The Coast Guard is far and away the smallest of the five branches of the Armed Forces of the United States, which means it has to be highly selective in choosing recruits to accept for Recruit Training conducted at USCG Training Center Cape May in New Jersey. Familiarly called Boot Camp, the seven-and-a-half-week training regimen not only serves to separate the wheat from the chaff, but also prepares graduates physically, emotionally, and intellectually for the next step in the Coast Guard careers: assignment at an ashore or afloat unit.
In many ways, the Coast Guard’s Recruit Training mirrors the programs in other branches of the U.S. Military. The first week focuses heavily on physical training, interspersed with such assignments as standing watch or cleaning duties (kitchen, latrine, etc.). Though physical training continues in the second week and indeed throughout all of Boot Camp, this is when Recruits start to learn about the traditions, history, and structure of the Coast Guard, and also take part in classes to ensure their physical and emotional well-being; topics such as Stress Management, Sexual Harassment, and Career Advancement are covered. As they move into the third week of Boot Camp, hopeful Guardsmen begin to learn boats crew skills such as Marlinspike, Deck Seamanship, Lines and Knots, and the use of Deck Hand Protective Equipment.
In week four, training covers areas such as Rating Duties, Uniform Devices, Performance Evaluations, and Vessels and Aircraft; this also marks the first time Recruits will visit the firing range for training in the Coast Guard’s standard issue handgun, the M-9. It’s also when they will face the first official test of their physical readiness—the same test they must pass to graduate. Besides performing a specified number of push-ups and sit-ups and completing a 1.5-mile run in a limited amount of time, Recruits must also pass the swim test, which starts with them jumping into the water from a six-foot platform before swimming 100 meters and treading water for five minutes.
Although the classroom training becomes more intensive as Recruits complete the remaining three weeks, the odds are good that those that have made it past the fourth week will take part in the Graduation ceremony held in the eighth and final week of Boot Camp. Here, the top three percent of each graduating Recruit Company (typically around 50 to 60 recruits) are awarded the Basic Training Honor Graduate Ribbon, which was established by the Commandant in March, 1984. The percentage ranking is based upon scores on written tests, Physical Training scores, instructor evaluation writeups, and level of performance in practical exercises.