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Cadets from the U.S Coast Guard Academy attend a welcoming ceremony for the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, May 25, 2024. The cadets were aboard the Eagle for their 2024 summer training cruise. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew West)

Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic. (June 12, 2024): Every military branch has its unique “hell week” period of training to determine if someone really wants to serve. For potential Coast Guard officers, the torturous path begins with Swab Summer, an indoctrination period for new cadets to prepare them for a career at sea. In this photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew West, Cadets from the Coast Guard Academy attend a welcoming ceremony aboard the Cutter Eagle. One of our nation’s oldest active tall ships, the Eagle, has trained Academy cadets since 1792. The tour aboard the Eagle teaches cadets basic seamanship, navigation, and the leadership skills they will need to take command.

Surviving Swab Summer, however, is no pleasure cruise.

The first phase is an intense seven-week basic training program designed to turn civilians into military servicemembers ready to defend their country. The program includes rigorous physical conditioning, seamanship fundamentals, and a well-rounded classical education. The Academy emphasizes teamwork, individual initiative, and the military values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty.

Swabs know they will be both physically and mentally tested.

Cadets run obstacle courses and complete team rope course challenges between units. They are taught basic sailing at the Jacobs Rock Seamanship and Sailing center and are expected to know Coast Guard history and their chain of command.

Swab Summer ends with “Sea Trials,” a thirteen-hour final examination that evaluates a Swab’s ability to perform as a Sailor and a leader. Cadets are evaluated on teamwork and perseverance as they face multiple stressful situations. There is a simulated shipwreck, for example, where Cadets are graded on their coolness under fire. The day begins at 3:30 a.m. with alarms sounding as Cadets grab their gear for an hour long round of calisthenics. Swabs spend the remainder of the day completing various tasks including road marches, river rafting, and they even carry a log around campus.

After the conclusion of Sea Trials, Swabs are awarded their cadet shoulder boards making them part of the Corps of Cadets for the next school year. After four years of intense study, approximately 250 cadets will graduate and, of these, forty percent are women. Becoming an officer in the Coast Guard is not easy. Just ask anyone who has survived Swab Summer.