NEW LONDON — Members of Hotel platoon lined a hallway in Chase Hall at the Coast Guard Academy on Monday, arms at a 90-degree angle in front of their faces as they studied their pocket-sized training handbook, called the Running Light, while waiting to get haircuts. The air conditioning had broken, and they would soon be drenched with rain on top of sweat.
They are among the 302 members of the class of 2026, called "swabs" for the summer, who showed up Monday for Day One, their indoctrination into Coast Guard life.
The cadre — the people training them, made up of cadets entering their third year at the academy — yelled at them when they mixed up "Yes, sir/ma'am" (used to answer questions) with "Aye aye, sir/ma'am" (used to respond to orders). The cadre yelled, "Do not look at me! Do not look at me!" And when another platoon passed through, the cadre yelled, "Move it! Move it! Move it! You're wasting my time!"
Platoon leader Matthew Reheuser effortlessly shifted from a shout to a smile as he stepped away to talk to a reporter. Monday brought back memories of his own Day One, when he experienced the culture shock and wondered, "What did I get myself into?"
The incoming class is 43% women, the highest ever, and 38% students from underrepresented minority groups. Among the 302 swabs are nine students from other countries: Dominican Republic, Philippines, Vietnam, Honduras, Palau, Guyana and Taiwan.
Tate Scherer was struck meeting a classmate from the Philippines, when he is from much closer: just over the bridge.
The Fitch High School graduate said as he was narrowing down his college choices, he wanted to serve a greater purpose. He also noted that he grew up on beaches and a lot of his friends' parents were in the Coast Guard. Scherer is majoring in Operations Research and Computer Analysis, and playing baseball at the academy.
Jason Guglietta of Farmington said he chose the Coast Guard Academy because he wanted to see new places and meet new people, and he likes the camaraderie of the service. He had done some studying in advance, and he had prior experience from participating in the Academy Introduction Mission, a one-week summer program for students entering their senior year of high school.
With a father who served in the Army and a grandfather who served in the Air Force, Mia Forti of Madison said she always wanted to be in a branch of service. When she visited the Coast Guard Academy, she "just fell in love with the whole mission."
Forti said of Day One, "It's a lot to take in all at once. We're getting a lot of information thrown at us so it's a little overwhelming."
She is hardly alone in getting yelled at, and not alone in knowing not to take it personally.
"I know all my cadre want the best for me; they want to see my success," said Matthew Geary, a Southington native who attended Tunxis Community College for a year prior to coming to the academy. He learned through some yelling that to get permission to use the head — the bathroom — he specifically had to use the word "respectfully."
Arwen Wise of Texas also got into West Point, the Naval Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy but opted to enter the Coast Guard because of its impacts. Wise is a marine and environmental science major, and wants to be a helicopter pilot.
Different Coast Guard Academy, same mission
With haircuts, uniform issue and drill, Monday marked the first day of the swabs' 200-week journey at the Coast Guard Academy.
Superintendent Rear Adm. William Kelly noted that the academy has retained 93% of the cadets who had their Day One last year, a vast improvement from the retention rate when he graduated in the class of 1987.
"Thirty nine years ago today was my Day One, and it's a really different Coast Guard Academy today ... but the mission remains the same," Kelly said. He wants families to know about their children, "We've got them."
The superintendent invoked the words of new Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan: "Tomorrow looks different. So will we."
In a first for the Coast Guard Academy, the swearing-in ceremony was held inside at Roland Hall rather than on Washington Parade Field, due to the rain. Many family members in the bleachers sported Coast Guard Academy t-shirts and hats.
Their swabs took the oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic," and Kelly had previously noted that on the domestic side, " January 6 still rings true to all of us."
He told the class of 2026, "We will do everything in our power to ensure you have the opportunity to earn the right to be a commissioned officer of the United States Coast Guard. Our standards are incredibly high."
Kelly added, "We will ensure you live, learn and grow in the safest and most inclusive environment possible." After his traditional conclusion of "Semper Paratus, and forever Go Bears!" and the benediction, families had 15 minutes to visit with their newly sworn-in sons and daughters — with tears, hugs and photos — before sending them off.
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