Written by Chief Warrant Officer John Edwards
In today’s world, where technology enables you to connect with loved ones in an instant, it’s hard to imagine a time when hand written letters were the primary source used to share news, check on the well being of another or simply say ‘I love you” to people far away.
The hand written letter is a symbol of a by-gone era; an era that anyone under the age of 30 probably has limited experience with. This antiquated correspondence and has been largely rendered obsolete by the existence of instant communication, and saying hello to someone half way around the world is as easy as swiping your finger across the screen of your smart phone.
There is, however, a small contingent of the younger population who are being indoctrinated into fully understanding, and appreciating, the importance and significance of the written word. In fact, a hand written letter is their only source of connection and comfort. For them, it means everything.
“Mail call,” shouts a recruit.
All the other recruits shuffle to the forward section of their berthing area, mindful not to step into the Company Commander aisle, hoping for a letter from home.
Names are called and recruits pass the letters back to their shipmates who immediately retreat back to their racks to read the latest news and well wishes from those they love.
It’s a scene that repeats itself every night at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., where America’s finest volunteers begin their journey from civilian to Coast Guard men and women ready for the rigors of the service, also known as “boot camp.”
“Training is tough,” said Capt. Owen Gibbons, commanding officer of the training center. “We have a little less than eight weeks to prepare these young men and women for life in our service, so sustaining an appropriate level of challenge while also keeping them motivated to train on is a careful balance. Letters from family and friends go a long way in keeping a recruit’s spirits up and keeping their heads in the game.”
For many recruits, coming to boot camp is the first time they have ever been away from home for an extended period of time.
From the moment they step off the bus until the day they graduate, they are tested by the best the service has to offer in what could be considered the toughest job interview of their lives. All the comforts of home, including the sympathetic ears of parents, wives, husbands or significant others is gone. It can feel overwhelming, scary and perhaps worst of all, lonely. Nearly everyone who has ever joined the service has ultimately laid in their rack during those first few nights and began to wonder what, exactly, they have gotten themselves into.
By about the second week, however, small rays of hope and comfort in the form of letters from home begin to come in. It is something each recruit anxiously awaits and is the highlight of what is typically a very long day.
“A moment of joy,” is how Christopher Thanesphonesy, a member of recruit-company Oscar 193, described receiving letters. “After all the stress, and being homesick, and getting a letter from a loved one makes you feel good. It’s a real morale booster.”
“The importance of a support structure that includes your family is crucial to a member’s success, not only here, but during their entire career,” said Gibbons. “Each week I get to meet with family members who have had their loved one graduate from our program and each week they tell me how proud they are of their son or daughter. They tell me how much they appreciate our service and what we have done for their loved one. I thank them but return the compliment because these young men and women have the character to succeed because of the foundation laid by their families. I also remind them that their role changed on the day these trainees stepped off the bus – shifting from foundation to lifeline. This new role will persist over an entire career because military life is full of unique challenges and they need all the love and understanding they can get, as often as they can get it, in order to sustain themselves through the hard times.”
Coast Guard Training Center Cape May is unique in so many ways; however, it is the one unit that nearly 80% of the workforce has in common. It is the birthplace of the enlisted corps and where those who enlist in our ranks get the opportunity to earn a place in the Coast Guard family. We teach self discipline, team work and what it means to live by our service’s core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty. At the end of eight weeks, we provide to the fleet a physically fit, smartly disciplined and basically trained Coast Guard man or woman who is ready for the rigors of our service.
“The recruits leave here with two names on their name tags,” said Gibbons. “Their family name, which they have already made proud, and the name of the U.S. Coast Guard, another family they have just joined. Each new Coast Guardsman has the opportunity to forge a great career in service to this nation, but it is the support of both of these families that will truly make the difference.”