Surviving USCG Basic Training: Required Knowledge

Posted on May 31, 2011

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Visual identifiers for O-1 through o_6

While I’m sure this isn’t the first thing most people would ask about related to basic training, it is a huge part of making your 8 week stay in Cape May a bit more bearable.  Required knowledge is exactly what it sounds like: the things you absolutely MUST learn during basic.  The sooner you know them the better.  Company Commanders can start asking you required knowledge questions in the second week of training.  If you don’t know the answers, you are only going to make things tougher on yourself because you will need to write performance trackers and get your share of Incentive Training (IT), neither of which are enjoyable.

How to Study

If you have a good recruiter, you probably heard them from this already, but if you aren’t talking to a recruiter yet or didn’t have a good one, I’ll repeat it here.  LEARN AS MUCH REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE AS POSSIBLE BEFORE REPORTING TO BASIC TRAINING.  Why?  Because basic training is a stressful and very busy environment most of the time.  You are rushed, running around, stressed, and possibly sleep deprived.  Those are not ideal learning conditions.  So I recommend using the time before you report to study, because for most people study conditions will be better out in the “real world”.

I would recommend keeping things pretty simple when studying.  You are looking to memorize this information, so repetition is key.  In my time being trained as a teacher, teaching, and tutoring, the easiest way for the majority of my students to memorize was to use flashcards.  While everyone has something of a reflexive reaction against flash cards, they really are helpful.  Here’s why:

  1. Portability: There are a variety of physical and electronic ways to make flashcards, but regardless of the method you choose, flashcards can be taken just about anywhere.  That allows you to do a short 5-10 minute study session whenever you have the time.  If you are the kind of person who finds it hard to set aside set time to study (like I was before basic), then this is a godsend.
  2. Cost effective: Physical flash cards only need index cards and a writing utensil (preferably pen so it doesn’t get smudged or faded while you are using them).  Electronic flash cards need an app for your iPod or smartphone.  Not counting the cost of the device, since you already have it, apps are free or cheap.  I use Mental Case on my computer and phone to do flashcards.  The phone app only cost me $5.  It cost me another $20 for the computer app, but that was my personal preference.  It wasn’t necessary for making my flashcards.
  3. Easily randomized: If you constantly go over information in the same order, your brain learns it as one big chunk.  What that means is that if you have a list – like your 11 General Orders – your brain will need to go through 1-5 before you remember #6.  Flashcards, both physical and digital, can easily be mixed up.  By constantly mixing up your cards, you are studying the same information in constantly changing order.  This means you will learn the individual pieces of information rather than one big block.

What to Study

11 General Orders for Sentries: You will be standing watch both in basic training and afterwards as you start you Coast Guard career.  The 11 General Orders are your guide for what to do when you stand watch.  You MUST know these verbatim.  Even if you say “to” when you mean “from”, your CC’s will still consider it wrong and punish you accordingly.

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within site or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the Guardhouse than my own.
  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  6. To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me all orders from the Commanding Officer, Field Officer of the Day, Officer of the Day, and officers and petty officers of the watch.
  7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  9. To call the Petty Officer of the Watch in any case not covered by instructions.
  10. To salute all officers, and all colors and standards not cased.
  11. To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

Rates and Ranks:  Do you know what an E-5 is?  How about a W-2?  Or an O-8?  What rate is a Senior Chief Petty Officer?  What rank are your Company Commanders?  You need to know all of this in basic training.  You will be given 1 class in it that lasts about 1 hour.  From that point on you are expected to address everyone on base correctly.  Do yourself a favor, learn your rates (like E-1) and Ranks (like Lieutenant) before you enter this very high stress environment.  Wikipedia’s main page on the Coast Guard has all of the enlisted and officer rates, along with their rank name, collar devices, and shoulder boards for officers.  I recommend this page because you need to know the collar devices and shoulder boards as well as the names of the rates.

The Guardian Ethos:  This is printed on an enormous poster that hangs outside of Sexton Hall, where you will spend your first week of basic training.  You will recite it many times at the top of your lungs.  You should feel pride when you say it.  You will also shout it out at your graduation from basic training, in front of your friends and family.  So know this one, even if only so you don’t terribly embarrass yourself on graduation day.  This is about the only thing you don’t need flashcards for.  It’s always recited like this:

I am America’s Maritime Guardian.
I serve the citizens of the United States.
I will protect them.
I will defend them.
I will save them.
I am their shield.
For them I am Semper Paratus.
I live the Coast Guard Core Values.
I am a Guardian.
We are the United States Coast Guard.

The Core Values: These are easy.  HONOR, RESPECT, AND DEVOTION TO DUTY.  This will be printed everywhere you go.  Your squad bays, class rooms, the gym.  Everywhere.

Anything else in your Helmsman:  Your recruiter will give you a small book called The Helmsman before you leave for basic training.  Anything else that is labeled required knowledge in this book (like the Phonetic Alphabet) should also be memorized.

I hope this helps you prepare for Basic Training.  Remember, it will seem terrible at first.  You’ll probably wonder why you did this and want nothing more to go home.  I almost quit 3 times in my first 2 weeks.  Be strong and see it through.  Training gets better as it goes along.  Just remember to give it your all and you will survive it.

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