WASHINGTON — The Navy is adding two weeks to boot camp this year in a major overhaul aimed at improving recruits’ war fighting and emergency skills while also focusing on suicide prevention and character issues such as sexual assault, hazing and extremism in the ranks.
Navy officials said Friday that expanding boot camp to 10 weeks will provide more leadership training and ensure sailors are reporting to their jobs in the fleet better prepared for duty.
The changes come as the Navy grapples with a string of shipboard crises in recent years, from deadly fires to disastrous collisions, and the military struggles with spikes in suicides as well as sexual assaults and other bad behavior.
Rear Adm. Jennifer Couture, who heads the Naval Service Training Command, told reporters the first eight weeks of boot camp include a lot of character development for the recruits. The added two weeks, she said, are meant to be a “reinforcing mechanism.”
“We’re telling our recruits … here are all of the things that we expect you to do, and here’s how we expect you to behave and act,” she said, adding that it involves treating people with respect and holding peers accountable. “We believe very strongly that those types of behaviors are directly impacting our fighting readiness and the performance of our sailors.”
The military as a whole has been seeing increases in sexual assaults and suicides, prompting congressional criticism and spurring leaders to scramble for ways to address the perennial problems. More recently, the services have been struggling to root out racism and extremism, after a number of former and current service members were involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Couture said quite a bit of the added two weeks will involve “life skills” training to address problems such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, hazing and suicide. And the instruction will stress the core Navy values of honor, courage and commitment.
At the same time, she said the additional weeks will also be used to bolster training on how to respond when sailors inevitably face life-threatening situations such as fires, collisions and other mishaps.
She said that based on feedback, Navy leaders realized they needed to reinforce basic training to make sure that when sailors graduate and report to a ship, they are already prepared to respond to such emergency situations.
In 2017, Navy leaders recommended sweeping changes in sailor training, crew requirements and safety procedures to address systemic problems across the Pacific fleet that led to two deadly ship collisions earlier that year, killing 17 sailors. A report laid out dozens of recommendations to beef up training in seamanship, navigation and the use of ship equipment, as well as ways to improve sleep and stress management.
A massive July 2020 arson fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard also revealed lapses in training and other key skills. While the fire was deliberately set, a Navy report concluded that the ship’s loss was due to the crew’s inability to put the fire out. The report found that sailors were inadequately prepared, and pointed to failures in command and control, fire preparedness, maintenance and communication.
Lt. Cmdr. Katy Bock, the military training director at the Navy’s Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, said the extra two weeks will have sailors go through a number of real-life scenarios to help them prepare.
The changes represent the first major restructuring in recruit training in nearly 20 years.
Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press