Recruit training for the U.S. Coast Guard is held at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May in Cape May, New Jersey. The training lasts eight weeks. The U.S. Coast Guard is unique in that it fires the Sig Sauer P229R pistol during the training. The training also covers basic seamanship, drill, military bearing and firefighting. The Coast Guard base on Government Island (now known as Coast Guard Island) Alameda, California was also used as a second major recruit training center until it was closed in 1982 and converted into the base for the USCG Pacific Area Command, the Eleventh Coast Guard District, the Marine Safety Office San Francisco Bay, the USCG Maintenance & Logistics Command Pacific and the Integrated Support Command Center – Alameda.
Although the Coast Guard is a part of the Department of Homeland Security, rather than the Department of Defense, it is by law and tradition a branch of the United States Armed Forces. As with all military members, Coast Guard personnel are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Due to the Coast Guard’s unique mission set – including CONUS and OCONUS defense operations, search and rescue and maritime law enforcement – there are added requirements to maintain high physical fitness standards and intense military bearing. Due to its extremely unique, diverse and difficult mission, the U. S. Coast Guard is the most selective in recruiting and training standards. (As an example, the Coast Guard Academy is the only service academy that uses competitive admissions for prospective officer candidates).
During their time at Cape May, recruits are subjected to the usual “boot camp” atmosphere of direct instruction and intense motivation. The recruits are designated as Seaman Recruits (SR; E-1) and, uniquely to the Coast Guard among the services, advanced to the rank of Seaman Apprentice/Airman Apprentice/Fireman Apprentice (SA/AA/FA; E-2) upon graduation. They must adhere to strict rules such as hygiene and uniform regulations and obey all lawful orders. Coast Guard drill instructors are called “company commanders” and hold a rank ranging from Petty Officer 2nd Class (E-5) up to Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8). Coast Guard companies have approximately two or three company commanders and anywhere from 20 to over 100 recruits.
After completing boot camp, recruits can select their rate and then attend an “A” school. Not all graduates go straight to “A” school, many spend time in the fleet as “non-rates”. “A” school is a long-term technical school providing specific instruction about a rate. The “A” schools last two to six months and usually occurs at TRACEN Yorktown, Yorktown, Virginia or TRACEN Petaluma, Petaluma, California. Some rates have an available apprenticeship training option instead of attending an “A” school, known as “striking”.