Drop and Give Me Twenty!

Coast Guard Training Center Offers Unique Look Into What Makes a Recruit Company Commander

by Petty Officer 1st Class Kyle Niemi

Help Wanted: Coast Guard training center seeks motivated, competent, confident individuals capable of leading hundreds of young people every year. Must have: excellent communication skills; superb military bearing; ability to, not only adhere to, but personify, the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.

Quite possibly the most influential person in a young enlisted service member’s life is the first he or she encounters upon entry into the armed services.

While attending basic military training, otherwise known as “boot camp,” the recruits are led, directed and motivated by individuals who come to represent the very best their service has to offer. These individuals are responsible for the basic military training, physical fitness and welfare of the recruits entrusted to their care.

In the Army, they’re called drill sergeants. The Air Force calls them military training instructors. The Navy has recruit division commanders. And, in the Marine Corps, they’re called drill instructors.

The U.S. Coast Guard, smallest of the nation’s five armed services, has them, as well.

They are called recruit company commanders.

The titles and descriptions may be reminiscent of actor R. Lee Ermey’s portrayal of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the movie Full Metal Jacket. Other movies and television shows have also portrayed these individuals: intense motivators, spewing orders to hordes of confused and frightened military recruits, eyes fiercely gazing from under the brim of their campaign covers. The broad-brimmed covers are known to many by the rather un-imposing nickname of “Smokey Bears,” due to their resemblance to the headwear worn by the fictional character from public service campaigns.

But, apparently, there’s more to the job than simply yelling at young people and ordering them to do push-ups.

“I love to teach and this job involves a lot of it,” said Chief Petty Officer Kimberly Tutwiler, who is a recruit company commander, or “CC,” at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., the Coast Guard’s only recruit training center and enlisted accession point.

Following her own basic training in 1997, Tutwiler remained in Cape May, assigned to the training center’s ceremonial staff.

“I saw what company commanders do here,” she said, “and I saw the impact they have on their recruits. I wanted to be able to impact people’s lives like my company commanders impacted mine.”

Tutwiler feels the most rewarding part of her job is witnessing “the transition – where the recruits have achieved.”

“To watch them overcome whatever obstacle it was that they were trying to get past – whether it’s military bearing or some type of military skill problem,” she said. “Physical fitness – that’s a huge one that people don’t usually overcome until towards the end of training.”

“It’s watching them actually achieve something and be proud of themselves for doing so,” she said. “As a company commander – watching a recruit do that – that’s been the most rewarding.”

After training six recruit companies, Tutwiler is now assigned as the chief of the Company Commander School at the training center, where she has a hand in the development of future company commanders.

“The training is about seven weeks long,” she said. “The first week is the Instructor Development Course. Then, the next six weeks is the actual Company Commander School. It’s a full, in-house program consisting of classroom instruction, individual study and practical application.

“We instruct and demonstrate recruit rules and regulations as well as the standard operating procedures for the training center,” she said.

Additionally, the CC School students are instructed in leadership, coaching and counseling. They are provided opportunities to witness the actual application of these skills to recruits in training and to see how the standard operating procedures are being applied.

Prospective CCs are also instructed on what’s called “ethical fitness” where they are trained to identify the difference between an ethical dilemma and a moral temptation, and the appropriate action to take when encountered by either.

Students are given classwork and homework assignments to ensure they can memorize the training center’s standard operating procedures and the Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual, from which they learn close-order drill and manual-of-arms movements they will teach to recruits.

Prospective CCs are also required to participate in all of the physical fitness classes the recruits will attend.

“It all ties back to our motto of ‘better, faster, more often,'” Tutwiler said. “The company commanders should be able to do everything they instruct their recruits to do – but better, faster and more often.”

“The training will definitely take a toll on you,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Nick Sutton, a recent graduate of Company Commander School. “It’s definitely the hardest training I’ve ever been through – mentally, emotionally, physically – it’s pretty hectic.”

“We worked seven days a week,” said Sutton, whose previous unit was the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area Tactical Law Enforcement Team. “Some of us were putting in 20-hour days, not only with the class, but studying as well. After four or five weeks of that, emotions started running pretty high around here.

“Everybody’s been stressed … since the Sunday we got here,” Sutton said. “It had been eight years since I’d seen somebody with a campaign cover on. Seeing them walk in the room that first Sunday night is stressful enough.”

As the training center’s recruit battalion commander, Master Chief Petty Officer Stephen Dykema manages the day-to-day affairs of the training center regiment and supervises company commanders and their training. Additionally, he too was a recruit company commander for two years and the section commander for one of the regiment’s halls for one year.

“I have former recruits of mine who are chiefs now and that’s very rewarding to me,” said Dykema. “The first time I ran into a guy who was in my first company, and I saw he’s wearing anchors now, I thought, ‘Wow’ – there’s the full circle for you.”

“There’s a reality to what we say to recruits – ‘you’re going to be the future leaders of the Coast Guard.’ Well, there it is,” he said. “And we want people here who want to learn the value in that and to be part of it.”

Tutwiler says a prospective company commander needs to be “someone of strong moral character – someone who not only knows what integrity is, but actually lives up to it.”

“Honor, respect and devotion to duty – that’s exactly what we’re trying to instill into our recruits, and you can’t do that if you’re not leading by example.”

“This school shouldn’t change the type of person you are,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas Durrant, another recent CC School graduate. “The school should just amplify those qualities you do have.”

“Prospective company commanders must realize this job is a sacrifice, personally and professionally,” said Dykema. “For those who are ready for the challenge and know what it means to live by our core values, there is no other assignment in the Coast Guard that affords the opportunities to impact our service like this one.”

“You can’t let hearsay discourage you if you think you want to do this job,” said Durrant. “The majority of what people think this job is about, it’s not about at all.”

“The yelling and screaming people see in boot camp is literally less than one percent of what this job is actually about,” continued Durrant. “It’s being a coach … being a mentor – not being a hated person behind a campaign cover.”

Drill sergeants, recruit division commanders, military training instructors, drill instructors, recruit company commanders – regardless of which uniform they wear, or which title they go by, they will be there to teach, motivate and inspire the future servicemembers of the U.S. Armed Forces.

They will be there to ensure the next generation of the enlisted corps is prepared to protect our shores, safeguard our citizens and preserve our freedoms.

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