NEW LONDON -- The day started at 3:30 a.m. with the sounding of an alarm -- the kind that goes off when there's been a collision and you need to abandon ship.
The swabs scrambled out of bed in the dark, only able to use red-lensed flashlights to search their rooms and the darkened hallways for assigned items they needed to carry with them in their sea bags. The loud noise of the alarm made it difficult to communicate.
The point was to prepare them for "being able to jump out of bed and get to a mission really quickly in an emergency situation, remaining calm and helping your shipmates," said Colin Madaus, 17, of New London, who had graduated from the Williams School just across Route 32 from the Coast Guard Academy.
Madaus was part of a group of swabs, or new students at the academy, who on Friday went through Sea Trials, a series of physical, team-building challenges that marks the end of their seven-week summer indoctrination.
Bryan Landreth, 22, of Warner Robins, Ga., who was a member of the Coast Guard Honor Guard for two years before coming to the academy, helped train his fellow swabs in drilling with a rifle, teaching them simple moves. They showed off what they'd learned on the academy's Parade Field on Friday.
The swabs also spent time at the pool learning survival skills. They jumped in with bathing suits and pants, which they turned into flotation devices once in the water. They then passed around four balls, making sure they didn't touch the water, while treading water. They ran to Mamacoke Island, divided into groups of 12 and rowed inflatable rafts back to the academy, among other exercises that they were graded on.
The swabs rotate spending a week sailing on the Coast Guard's training ship, the barque Eagle. The group who went through Sea Trials on Friday depart Saturday for their sail on the Eagle. All of the swabs will receive their fourth-class shoulder boards in a ceremony on Aug. 20, marking the start of their time as a cadet.
At the beginning of its summer training, the Class of 2022 had 290 members. As of Friday, 10 had left, and three more were in the process of leaving. Usually swabs leave for medical reasons, or because they decide the academy is not for them.
The retention rate for Swab Summer has improved over the years due to increased knowledge of the academy, and various programs that help prepare prospective students for what it'll be like, said Capt. Rick Wester, the academy's new commandant of cadets. When Wester, a 1993 academy graduate, was a cadet, it was common to have some 50 swabs drop out over the course of the summer, he said.
The Class of 2021 saw 15 of its 304 swabs leave, or 5 percent, according to the academy's public affairs office. The classes of 2020 and 2018 also saw about 5 percent drop out during the first summer. Of the 285 swabs in the Class of 2019, there were 23, or 8 percent, who left.
In the past five years, the number of minority swabs leaving has decreased, and there have been more male departures than female departures. However, males make up a large percentage of the classes than females, the public affairs office said.
Swab Julia Guerrero, 18, of Rohnert Park, Calif., who went to military preparatory school before coming to academy, said she's noticed improvements in her physical performance since the start of the summer.
"I feel like more of a leader now," she added.
This article is written by Julia Bergman from The Day, New London, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.