As we made our way towards more advanced weeks of basic training; weeks four, five, and six, things were becoming so fluid boot camp was just my new life. That is really how it all felt. I had finally adjusted to the life style and could manage a normal bowel movement, I was actually getting a good nights rest, I would wake up just a few minutes before the CC’s would come bombing into the berthing room and start our day with a nice ass kicking.
The tough part about these weeks were our nightly watches that we had. Every recruit had to stand one hour of watch in the middle of the night and conduct rounds of the barracks. Sometimes it was in our hall, Munro Hall, and sometimes it was in the other halls, James and Healy hall. When you are on watch you make sure all recruits are present and accounted for, and that there aren’t any security breaches of the barracks. The last part is dramatic but it’s what our CC’s told us to look out for. Meanwhile what really happens is the CC’s go home, and we need to make sure that no one goes missing during the night. This is what made basic training so hard. It really fucked your sleep schedule up. Sometimes you’d get up at 0130 and stand an hour of watch and didn’t get back into the rack until 0330 to be up at 0530 again. Again artificial stress put on us all to make training harder.
During week four we started the best classes of training, seamanship. We learned knots, helm commands, basic damage control for when a small boat or cutter was taking on water or had a man over board. We got to shoot off pyro and everything! It was a blast. We had an instructor that was so chill we were all so excited to go to seamanship classes. Little did we know, sometimes our CC’s would be sitting the back of the classroom and would watch us. We paid the price hard some nights.
During week four, one of our CC’s, Petty Officer Simcox, would get us up as we normally would, have a morning work out, and then would make us do a rack making remedial. This remedial was the worst and one of the most distinct memories I have of boot camp. We would have to strip our racks in 60 seconds or less and and hold our linens above our heads on the quarterdeck until the entire company was out on it. If we did not meet the time standard of 60 seconds, we would have to then go and make our racks in 60 seconds or less. If we did not meet that objective, then we would have to strip our racks again in 60 seconds or less and get out on the quarterdeck. As you can imagine, 100+ recruits all trying to make their racks in 60 seconds or less was pretty much an impossible task. The first day we did it, we failed. Miserably. During the entire hour that this went on, we never came close to meeting the time objective.
As the week went on, we continued our morning routine of the rack making remedial. By the time Wednesday rolled around we were getting so close to the impossible time standard that Petty Officer Simcox set for us. We as a company were coming together as a team. We finally realized, “He never said we had to make our own racks. Let’s help each other.” That clearly was the objective that he wanted us to achieve. He wanted to challenge us in a way that would force us to become a cohesive unit. And God damn we were motivated to reach his time objective.
Friday finally came, and guess what. Mission Accomplished. He was shocked that 103 recruits were able to meet his impossible time objective of racks stripped and made in 60 seconds or less. I actually remember him reading the time off his stopwatch. 57.4.
During these weeks of training we were also beginning to find out where in the fleet we were headed. I remember I really wanted to go to CG Station Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard. My Company Commanders all thought I was crazy for wanting to go to a unit on such a small island when I could be going to Miami and “tearing it up” as they put it. But then someone above was really looking out for me. An opportunity that I never thought would be possible was before me.
You see, the Coast Guard is the only branch of the military to have a recruit band that plays at every recruit graduation. Your’s truly was in that recruit band banging away on the drums. The percussion section leader billet had an opening and it needed to be filled since the non-rate who had that job at the time was getting ready to go to Boatswain’s Mate “A” School. I was extended this job opportunity, which also included doing military funeral honors for the greater southern New Jersey area, did graduation set up and tear down, and briefed high ranking dignitaries who visited the unit. Basically Training Center Cape May’s Honor Guard. It was a prestigious position and I wanted nothing to do with it! Luckily, my forever mentor, and now friend, Petty Officer Chase (that was his rank at the time, he now has his commission), pulled me a side one night before rehearsal and asked me flat out why I didn’t want it.
“Petty Officer Chase, Seaman Recruit Mead, I don’t want to play Bravera for the next two years while I wait to go to “A” School!!”
“Stop sounding off Mead… And God damn it, you have no idea what the real Coast Guard is. Do you want to go to a 378 and clean the commanding officers shitter? Or would you rather train recruits on how to play the drums again and teach them about our Nation’s Colors?”
Boom. That last part really hit me. I’ve always been an incredibly proud American. I have always have been obsessed with the flag and what it stood for. I have always gone up to and thanked Veterans I would see out and about, especially guys from Vietnam. But the point being that I could instill that pride into recruits was something I really wanted to do. So from that point forward I knew I was going to be returning to Training Center Cape May to be apart of the Ceremonial Unit.
Our company mentors were with our CC’s when they reveled where we were all going. Some guys were crying because of how scared they were of going off to Alaska, while others were practically jumping out of their chairs in excitement. It was a really cool day in basic training. Our CC’s talked to us like humans and really helped us all with what to expect with transferring. They were beginning to not just beat us, but mentor us, and have lasting influences on us all with our careers.
As we got into week six I remember Petty Officer Bailey being exceptionally proud of us. He told us how we were all starting to come together, and be a great company, working extremely well together and helping each other. One recruit’s father passed away during this week of training. The company rallied around him and helped him through the rest of basic training. He elected to stay and not go to the funeral. He said, “It is what my dad would want. He would want me to stay.” I was blown away at that. I’ll forever have respect for that man and the decision he made staying at basic training. We really began to think we were ten foot tall and bullet proof.
And then we started slipping. I slipped up signficantly one night. Returning from ceremonial, I went to change into my go fasters, and then go get my ass kicked by Petty Officer Garza. Rather than change out of my boots to sneakers right away, I got white socks out of my rack (since you only wore black socks with your boots) and put them into my sneakers and then went to go sign in. This was a monumental “no, no.” I took a short cut. Petty Officer Garza, and his omniscient powers, some how new I took a short cut. He went into the squad bay while I waited in line to sign back into to company. He pulled me into the squad bay by my operation dress uniform (ODU) blouse and brought my face to my sneakers.
“Are these your go fasters Mead?”
“Yes Petty Offi…” He cut me off.
“Grab them, and come with me.”
He then put the entire company on-line in main muster squad bay. He had me march up and down the CC aisle with my sneakers out in front of me saying, “Shipmates. This is how much I don’t care shipmates. Shipmates. This is how much I don’t care shipmates.” Up and down I went for the next hour. One full hour of my life, was spent marching saying that phrase over and over and over again. All my fellow recruits, or shipmates, had to stand there at attention for an hour, listening to me, watching me.
That is when I learned that complacency kills. Lucky no one died from my small complacent action, but if I were to take complacency to the fleet with me, someone could die on my watch and Petty Officer Garza was not going to allow that to happen. I have never, and probably will never be that embarrassed every again. It was a horrible experience but a necessary one.
I also learned that day that this simply was not a job, it was a lifestyle. For better or for worse I was now going to be one of the most disciplined persons I would ever know.
Check back for part four! Thank you!