The Boot Camp Bandit

27 06 2011

I was a new boot only two weeks into basic training at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, New Jersey. Typically, the company commander will survey his new recruits and appoint individuals, based on their skills, maturity and leadership abilities, to serve as company officers. These recruits will be responsible for the company in the company commander’s absence. For some reason, and I can’t understand

The Coffee Bandit of Cape May

why, my company commander decided I would make a good yeoman. As yeoman, I was responsible for all the office and administrative duties. Additionally, I was responsible for getting members of our company to training, doctor and dental appointments, etc. One additional responsibility of the yeoman was to make the coffee for the company commanders on our floor.

There were four squad bays on each floor of the barracks. That meant four company commanders and most had assistants. That is as many as eight guys to make coffee for each morning. So I would get up each morning at four and put on the coffee.

The only problem was, while my company commander expected coffee every morning, he expected me to come up with it. Perhaps that is the reason he chose me to be the company yeoman-he saw something that revealed my inclination as a rogue with a buzz haircut. Not wanting to disappoint my commander, I appointed myself chairman of the midnight acquisition committee.

There was plenty of coffee to hold him for a while but it wouldn’t last until graduation. We soon ran out of sugar so I found a way to get sugar, a pound at a time.

We had large zip-lock plastic bags in which we stored our white dress hats to keep them clean. I would slip a bag down the front of my pants, and while at dinner in the mess hall, I would empty the sugar containers on the table until the bag was full and my britches bulged. I looked like a kangaroo with all the kids at home. Eight coffee-swilling Coastie chiefs can go through a pound of sugar in a hurry so I had to repeat the process about twice per week.

Because our company formed only a week before Christmas, we were the last company to form in 1972. This meant we had to stay on base over the two-week Christmas holiday while other recruits went home on Christmas leave. So how do you keep a bunch of young energetic guys busy-put them on work-details. This included a week working in the galley and mess hall to serve permanent party who remained on base. As yeoman, I was not required to work on work-details or in the mess hall.

My good friend, Dave Nelz, was the recruit company commander and, as such, was put in charge of the rest of the company working in the mess hall. Dave was aware of my plight. When he told me he had keys to the food storage building, we worked up a plan to return late one night and help ourselves to coffee and sugar. We acquired, by the dark of night, two twenty-pound bags of sugar and two cases of three-pound cans of coffee-a total of 12 cans, or 36 pounds! That should keep him happy for a while, I thought to myself.

I was feeling pretty good about the haul until the next morning when we noticed a lot of commotion at the mess hall. The place was swarming with guys from Coast Guard Intelligence (CGI). Turns out they were investigating the theft from the food storage building. Oh my goodness! My Coast Guard career was over before it even began. I could see myself doing 3-5 at Leavenworth. A myriad of horrible thoughts went through my mind. Will my wife be allowed to visit me? How will I look in stripes? Will I be required to make coffee for the warden?

It was only later we learned that CGI was on base investigating one of the cooks who had been pilfering beef for some time. He apparently had a decent business on the side selling steaks off-base. I wonder if he knows how to make coffee.

March 2, 1972

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2 responses

6 01 2012
s.n. matt casserly

Hysterical! I was in alfa 184!

6 01 2012
Bill Taylor

CG boot camp is like life itself…it’s whatever you make of it. Thanks for commenting!

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