening at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy seems rough, bordering on cruel.
But the reality is that military life isn’t easy. It’s not meant to be comfortable. The men and women who will serve their country through the Coast Guard will go through rigorous training that many civilians cannot begin to comprehend.
And on Monday, the first day for the Class 2018, also known as reporting-in day, the new students, or “swabs,” got their first glimpse of what the next seven weeks will be like.
Those who survive the training will receive their shoulder boards, marking their formal acceptance into the corp of cadets.
“Look straight ahead,” shouted Second-Class Cadet Aimee Valencia, who is training swabs in Delta Company. “From now on, there are no more personal pronouns. No more I, me or we.”
Prior to Valencia's instructions, the company disembarked from a yellow school bus, followed a blue tape on the floor and ran into the quad at Chase Hall.
Cadre members, who will train the cadets, yelled: “Move with purpose.” “Don’t run.” “Don’t look at me.”
Valencia is forthright and says she can’t remember her first day, saying it was a “blur” and “stressful.” She said the young men and women will mature by the time their training is over.
“It’s not about who they were before they came here,” she said. “It’s about who they are going to be. It’s about building them up.”
Although the exact makeup is not finalized until the end of “R-Day,” around 250 cadets are expected to take the oath of office. To date, 33 percent of those offered appointments are from underrepresented minority groups and 37 percent are women.
The incoming class has the greatest representation among U.S. states in at least 20 years, with 48 states represented in the class of 2018. In addition, one cadet comes from the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight international cadets come from the Bahamas, Maldives, Honduras, Gabon, Panama, Thailand and Mexico.
The swabs will cycle through haircuts, uniform issue, drill practice and various types of administration in-processing.
Swab Daria McKenna of Mystic is following in the footsteps of her parents, Tamara and Robert, who graduated from the Coast Guard Academy.
“There has been a little yelling and that’s to be expected,” said McKenna. “My parents told me what I should expect so I think that will help. I hope.”
The Chase Hall barracks rang out with the voices of upper-class cadets yelling instructions at the swabs, who had to stay in the center of the hall and square, or sharply pivot, around each corner, all while looking straight ahead and greeting people correctly.
They became quickly acquainted with new terms that they would have to know immediately, the floor from now on will be referred to as the deck, the wall is now the bulkhead and the number five is now fife and nine is niner.
The Cadre members of the Echo company are quick to remind them their past is exactly that.
“I don’t care if you had perfect SAT scores or captain of every team in high school,” one cadre member screamed. “You are ours now. You will act as a team.”
The swabs turned over their electronic devices, which were tossed in plastic bags. They will not have access to the outside world. From 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., their life will be consumed with learning everything about the academy.
On their first day, they are also expected to read from their manual, the Running Light, and memorize the Coast Guard’s mission statement.
First-Class Cadet Drew Ferraro, Echo Company’s commander, said the swabs are disorientated but through constant repetition they will learn the commands and the proper way to address their superiors.
“This is not about weeding people out,” said Ferraro. “This is about teaching them about military life. It’s different from the civilian world.”
In a trailer on the quad at Chase Hall, barbers gave buzz cut haircuts to the men. There are no special requests for a special style; it’s all the same.
Bill Maynard has been giving buzz cuts for 25 years. He tries to lighten the moment, telling one swab to take off his glasses so he won’t see the “damage he does when he’s done.”
Maynard says he tries to get them to smile because he knows their first day is stressful.
“These are wonderful young people to deal with,” said Maynard. “They are pretty excited to be here, except on their first day.”
Swab Jacob Sorenson of Oakdale was at the cadet store, where he was issued three pair of shoes. His father was a 1988 Coast Guard Academy graduate.
He said he went to a military prep school last year to prepare for the rigourous training at the academy. But he acknowledged, “It’s going to be a long seven weeks.”