Yankee 188 Recruit Journal: Weeks 01 & 02

Formed: Sept. 24, 2013
Graduates: Nov. 15, 2013


As the bus drove past the gates, past the sign “Welcome to Cape May,” everyone got quiet. All of the kidding around, the laughing, the quizzing of required knowledge came to a stop. Then came a sudden rush of emotions and the intense feeling of anxiety when the bus backed into place and we all locked eyes on a group of Company Commanders. Before we received another moment to think, all of our worlds were turned upside down. From getting off the bus as fast as possible to getting into our racks for the first time, our first few hours at Training Center Cape May were filled with confusion, excitement and homesickness. I did not believe my recruiter when he told me Tuesday, September 24th would be the longest day of my life. That first night everyone slept on the top of their sheets, if they slept at all. That first night ended with the realization that this was really happening.


International Maritime Signal Flag Yankee

International Maritime Signal Flag Yankee

We all awoke Wednesday to the sound of a Company Commander busting into our squad bay. Yelling at the top of his lungs, he told us to get up and get on line in front of our racks. It was still dark out and all of our heads swam with grogginess and confusion. Before we knew it we were up and about, filling out forms, learning commands, and absorbing as much information as humanly possible. Many of us started to consider the gravity of what we had gotten ourselves into. This feeling culminated at the barbershop. With a few short clipper strokes all the males became almost identical. Even some of the female recruits opted for the buzz cut in instead of having to glop on copious amounts of gel in their hair multiple times a day. We were then marched to medical, where more forms were filled out and a countless number of shots were administered. All those shots made us feel battered and bruised before the real “fun” had even started. Last but certainly not least we all headed to the Uniform Distribution Center to get what we needed to look and feel like real Coast Guard recruits. Our journey was just beginning.


Thursday found all of us still trying to learn the basic ropes of military life. It seemed like nothing we could do or say was correct, which was absolutely true. Every action we took seemed to result in a Company Commander chewing us out. It’s all just part of the experience here at our vacation at the beautiful Training Center Cape May. Having chow at the galley proved an ever more serious task, as we learned some of the proper maneuvers and actions to perform while we ate. Let’s just say a square meal means something a little differently to a new recruit. The day revolved around more medical visits, more shots, and more good times like that. In the back of our heads we all knew how important the next day would be. Our temporary Company Commanders kept reminding us that training hadn’t even really begun. As they said, this would be the last day before the “fun” we kept hearing about really began. A mixture of anticipation, fear and excitement ran among us throughout the day. We were all eager to form up with our future companies. Our interim Company Commanders gave us their last bits of advice and instructions. We all hit the racks that night knowing that as hard as the first two days had been (the homesickness, the utter confusion, the complete 180 degree change in life entirely as we knew it), the real thing started bright and early the next day.


Friday brought a whole new day and a brand new set of challenges for all of us to overcome, both as individuals and as a team. After morning chow, our physical fitness abilities were put to the test for the first time. Over one hundred shipmates gathered in the gym to prove they could live up to the fitness standards of the United States Coast Guard. Push-ups, sit ups, and a 1.5-mile run stood in the way of getting into a company. When the run started, all of the testers turned serious to focus on the task at hand. As the faster shipmates completed their final laps, they began encouraging the shipmates who still had not finished. Calls of ‘You can do it, shipmate!’ and ‘You got this shipmate!’ were squeezed through pursed lips, as talking is still outlawed. It was the beginning of the teamwork we will all eventually master. Finishing the physical fitness test was one of the first hurdles, however, by 1500, we quickly realized we had a long way to go. In the grand scheme of things, the physical fitness test will probably just be a blip on our radars in terms of recruit training. At 1500 Yankee-188 was introduced to our Company Commanders. Lieutenant Stiefel passed the forming company to Petty Officer Garver, assisted by Petty Officer Ruff, and Chief Arseneaux. Thus began indoctrination weekend. Minutes after being passed on to our Company Commanders, our first session of incentive training began. As my shipmates and I counted off at what we thought was the top of our lungs, the fear in our voices was easily detectable. “One, two, three, zero-one, one, two, three zero-two.” The flutter kicks made our legs feel as if they were on fire. After the first incentive training session, we were introduced to our new home for the next 08 weeks, Healy Hall.


Saturday was our first full day of indoctrination weekend. Being a young company is chaotic to say the least. We were all feeling the growing pains. We jumped out of our racks to the call of ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ at 0530, quickly pulled on our sweatshirt and pants and sprinted out into the pre-dawn morning to begin our incentive training. It may not be a cup of coffee, but incentive training will surely wake you up in the morning. Company life isn’t entirely pain and sweat though (almost entirely, but not quite). A big portion of our day was spent in the classroom. After having a class with a Company Commander, all of us have a much better appreciation for our former high school teachers. Still, we all know how important the classroom sessions are. Learning how to interact in a military manner is like learning a whole new language. Everything we say has to be absolutely perfect. If not, we’ll have a Company Commander not so pleasantly remind us of our mistake. One of the biggest things we’re conducting as a company is marching. It’s been an amazing feeling to don the uniform of the United States Coast Guard and march the grounds of Training Center Cape May. It brings us all together and instills a sense of pride in our company. Of course, we still aren’t pretty to look at. Frankly, we’re a mess out on the regiment in regards to marching. Slowly though, we’ll learn all the proper techniques. In the back of our minds we are all thinking that one day we will be proudly marching in front of all our families, having accomplished this great undertaking. While we still have a long ways to go that thought will stay with us and push the recruits of Yankee-188 to finish what we’ve started.


All of us had undoubtedly been waiting for Sunday with anticipation. With Sunday comes divine hours, and with divine hours comes a small sense of relief. Divine hours are 05 hours of personal time to decompress, somewhat, from the rigors of training. From 0800 to 1300, we are all given the opportunity to attend religious services, if we’d like, or have the time to ourselves in the squad bay. Make no mistake though this is not the time to just lounge around. Most of us recruits spent a large portion of the time preparing our racks, ironing our uniforms, studying required knowledge and doing any and all tasks to keep ourselves up to the standards of our Company Commanders. They definitely expect the absolute best from us and will accept nothing less. Some recruits learned this fact the hard way. At chow we have an array of rules to follow while we eat. The most important of these rules is absolutely no talking. Still, some recruits will try to fit in a few words while we all sit at the tables. This is not advisable! The Company Commanders have eagle eyes and will spot you in an instant. The two recruits in our company were no exception. The Company Commanders were swift with their punishment. As the rest of us sat and ate, the two recruits caught gabbing marched around the length of the galley, trays in hands, shouting ‘Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!’ and ‘Blah! Blah! Blah!’ It is these moments that make recruit training so surreal at times. They’re funny. But we can’t dare laugh at them, or act as though we have any inclination, that we find anything comical in what is being said or what is happening. It’s all about keeping your military bearing. As the recruits ran around the galley crying out their words, we couldn’t help but stifle a grin or laugh. And yet, in the back of our minds, we all know at some point it could very easily be us running around and yelling those ridiculous phrases. More than likely it will be at some point. That thought sobers us all up and the comedy of situation fades away. This training, while we are here, is no laughing matter.


Monday marked the official end of indoctrination weekend and the beginning of our first week of real training. Graduation seems so far away at the beginning of week 02 it is truly indescribable. However, at the stress management seminar in the chapel, we were given this advice: take things one meal at a time. “Chow, chow, chow, chewy bar.” We were instructed that the easiest way to make it through our sixteen and a half hour days was to make our priority making it to the next meal. This seemed easy enough, until the incentive training sessions began to get harder. We were told that we, as recruits, make the day easier or harder by the amount of effort we put in to all that we do. Monday, the company as a whole did not put forth one hundred percent effort and the intensity of the incentive training reflected this. Bending over to pick up a pen doesn’t seem like much to most people, but most people are not doing it continuously for a half hour screaming at the top of their lungs. 59 shipmates all crowded on the quarterdeck, screaming ‘Aye, aye, Petty Officer Ruff!’ as they sweat out their daily mistakes. The quarterdeck felt like an oven half way through this hard session of incentive training. By the time we were dismissed from what felt like physical and mental torture, the quarterdeck looked like it had just been mopped from all the puddles of sweat the company produced. We were told everything we do has a purpose. By Tuesday, we were clearly still learning.


Another day, another opportunity for us to buy ourselves some more time for good old incentive training. But before we get down to the grittier details of that, let’s start from the beginning. Tuesday found our company going through our usual motions – screwing up absolutely everything possible. Missing time objectives, not properly following orders, just basically running around like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off. This is just another day in the early stages of a young company at Training Center Cape May. But the day wasn’t all doom and gloom. Our company’s spirit was visibly lifted as our Lead Company Commander gave us his indoctrination review speech. As we gathered in the main muster squad bay we were told bluntly and fairly of the rigors of recruit training. We were also told of all the ways we can help ourselves succeed. It’s all about listening and doing. It all sounds simple enough; we just have to execute it. These sentiments were reaffirmed by our Battalion Commander, Master Chief Berry. He also stopped by to speak with all of us and give us some frank details about the realities of training. This doesn’t mean what he said wasn’t encouraging though. Both our Lead Company Commander (Boatswain’s Mate First Class Garver) and Master Chief Berry’s talks proved inspirational to some degree and will hopefully have a lasting positive effect on all of us. They made us remember why we’re all here and why we must fully commit ourselves to this program and not compromise the mission we have all collectively set out to achieve. Naturally, however, we soon found ourselves on the short end of the incentive training stick just a few hours later. It seems the words of wisdom didn’t quite stick. Packed like sardines into a classroom, along with our sister company X-Ray-188, we enjoyed a lively round of one of our favorite games- ‘Aye, aye, Petty Officer Ruff.’ Our shipmates found themselves once again jumping back and forth from seated positions to stands of strict attention in a non-stop fast-paced manner, pouring sweat and turning the classroom into a sauna. We may not yet be the smartest company (far from it), but we’re definitely on track to be one of the most physically fit.


Wednesday started as most days do with the call of ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ followed by an early session of incentive training. Reveille is when we have to be the loudest; because it determines how our Company Commanders feel about the effort we plan on brining with us throughout the day. However, it is difficult to sound off first thing in the morning just as you’ve rolled yourself out of bed. Just when we thought our palms would get the chance to heal, we as a company were all strewn about the concrete, slipping as we attempted to do push-ups. After morning chow, we had our first bike workout with our sister company X-Ray-188. The bike workout was no joke. Everyday we are told to challenge ourselves. Mid-day brought us our class on the different rates and ranks. We were instructed on how to identify and greet all Coast Guard personnel, from non-rates to chiefs to admirals. The company was given a break from class and marched to pick up our pieces. Our pieces are modified M1 Grande’s that we will use to perform Manual of Arms. Our marching has improved from Day 1, but we still have many miles to go to enter the realm of perfection. In the evening, we were given the first chance to read and write mail. This boosted the moral of Yankee-188 considerably. It gave us the chance to stop and think about our loved ones and the world outside Training Center Cape May. Some of us really miss it.


There is nothing better than the official Petty Officer Ruff alarm clock to wake up to. Unfortunately, there is no snooze button. As his deafening bark filled the squad bay, the shipmates of Yankee-188 poured out into the warm, moist New Jersey morning. Our endurance, as well as our larynxes, was put to the usual test. Our sweat suits lived up to their names. I believe it’s safe to say all of us are ready for some cooler fall weather. This extra-long span of perfect summer weather just isn’t cutting it. Bring on the cold. The main order of business in the morning was one of our main assessments as recruits – the swim test. We found ourselves over at the gymnasium pools, packed in rows on cold metal bleachers, preparing to put our aquatic abilities to the test. A 100-meter swim and a 05-minute water-treading test stood in our way. As future Coast Guardsman hopefuls, it makes sense these are areas we should be pretty proficient in. Recruits cut through the water, laying it all out on the line. It felt good to finally be in the water for exercise instead of our normal routine of burying our backs and faces into the hot concrete. The day wasn’t all a relaxing dip in the pool however. There were classes to be had and information to learn. One of our Company Commanders, Chief Arseneaux, gave a presentation on how and when to properly salute. In true Yankee-188 fashion, we were able to lose our military bearings during class, thus resulting in some ever-so-pleasant evening incentive training. As a company we still need to learn how to respectfully and professionally respond to the incremental amounts of responsibilities our Company Commanders are bestowing upon us. Just as we thought the night was settling down, we were proven wrong. Our lack of honor, respect and devotion to duty as a company caused us to be a part of the worst incentive training session to date. Every day of the week we think we’ve been hit hard physically and mentally as much as possible, and every day we are proven wrong. Our Company Commanders always step up the intensity level. In the back of our minds of course, we know they will always do this and it will continue to happen. We filled up our canteens and cringed when we heard the words ‘find some real estate’ thunder out of Chief Arseneaux’s mouth. Ten minutes later we all felt the all-too-familiar feeling of baking as if we were all in an oven. All I could picture were a set of instructions on un-motivated, un-tamed echo-ones: 01-compress the squad bay, 02-Space out recruits accordingly in under 10 seconds, 03-Be sure all recruits are given the necessary reading material, 04-Turn up the thermostat to 100 degrees, 05-Have recruits hold canteens out in front, arms fully extended, 06-Ensure reading material is placed in front of canteen, 07-Proceed with the breaking of their civilian molds and 08-Repeat as necessary.


Disregard what we’ve said so far about daily physical hardships and struggles. After today I think we all realized that this isn’t going to be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. At this point you probably have an idea of how our mornings begin. Today was no different; fire, push-ups, yelling and all that jazz. A silver lining on this muggy Cape May morning was the ever-coveted laundry day. Out with the old and sweaty, in with the new (and soon to be sweaty). We get laundry done twice a week, so fresh clothes and uniforms are something to be cherished. But I digress. The theme of today was fitness, specifically, cardio fitness. A mile run here, a mile run there, a little stationary bike session. I know what you’re thinking, ‘This is the Coast Guard, what about swimming?’ Well surprise, we did that too. Today was sprinting laps in the pool day. While difficult, it seems being in the pool boosts company moral. It makes sense, since we’re all recruits trying to join the Coast Guard to begin with. The focal point of the day, however, didn’t come until later in the evening. As the clock struck 1930, a feeling of uneasiness permeated throughout the company. This seems to be the start of our own little ‘witching hour,’ when danger is afoot. Well, technically, this lasts until about 2200, so we stretch that hour out a bit. In the military you have to do more with less. But during this period of time seems to be when we get the best remedial and incentive training. No classes to go to, no more chow to be had, nothing to do but pay for the mistakes of the day. And pay we did. When Petty Officer Ruff stormed into the squad bay we knew it was on for the night. The entertainment for the evening would be a new physical and mental exercise we had yet to perform. It amounted to stuffing your sea bag with every possible belonging you have, from socks to bed sheets, so your rack is like new. You then transport said sea bag outside around the hall and place it on the deck. Then the fun starts. At dead sprints, we rushed down from our second floor berthing area, outside to the sea bags picked up a single item, and ran back up to our racks. Over the course of an hour or so our racks slowly but surely began to materialize. They looked even better than they had before, I would actually highly suggest this drill to any parents out there with lazy kids who don’t clean their rooms. Oh, and we’ve made it almost to week 03 now. The days went by slow but the week went by fast. In exactly 06 weeks we will be graduating (if we keep it up). Hope to see you there!

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by a recruit currently involved in Coast Guard basic training. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this Journal do not necessarily reflect those of Training Center Cape May, the U.S. Coast Guard or the federal government and are the sole opinion of the author. Recruit Journals are written by personnel in a high-stress environment with little time, so please excuse grammar and punctuation in the above article. The staff at Training Center Cape May do not edit the journals in any way, so as to ensure authenticity of the content and messages.