NEW LONDON, Conn. – There will be nobody screaming in the face of 18-year-old Ellie Hiigel when she arrives Wednesday for training in advance of her first year at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and that has her mother a bit disappointed.
The school in Connecticut, like other service academies and military training centers, has made major changes because of the coronavirus pandemic. That means the eight weeks of boot camp for new cadets, known as "Swab Summer" will be much different from when Joanna Hiigel went through it herself in 1991 as a fourth-class swab, or even when Ellie's sister, Tana, went through it two years ago.
Ellie Hiigel and the 266 other swabs will be arriving not as one large group, but in eight separate platoons spaced out throughout Wednesday. There will be no haircuts, no drilling, no running as a group from place to place, no lining up against the wall in the hall of the barracks for pushups. They won't even be issued their uniforms. The big ceremony at the end of that first day on the parade field in front of their families also has been cancelled.
Their contact with the third-year cadets who will train them, known as the cadre, will come from a social distance.
“They are going to be in quarantine for 14 days,” Joanna Hiigel said. “I hope they at least can get out for some exercise, because that's so important for their physical and emotional well-being. I don't know what that quarantine time is going to look like. That's my biggest concern.”
Coast Guard officials said those two weeks will be spent in the barracks on what is known as ROM — restriction of movement — status. The cadets will undergo coronavirus testing and the only thing they will be issued that first day will be a computer. They will spend the first part of Swab Summer online in their rooms, learning about their responsibilities and duties, along with the history and traditions of the Coast Guard and the academy.
The physical training will begin once the quarantine ends, with the screaming coming from a little farther away than in past years. It will conclude with what, in past years, has been a three-day sail aboard the Coast Guard’s tall ship, Eagle. But for members of this class, that will be divided into several single-day trips to allow for more social distancing on board.
Senior Dan Taglianetti, the Swab Summer company commander, said the training won't be any less rigorous. He said his group of cadre has been taught how to keep everyone safe, while making sure the swabs learn what they need to know.