At the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn., all incoming first-year students are called swabs and must take part in the rigorous Sea Trials, a daylong exercise that tests them physically and mentally in preparation for life at the academy and as future officers in the Coast Guard.
“All hands abandon ship!” Loudspeakers carried that message during the emergency drill, just over an hour since the first urgent communication pierced the dawn quiet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
Roused from sleep at the first urgent call, swabs hustled to respond, thus beginning the daylong Sea Trials, the culminating event of Swab Summer.
“It’s been intense for sure,” said Marshall Reyburn, a swab who hails from Denver. “We got up at 3 a.m., and we’ve been constantly going since then.”
With exercises such as treading water while holding a brick overheard and carrying an approximately 200-pound log through campus, swabs completed eight stations that challenged them both physically and mentally, said Coast Guard Lt. Jared Silverman, the company officer for Bravo Company.
The Sea Trials showcase the skills and knowledge swabs acquired since reporting in to the academy as civilians seven weeks ago for Swab Summer, the indoctrination period for first-year students.
Being successful in Sea Trials requires teamwork, said Sydney Johnson of Suffolk, Virginia, who was chosen earlier in the summer by cadet summer leadership as the top-performing swab who most embodied the training values taught to him since Reporting-In Day.
The morning his company did Sea Trials started off “rough,” Johnson said, but the swabs learned they had to work together to achieve the common goal. Sea Trials were a “pretty interesting experience,” he said.
The exercises are new to the swabs, Silverman explained, requiring them to figure out who will lead and how to work as a team.
“It’s really amazing to see them work as a team, morph as a team to go through different phases of team building and then to come out with a finished product at each stage,” he said.
After a rigorous, hour-long workout to simulate the physical exhaustion of abandoning ship, swabs went on to the various stations, including running to a cove and paddling back on a boat, then carrying the raft overhead together around the quarter-mile track.
“We try to make it as real as possible, so we try and incorporate search and rescue, survival skills (and) counter-drug operations,” Silverman said. “The best that we can, we try and incorporate the skills that they’ll be using when they get out there in the operational Coast Guard.”
Sea Trials, he said, are designed to be “physically and mentally challenging, a little emotionally challenging as well.”
Swabs did a mock boarding to search for “drugs” on two of the academy’s training tug boats. They demonstrated their knowledge of seamanship through tying and untying knots, and were tested on Coast Guard history, statistics and basic nautical terms.
They navigated an obstacle course that included climbing ropes and scaling walls. Drenched in sweat, they completed as many situps and pushups as they could.
In the survival-at-sea exercise, Silverman pointed out, swabs had to apply their knowledge of inflating their operational uniform with air to stay afloat, while holding a brick over their head.
“What I saw down there was some great teamwork, a lot of caring about their shipmates. They performed well and exactly how their cadre taught them throughout the summer,” he said.
The swim event was a great team-building exercise, said Cadet 1st Class Sam Williams of San Antonio, the executive officer for Golf Company.
“It’s physically exhausting and a really good exercise,” Williams said, adding that the swabs came together as a team. Even those who could not participate due to injury, he said, were right alongside cheering and providing strategic advice.
Coast Guard men and women must be mentally and physically fit and ready to respond to emergencies. They serve as boarding officers who interdict migrants, drugs and weapons. They have to know survival skills in the water and be able to readily adapt and overcome challenges.
For the Coast Guard Academy Class of 2019, the challenge of the Sea Trials is over, and Swab Summer has come to a close. This week, swabs received their shoulder boards, ending the indoctrination period and signifying the start of the next chapter of their journey at the academy.
Johnson, who went through the Academy Introduction Mission program and the Coast Guard Academy Scholars program, said he looks forward to starting the school year.
“The thing about Swab Summer is about getting the whole picture. Even though you may be the fastest, the strongest, the smartest at indoctrination, you are just one person,” Johnson said. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
PHOTO: USCG Petty Officer Lisa A. Ferdinando