The U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut is buzzing with activity as 248 students begin what's known as "swab summer" training.
Scaling walls, running obstacle courses, learning survival at sea skills and dropping to do more push-ups than most of us would ever dream of doing. This intense, seven week program is the Coast Guard's version of boot camp and is designed to prepare incoming students for their new life in the corps of cadets for the academic year ahead.
The Class of 2016 is the smallest group sworn in since 1999. A typical class is around 300. This year’s is also the most diverse in the academy's history with 36 percent women and 35 percent minority students.
Competition is heating up to get a coveted slot in the academy. The Coast Guard right now needs fewer officers because so many already in the service are holding on to their jobs for as long as possible.
The latest figures provided by the Coast Guard show that 85% of graduates choose to serve beyond their five-year commitment. In fact, military retention rates in general are at record levels according to the U.S. Department of Defense, as it appears more people are choosing the assurance of a job in the military over taking their chances in the private sector.
Rear Admiral Sandra Stosz, Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy says standards are high in the training and learning environment and there are few second chances.
“We have a line of people wanting to come in for all the benefits, the free education, the guaranteed job.” adds Stosz, “So I am demanding that my cadets develop into those leaders of a character that America expects from them when they're commissioned as officers. We can afford to be choosy and we are going to be.”
As the cadets toil away in the summer sun learning how to be a part of a team with rigorous detail, they remain grateful for the opportunity at a real shot at job security in the future.
Third year cadet Bradley Pienta says he keeps in contact with others his age looking for work, saying, “I definitely hear stories about my friends back home who are a little bit worried they can't find internships for the summer, when they graduate they can't find jobs, after they have their degree. So being in the Coast Guard and having that guaranteed job, that guaranteed pay check, as soon as I graduate, that's a very nice thing to have.”
Fourth year cadet Breanna Hite, who is spending the summer supervising other cadets who are training swabs along the academy’s waterfront adds, “I am super lucky to not have to deal with college loans and not have to search for a job after I graduate, definitely feel very secure that I have a job and I am going to have a steady income once I graduate, and I do plan to make a career out of the coast guard and stay in it as long as possible.”