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Coast Guard experts teach leadership to third-class cadets

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: theday.com

Published May 13. 2013 3:00PM   Updated May 14. 2013 6:57PM

New London — The yelling, the fatigue, the long days of their first summer at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy — the current sophomore cadets had tried to forget it all.

On Monday, eight company commanders, the Coast Guard's equivalent of drill sergeants, reminded the class exactly what it was like.

The sophomores, or third-class cadets, are halfway through their time at the academy. They will soon be promoted to second-class cadre, which means they will be responsible for training the incoming students, known as swabs, this summer.

Before they do, they have to make it through the annual leadership development training called "100th week," with the company commanders from the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, N.J.

Early Monday morning, the company commanders stood in front of the cadets on Washington Parade Field. The cadets had heard the training would be physical, but they didn't know how hard it would be or what they would have to do.

Lt. Cmdr. John Christensen, the academy's assistant training officer, told them Monday marked a "significant change in their status as a cadet," because "today we move forward with tackling the role of a leader."

That is why, he said, the academy brings in the Coast Guard's experts in basic military training and leadership development, who train all of the service's enlisted men and women.

At the start of the training, Christensen called out, "Company commanders, take charge of your companies!"

The commanders spun around and barked orders at the cadets. One group of students sprinted across the field and lined up in the road to march to the quad by their barracks. They did push-ups, sit-ups and squats in the quad, all while the company commanders loudly pointed out flaws in their form.

Chief Matt Fredrickson, the lead company commander, took four cadets aside and explained his techniques so, he said, they can effectively train the new swabs.

"Our primary role is to bring the cadets back to a military indoctrination phase," Fredrickson said. "It involves incentive training, military drill, remedial instruction, things they haven't been used to over the last year or so of their training at the academy."

Jalle Merritt, 19, a cadet from El Paso, Texas, said she just finished her final exams, and Monday's training was "a swift kick into 'We're in the military training mode.'"

After the first morning, the tone changes and cadets spend more time listening to the company commanders and the instructors from the Leadership Development Center talk about their theories on leadership. They do team-building exercises at the Stones Ranch Military Reservation and restate their commitment to the Coast Guard in a ceremony on Friday.

Inside the barracks Monday, the company commanders did exercises designed to make their groups quickly follow orders.

One group of cadets put pens on the floor, then bent over and picked up their pens each time their company commander, Ryan Cain, a food service specialist, blew a whistle, and together they shouted "Aye, aye, Petty Officer Cain." Another company commander, Nicholas Saporito, a storekeeper, walked down the line as the whistle blew dozens of times at an accelerating pace, yelling, "Louder! Faster!"

Later in the morning these cadets spent nearly half an hour putting their uniforms on over their gym clothes, taking them off and putting them back on again, until they could all put their uniforms on within two minutes.

Cain and Saporito spoke with two cadets off to the side. Saporito explained to them that when he corrects someone, he always repeats back what their mistake was so everyone learns.

Lindsay Duplessis, 19, asked what to do if someone keeps messing up, and Saporito told her how he pulls people aside. Steve Reynolds, 20, asked how to allot time for tasks, and Cain told him if the group can do something in four and a half minutes, make it four minutes the next time so they work faster and harder.

"It definitely brings you back to swab summer," Reynolds, of Westfield, Mass., said during a break. "You kind of forget what it's like for a second."

"It's not just about yelling in someone's face," Duplessis said. "It's about maintaining your presence and being the boss."

Fredrickson, the lead company commander, said the cadets are followers on the cusp of being leaders, and the company commanders are helping to bridge that gap.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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