Recruit Journal Papa 188: Weeks 01 & 02

WEEK 01: 16JUL – 21JUL

The day that 37 of us were waiting for finally cam when we all arrived at the Philadelphia airport USO. We all came from different parts of the country, but we all had one purpose; joining the Coast Guard.

International Maritime Signal Flag Papa

International Maritime Signal Flag Papa

During the ensuing bus ride to TRACEN Cape May, we found out that we had quite a diverse group! There is a set of twin brothers with first names starting with the same letter, a native speaker of Navajo, as well as others.

Upon arriving at TRACEN Cape May, at 2121, the bus passed through gates. The tension built the further the bus traveled down Munro Ave. to our final destination, Sexton Hall. We didn’t know that, so when the bus drew closer we could see people standing there waiting. There is nothing that prepares you for that moment when you realize that those drill instructors will be focused on you and only you.

Life in Sexton Hall began as a forming company. During that time the drill instructors rapidly introduced us to military life, at least the recruit training part. We had to be loud, we had to be fast, and we had to “pop up like burnt toast”.

The first three and a half days at Sexton Hall was spent going through medical getting shots, being trouped around the base, and having so much military jargon and procedure slammed down our throats that it was hard to grasp, like water through our fingers.

Friday afternoon was a major turning point in our recruit life. We finally met our Company Commanders, were given our company name, PAPA – 188, and then marched to our new home Munro Hall to start indoc weekend. The fun has just begun!

We are berthed on the third floor of Munro Hall, with no elevators, which recruits wouldn’t be able to use anyway. We became very familiar with these ladder wells (formerly stairwells) as we continuously practiced fire drills, which led to IT sessions outside and around the building, endless pushups, crunches, squats, and flutter kicks. While it hurts at first, it benefits us in the long run.

Saturday and Sunday we spent most of our time learning marching, doing core training, attending classes and getting more information shoved down our throats loudly.
As of right now, our company is still weak, but we have strong hearts. We make mistakes, a lot, which means a lot of instant feedback, but week one and indoc weekend is over. We still miss our loved ones at home, but with their support, we know we will make it.
SR Weeks
SR Waitman

Week 02

Monday – “Rinse and Repeat”

The day started off with a morning fire drill. Our salutation to the sun was spent mostly on our face or back. But no matter, that was only us waking up! Before long we were throwing our rucksacks on and marching out in our Operational Dress Uniforms.

One of our stops for the day was the gym. Everyone seemed a little surprised at the amount of machines there were, which we all went through about eight rows working on our strengthening ourselves. While it may be tiring it was worth the effort. Our other stop for the day was the chapel. While there, everyone was able to decompress, shake off some of the stress. One could almost hear the sound of relief. Those classes were both relaxed and provided pertinent information for us to digest during our training (stress management and suicide prevention).

We weren’t off the hook though! We had failed several time objectives earlier in the day, thus our remedial sessions. These included putting a pen down then picking it up and holding it out while screaming our chain of command, (and later in the day) holding our manual out in front of us repeating “eyes in the boat”, and doing right facing in a circle while sounding off, “Honor , Respect, Devotion to Duty”. While it’s not something particularly favorable, the repetition will help us to learn what we need to know.
Final muster was a train wreck and a half. We were not ready at all. Our racks were messes, we didn’t have the laundry properly stacked in time… it sucked bad! We will have to pay for it later, but that’s another day (very soon to come). We still learned new marching drills and got to practice them. We still got to sign up for Church Choir if we wanted to. And we are still here. Maybe a little cranky, but we are still learning about each other and our Company Commanders.
SR Waitman

“Personal attention”

Our second day of our second week began with an exercise in making our racks. We would strip the linens, hold them over our heads and hurry back to the Quarterdeck. From there, we would have to race back to our respective squad bays and make our racks, with in a time limit of course.

But, in spite of that, our ranks are swelling. We began as a small company with only 34 of us, 14 being female. Now we are a strong 37 with 4 influential Company Commanders. Compared to other companies (some in the 75 range) we get A LOT of personal attention.

After morning chow, we marched straight to the gym for an intense circuit workout that lasted more than an hour. Some of the exercises included burpees, cherry pickers, lunges, and wall sits. There was still some sleepies left in us during our time with our gym instructor, but as soon as our Company Commander Chief Duncan and Lead Company Commander Chief Hollenbeck joined us, we woke right up. They pushed us to go farther and even joined two of the rotation groups. It was important to the Company that the encouraged us at that time, especially after all the breaking down they did of us before! There were 3 more hours of class for the day, learning about effective communication, civil rights, and sexual harassment / discrimination. There were good points made during each class, but the one that stood out the most was thanking our service men and women for their sacrifice to keep our rights.

We spent the rest of the day either eating, doing self discipline drills because we had none, or doing IT drills when we lost our motivation to sound off or lost our military bearing. We still had our high point in learning “Parade Rest”.

The day finally came to an end with a small sit down with Chief Hollenbeck, who went over our training records as well as answered any questions we may have had. The cherry on top was stowing our laundry piece by piece, from Quarterdeck to Squad bay, in heavy boondockers.

“Emotional Oubliette”

Today started exactly how every other day has started in PAPA – 188 since our inception. Whistles and “Fire, Fire, Fire”. We seemed to start slow this morning and we never really righted the ship. A common theme seems to keep popping up, which is we have an issue with sounding off, meeting time objectives and self discipline (at this point I think our lack of teamwork is still common after just 05 days as PAPA – 188 Company.

After our morning wake-up, the company marched to the gym where we took part in a 45 minute cycling class. It was hard work and sweat was everywhere, but afterwards PAPA – 188 felt invigorated.

That feeling, however, would quickly dissipate as our day began spiraling out of control into an emotional hail storm. It all began with our rates and ranks class. If you don’t already know rates and ranks and proper greeting are all incredibly important at Cape May.

Recognizing someone’s rate and rank while greeting them properly shows respect (a core value of the Coast Guard). Because this class was so fundamental to learning the values of the Coast Guard (something the CC’s take very seriously for us and the future of the Coast Guard). Seeing other recruits mess up and butcher the names ranks and greetings and get jacked up for it, made it more nervracking for us to learn it all. Especially since we know that as soon as we left that classroom we would be held accountable for knowing every rate and rank in the Coast Guard by every Permanent Staff member here.

The next blow came whe we received our first mail call. We had had just returned to the “house” from picking up our pieces (rifles) and were given 20 minutes to read and write mail. It’s hard to hear from home when homesick, a sickness that has seemed to infect our company (we don’t mean to call our families an infection. We still love you). But it can be harder to see other recruits receiving support from home if you’re a recruit with no mail waiting. Later that night, after we had moved past the emotion of mail call, Father Fronk from the on-base chapel came and sat privately with the whole company. He read us current events, sports standings, movie and music top tens and gave great advise to any questions we had for him. It was an uplifting and emotional experience. Especially having just watched the R.A.M.P. recruits to do PT in our squad bay. R.A.M.P. (Recruit Aptitude and Motivational Program) if meant to kick recruits in the butt who need extra incentive…And that workout was INTENSE! Even scary to watch and think we could be next.

We ended the night (after some more PT and remedial sessions) with a group prayer before bed for anyone wanting to participate.
A lot of tears and emotions for PAPA – 188 today. But as a Company we needed it. We finished the night strong sounding off the loudest we had all day and hit our racks motivated for tomorrow.

Week 02 Thursday
Just keep swimming

It actually rained today, which I’m sure most of us were surprised over. It wasn’t raining enough to get out of our morning fire drill…because that’s totally what we were going for. Eighter way the morning exercises woke everyone up enough to stqart the day.

It’s the first time we got to wear our gortex jackets that were issued to us when we first arrived. The rain was just to wet our appetite, give us a taste of what may come. And comit did, we had our swim test today. A lot of the company seemed excited for it, I know it was. Being in the water brought the Coast Guard Comcept around full circle…plus a karate chopping wizards apprentice.

We lost our three shipmates today, but we gained two new women and a man. They seem to be fitting in just fine, which shows that our company can pull together to make new members feel at home. We are an ever changing unit.

Our classes today consisted of work-life where we were provided information about how the Coast Guard helps it’s members and their families; saluting and Inappropriate Relationships. This is all small stuff though compared to what was thrown at us! We learned that we would be marching in Kilo – 188’s graduation ceremony. We were almost immediately taught a new maneuver where part of the company looks to their right as the guidon lowers. This is in salute to the Commanding Officer as we march by.

We were really able to practice when all the companies that had already formed gathered on the parade field for the run-through. We were marching, actually marching like a company! Sure there was still a little mess up here and there, but it was finally something that everyone was taking seriously. It felt empowering to be marching like that like we were taking the next step as a company.

A little cloud formed over us soon afterwards for we had an IT session and some remedial. There was the sniper position with our pieces, where we had to sit and hold them in that position and there was slashing Zeros. We taped a piece of paper up with a bunch of zeros on it and drew lines through them. No matter! The company will just keep swimming through these obstacles together.

Week 02 Friday
Waiting for the click

There was an obvious buzz about TRACEN today as Kilo – 188 Graduated . The little bubble PAPA – 188 had been living in for the past eleven das was shattered when “normal” people were spotted walking the campus mid-morning. For many of us seeing Kilo – 188’s family and friends dressed so nice, all so happy and excited reminded us of home and our loved ones and also gave us a snapshot as to what our big day may look and feel like. The day felt like nothing was going right. Our schedule was constantly changing, there were “outsiders” watching us do drills, pointing and taking pictures. Our chow times were jacked up. After a week and a half of getting our meals at the same time everyday, we began to feel like we belonged in a Pavlov experiment(something I’m sure our Company Commanders approve of) as our lunch time came and went. I’m not sure if it was our empty stomachs, or nerves because ofrole in Kilo – 188’s ceremony or the outsiders on base had us distracted(probably a combination). But it was another tough day for PAPA. Once again, we found ways to infuriate our CC’s by missing most of our time objectives, looking pretty terrible while marching (2 or 3 times today we were told to just double-time to our next location) because the CCs were to embarrassed to march us there. We learned quickly that when you embarrass your CCs, your CC makes you pay for it with “pain and sweat”. And not keeping our military bearing at all this was a common theme all day. Except for one bright moment, it seems PAPA has a flair for the dramatic. Because once we got in front of the stands of people and the pavilion full of important military men (including Captain Prestige). We kicked butt, as much as a week 02 company can anyway. We all marched as a team and got to march in front of a bunch of people who were all cheering and clapping. Forget the fact that we were terrible the rest of the day, (Obviously, none of us want to be terrible, we all want to be an awesome company, but it week 02 lets be honest we still are not) For that few minutes we worked as one unit moving together being led by our Lead Company Commander. That’s encouraging and I hope our entire company can hold on to that moment as motivation to continue to work on becoming one company of people instead of one person in a company.

Like I said already, that was our one bright shinning moment today, the rest was spent being yelled at in 39 puddles of sweat and feeling like today was a step backwards. I think as a company we were all down on ourselves for those who’ve never experienced something like this, your ego and pride are quickly attacked from all directions, which is how it should be. The U.S. Coast Guard wants good enlisted men and women carrying on their legacy and to create the type of people they want, training needs to break each individual down, every selfish tendency, so that each person can be built back up as a total team player. We’re still early in this process, and we can be really stubborn as a company, so we’ve mostly been broken down so far.

Naturally, we feel down like a beaten dog, but then something cool happened. Chief Hollenbeck sat us down for mail, and the conversation turned from frustration with us into Chief Hollenbeck giving us a roadmap to success. It wasn’t warm and fuzzy or perfectly drawn out for us, we need to do that on our own. But it was a real, honest conversation about our company and how when we’re focused, we’re a good company (but we’re rarely focused). One day, it’s going to click for us. Today wasn’t that day. But week 03 is about to start. Maybe somewhere in week 03 lies our day of realization.

Week 02 Saturday
Entering the Twilight Zone

In addition to that amazing ceremony yesterday, the whole company suddenly moved squad bays. All the females, OSCAR and DEPOT included, were stuffed into the previous PAPA male squad bay. It’s like we’re sardines! The PAPA males moved into the old OSCAR male squad bay, and the companies just played musical bays. Of course, this was all so the ankle monster didn’t get us!

Also, part of the company participated in choir last night. It was a good time for fellowship and it helped us, those who went, release pent up stress and emotions.
But enough about yesterday, how about today? It was…mild in comparison. We had our daily fire drill and PT session; had morning chow like normal (as normal as it gets with this company), and practiced marching a bit.

The highlight of the day though was when we met our mentors. We got to spend two plus hours with them just talking, asking about their careers, what they did in boot camp, all sorts of things. There were two women and two men. Senior Chief Sisk and Lieutenant French (Mr. Freedom) were the men and Senior Chief Walter and Lieutenant Thomas were the women. Lieutenant Thomas had actually gone through the Coast Guard academy, so she offered a different perspective from the others. We even got to have lunch chow with them and learn a little more. The best advice they gave us was to never give up and to support each other. It felt like we actually started doing that after they left.

We had one class today with Chief Duncan about proper times to salute, like in a car or in a parade. We also gained one of our shipmates back that we thought we had lost. That was definitely a morale booster.

Amidst the small snippets of relief and happiness there are always moments of pain. We had a remedial sign in/out session where we ran around a portion of the parade field signing in and out on our own sheet. There was a rack inspection where most of our things were tossed aside like limp noodles and all of us (it seemed like it anyway) were issued trackers. Plus, there is always time for more fire drills and a sniper session and a few facing/sounding off exercises. One would think we would have gotten the whole sounding off thing but…not the case.

We had five minutes just before TAPS and right after squad bay clean up for mail time, to either read or write. New recruits received mail this time, so it was good to see their happy faces.

Finally, as out Training Duty Officer, Chief Gellego, comes by on his way out, he looks around slightly confused. Because all of the squad bays have been changed, it is the “Twilight Zone.” It very well could be for many people, but the sun will still rise.