From civilian to Coastie

Coast Guard Training Center Cape May in southern N.J., has been preparing recruits for more than five decades to begin careers in the enlisted ranks of the Coast Guard. New recruits arrive by bus on a Tuesday night and are met by a group of company commanders who are waiting to transform them from civilians to disciplined military members from the moment they step off the bus.

“I love training recruits,” said Chief Petty Officer George Bou a recruit company commander at the training center. “The sense of responsibility I have is extraordinary.”

Bou said his job is to teach the recruits to be self starters because there will be times when they have to act without direction. They must be able to function without a babysitter and trust their instincts, he said.

The recruits spend eight weeks learning military standards and procedures, basic seamanship, firefighting, first aid, water survival skills and basic knowledge on how to fire a gun. Recruits also take with them valuable lessons their company commander teaches them on a daily basis.

“The most important piece of advice my company commander taught me was to believe in myself – if you don’t believe in yourself then you’re not going to be able to do it at all,” said Seaman Recruit John Abell with recruit company Golf-178.

Bou said it’s awesome to see the actual light bulb go off above their heads. That’s when he knows he actually taught them something.

“Boot camp was extremely tough at first, because our company was here and there – we didn’t know what we were doing. Our company is in its sixth week and we’re working together as a team, and everyday it’s becoming easier. Our company commanders are giving us a lot more responsibility,” said Abell.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Coast Guard Training Center Cape May receives an average of 4,500 new recruits each year .

“It surged since 9/11, and the surge won’t go away because the Coast Guard’s workforce grew by 6,000 people since that time,” said Capt. Sandra Stosz, commanding officer of the training center. “I think recruit training is one of the most important things we do in the Coast Guard, yet it’s very easy to not notice it as such.”

“For instance, Cape May is so geographically isolated, and since we are a recruit training center and don’t have many other training programs for enlisted people – they never have a reason to come back to Cape May,” said Stosz.

Stosz said she has learned the value of recruit training and how incredibly important it is to the future of the Coast Guard.

“The new apprentices we graduate are part of the enlisted workforce we send to a Coast Guard we will never see,” said Stosz.  “It is so important we realize that all of us working at Cape May are graduating the apprentices who will run a Coast Guard long after you and I retire. The important fact we are selecting the future people who will run the future Coast Guard shouldn’t be lost in any of us.”

It’s also incredibly important the instructors at the training center teach the young people to have the skills, qualities and the core values it takes to keep the Coast Guard moving forward when everyone from the current Coast Guard workforce are retired, she said.

With a changing world, the Coast Guard must also change how it trains its people. The recruit training curriculum has not been reviewed for restructuring for 10 years until recently.

“With the commandant transforming the Coast Guard, we are refining the recruit training curriculum,” said Stosz. “We are improving it to give the classroom indoctrination more hands-on and physical fitness opportunities for the recruits. This will help us graduate them with more of the commitment to the culture of the core values and the guardian ethos were looking to instill in them.”

Stosz says she hopes by next year this new program will be in place so the training center can begin to provide an enhanced and better graduate for transforming the Coast Guard.

Though the current curriculum is in the process of transforming, the men and women who are being trained are having life long transformations everyday.

“It has shown me a lot of strengths within myself I didn’t know I had. I learned the things I was good at were not enough to carry me,” said Seaman Recruit Kelly Goede with recruit company Golf-178. “You have to be able to rely on other people around you to fill in where you’re not that strong.”

With the graduation of recruits every Friday, a new week is almost ready to begin. Soon another busload of civilians will make their way through the gates of Training Center Cape May, and the bus will come to a squeaky rest in front of a place called Sexton Hall. Faces pushed against windows see shadowed figures standing powerfully under the glow of a street lamp. Within seconds, the bus door slams open. All eyes in the bus change direction to the front. Up from the bus’ steps walks one of the figures. All is quiet. “From now on, everything that comes out of your mouth will be ‘sir yes sir’ or ‘ma’am yes ma’am!'”

The first week for a new set of recruits has just begun.

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