Daughter's transition to swab stirs emotions


Kristi Langenbacher


By Kristi Langenbacher

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Leaving my daughter there was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a parent. It brought back the same feelings I had many years ago when I would drop her off at Blackwell Preschool.

Back then I would put on a brave face and was all smiles until I drove around the corner, parked and let the tears flow. I would then stumble, red-eyed into Muddy Waters Coffeehouse and wonder how she was spending her time, if they were taking care of my baby, and if she was happy.

I had those same feelings as we watched her walk to the reporting in table at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy two weeks ago. It was Day One for the nearly 300 swabs in the class of 2022 at the academy, and a difficult day for the parents as well.

The term “swab” is a nautical term referring to the mops sailors use to scrub the decks of ships, and is used in reference to the cadets during the first seven-week training period at the academy.

Swab summer marks the beginning of their first year, and is a difficult and demanding period of military training before the students become cadets in the fall. The seven-week summer training is the academy’s boot camp, and introduces the newest cadets to military academy life.

From Day One forward the swabs are tested and trained both physically and mentally.

It can also be mentally and physically draining on the parents. The day before Swearing-In Day was full of activities for the parents and students, including informational sessions, tours, meals and more.

The next day, the swabs arrived with the members of their platoon in waves early in the morning. Parents, relatives and friends accompanied them. Swabs departed with their platoons while parents, many struggling to keep it together, met with academy staff members and Parents Association representatives, toured around the campus, met other parents and awaited the swearing-in ceremony.

For the swabs, Day One includes haircuts for all men, uniform issue, military drill instruction, and more.

Well before the 3 p.m. start time, parents, family and friends gathered near the Washington Parade Field to witness the group swearing-in ceremony. I had kept it together for most of the day until that point. My friend and I were wandering around taking photos while we waited for the cadets to march onto the field, when we saw another mom break down. She was wailing as the tears streamed down her face, and I nearly lost it too. Instead, we tried to encourage her to keep it together for her son, and know that everything would be alright. We assured her, and each other, that our young adults were in good hands, and would be well taken care of during the difficult and demanding training they were embarking upon.

Following the ceremony, parents had 15 minutes to say goodbye to their cadets before they marched away from us amidst a barrage of yelling, drilling and orders. I felt a mixture of pride, fear and sadness as we watched them march away.

Since then, one of the most difficult aspects of leaving our daughter there has been the lack of communication. Swabs turn in their cell phones on Day One, and are only allowed to communicate with family and friends through letters. Parents can, however, catch a glimpse of their swab in photos posted regularly from the academy, and gather information from the academy’s social media posts and the parent association’s electronic newsletters.

We have learned that during the first week of the 200-week adventure at the academy, our daughter and her classmates have been extremely busy.

They have received training in military fundamentals, taken academic placement exams and participated in a plethora of physical activity. During week one, swabs were measured for uniforms, completed their baseline PFE — physical fitness exam, started summer math courses, began sailing instruction, met with academy sports coaches, were introduced to basic military drill movements, and took academic placement exams in English, chemistry and math.

Although it has been difficult for me, and many other parents, I know that the swabs are in a highly-selective institution, with dedicated cadets, instructors and staff rooting for them, testing them, pushing them and supporting them to become the very best that they can be.

Kristi Langenbacher is a Coast Guard spouse and writes about military family life.