Navy Battle Stations is the culmination of a recruit’s experience at boot camp in
Great Lakes, Illinois. This last test of a recruit’s fortitude, training, and ability to
work with others happens aboard the USS Trayer, a Navy vessel that will never set
sail. This ‘ship’ is a large simulator of what life is like at sea. More specifically, what
life is like when something unexpected or disastrous happens aboard a ship.
Battle Stations day is one unlike any other at boot camp. There’s a sense of
excitement, anticipation, and a little anxiety in the air because the final test is finally
here. This is the day a recruit is first allowed to don coveralls. Females are given
permission to wear “battle braids” (cornrows or dreadlocks).
The RDCs (Recruit Division Commander) tell recruits that they won’t be sleeping that night. Prepare now to stay awake a full 24-36 hours. As daylight dies and darkness approaches, the division will gather and the RDCs will attempt to prepare recruits’ for what will happen throughout the course of the next twelve hours.
What is the Battle Stations schedule?
Twelve hours aboard a ship that gives the illusion of life at sea. From standing
watches, to stacking and storing equipment and provisions, from line handling, to
fire hose manning, the experience aboard the USS Trayer is one that tests the mettle
of navy recruits.
In addition to the daily sea life experiences recruits practice, several catastrophic scenarios, based on real life catastrophes faced by actual ships in the fleet, snap the recruits into problem solving and teamwork mode.
These hours aboard the USS Trayer offer an expanded view into what it actually
means to be a United States Sailor. From the event’s facilitators to its engineers,
everyone’s goal is that of turning out the best, most experienced, well-trained sailors
in the world.
Can you fail Battle Stations?
For recruits battle stations is stressful mostly due to fear of the unknown. As a
recruit it is your job to do your best to keep your division from being graded poorly
on each mission’s objectives. Quitting or falling asleep are not options, as they will
result in the failure of Battle Stations. If a recruit does fail Battle Stations they will be cycled into another division where they will get the opportunity to take the test again.
What happens during Navy Battle Stations?
Navy Battle Stations tests recruits’ readiness for life at sea. While engineers behind
computers are doing their best to “sink” the ship, the recruits inside the vessel are
doing their best to keep it afloat.
It is both a test of individual strengths and of group effort. Can a recruit think on his or her feet? How will a recruit listen and take advice from a facilitator? What leadership skills emerge? What are the unique characteristics a recruit exhibits that allow the group to function at its best? When a recruit is knee deep in water how will he or she react and respond? When fire is erupting near a fuel line, what steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of the recruits and the ship? How will a recruit manage the brutal combination of stress and fatigue?
Perhaps the most shocking portion of Battle Stations is the quickness with which life
at sea switches from daily tasks to disaster recovery. During multiple points of this
final test, recruits are given a simple assignment of taking inventory or stacking and
storing cargo, when suddenly there is smoke or water in the compartment and the
recruits must make the mental shift from task completion to personnel and ship
safety and security. Each new scenario provides the hands on training necessary to
sustain life at sea.
Recalling Battle Stations
A former recruit turned sailor, shares the most memorable moments of Battle
Stations aboard the USS Trayer:
I remember thinking, “nothing you’ve read in your recruit handbook can really prepare you for dealing with the hands on portion of these tests.”
You’re being graded on critical thinking, common sense, leadership ability, and teamwork. Depending on who are grouped with in your division will make all the difference in your squad’s ability to function properly and that’s all left up to chance since the teams are selected randomly.
The experience itself is definitely nonstop disasters with brief intermissions to rehydrate (lots of running around all over the ship). But the most difficult part of Battle Stations is staying awake.
My team struggled in every evolution. At each station we picked a poor leader who refused to give up the reigns of authority and he led us into taking actions with deadly consequences in each scenario.
You have to think quickly and clearly, which isn’t easy when your body is craving sleep and your mind is shutting down. In hindsight, the answers are in front of your face. You must stay calm in order to make the decisions that will lead your team to success and safety.
The ceremony afterwards sticks out to me the most. Donning the Navy ball cap for the first time signified that I had made it through the final storm. I was now a United Sates Sailor!
The hard part was over and a better way of life was just around the corner, including finally being able to sleep after 24 mentally and physically taxing hours. Switching hats from recruit to sailor also meant new privileges for the last few days of boot camp. Instead of endless cycles of mental and physical training, my last days were spent marching (without RDCs!) to “recruit heaven” to get some well deserved fast food or practicing marching drills for our graduation ceremony.
This final test of boot camp is the first of many training exercises aimed at teaching
and molding United States Sailors into people who contribute to Navy readiness,
Navy capability, and Navy lethality.
Battle Stations serves to forge both the recruit’s capabilities and the recruit’s relationships with fellow shipmates by adding the right amount of heat to concentrate efforts on each mission at hand. Completing Battle Stations aboard the USS Trayer gives a recruit his or her first taste of what a life “Forged by the Sea,” looks like.
Read our post on the complete Navy Boot Camp schedule to see what recruits will go through as they transition from a civilian to a United States Sailor.