Coast Guard Academy's Swab Summer Pivots from Screams to Scripts

Members of the Coast Guard Academy Class of 2028 march during Day One at the Academy
Members of the Coast Guard Academy Class of 2028 march during Day One at the Academy, New London, July 1, 2024. (Matt Thieme/U.S. Coast Guard)

NEW LONDON — Just about a month after the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's Class of 2024 shed their cadet status and became junior officers, a fresh group of swabs on Monday began its 200-week journey at the military academy.

But there the morning induction process was much different than past years when the walls of the Roland Hall alumni gym echoed with the screams of instructors exhorting nervous rows of trainees.

Instead, cadet trainers carried clipboards affixed with precise script pages that they recited line by line ― no more on-the-fly yelled instructions ― as the swabs lined up to be weighed and measured before marching off to a series of induction stations.

Jon Heller, deputy commandant of cadets, and senior cadet leadership spent the last few weeks fine-tuning the new entry process with the goal of eliminating the old "shock and awe" boot camp-style of welcome.

"We don't want the shrieking and yelling, but rather a directional tone," Heller said. "One of the Coast Guard's core values is respect, so why bring in that level of intimidation? But it's still intense."

Rear Adm. Michael Johnston, now in his second year as academy superintendent, predicted the changes would produce positive results.

"I've had bosses that screamed and bosses who've been respectful," he said. "And my performance has been affected by both those types of leadership, with the respectful kind giving better outcomes."

The 298 members of the Class of 2028 include eight international students and 12 Connecticut residents. About 33% of the class is female and 34% consists of minorities.

East Lyme resident Alexander Salerno, 18, showed up on campus Monday already somewhat familiar with the academy and its mission.

"I grew up in the area and I always wanted to serve my country in some capacity," Salerno said. "If I said I knew exactly where I'll be after graduation, I'd be lying. But I'd like to serve on a cutter."

The seven-week swab summer portion includes a week of acclimation, three weeks of more intensive drill and physical instruction and three weeks of transitional training.

The revamped induction system features a streamlined timeline aimed at eliminating swab bottlenecks. Male swabs were encouraged to show up to campus with their hair already buzzed; luggage was dropped off the night before; and a swearing-in ceremony was pushed up a few hours to early afternoon.

Two tailors worked the swab entry line, including Megan Crocker, who said she can get a swab's measurements ― bust, chest, waist, neck, sleeves ― within "23 to 26 seconds."

"The better they listen to instructions, the faster I can go," Crocker said.

Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora, head of the academy's external affairs department, said just because the cadre's tones are a little less sharp and improvised doesn't mean the swabs are being coddled.

"They will be under a constant level of stress here," Pecora said. "But these are men and women that were top of their classes and top athletes, people who are self-starters."

The changes are in large part a reaction to the Operation Fouled Anchor investigation into accusations of sexual assault at the academy ― and the cover-up of the results of that report.

In the wake of the controversies, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan initiated an accountability and transparency review that recommended several training changes, included directives to improve oversight of the cadets by staff members and of staff members by the school's governing boards.

"We knew there had to be a hard look culturally at the Coast Guard on the roles everyone plays," Pecora said. "We want these cadets to see the cadre and say, 'This is how we behave, and this is what responsibility looks like.'"

For Waterford resident Emma Marelli, Monday marked yet another milestone in her young life. The 19-year-old decided to apply to the academy after a two-year stint at Eastern Connecticut State University.

"I looked around and decided I wanted a better opportunity, a different life than the one I was pursuing," Marelli said. "I know what college offered, so there's no question of me asking myself, 'What if?'"


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