Navy Allows Boot Camp Recruits to Use Personal Cell Phones to Make Calls to Family at Home

Recruits call home during their scheduled divisional phone calls at Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois.
Recruits call home during their scheduled divisional phone calls at Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, Dec. 9, 2023. (Mass Communication 2nd Class Stuart Posada/U.S. Navy photo)

The Navy said beginning Friday it's allowing boot camp recruits to use their cell phones for family calls after a small test of the new policy rolled out in late November.

Recruits are typically allowed five standard phone calls during their training, the Navy's statement announcing the policy change said. "Now, recruits will utilize their personal devices to contact their family or friends," it added.

"We decided it is time for recruits to connect with their loved ones in a more modern way," Capt. Ken Froberg, the head of the Navy's Recruit Training Command, said in the statement announcing the change that was released Friday.

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Lt. Nicholas Lingo, a spokesman for Recruit Training Command, told in a phone interview Friday that the plan is for recruits to keep their phones in separate lockboxes where they will be away from everyday access. In the future, the lockboxes will also have the ability to keep the phones charged.

Then, every couple of weeks, when recruits would normally be taken to the Recruit Training Command's massive banks of pay phones, they will now get their phones and make their calls home from their own devices.

Lingo stressed that recruits will be told not to use any other functions on their phones like video calling or apps.

"You want to afford them the opportunity to be responsible adults, to be good sailors, and this is just yet another opportunity for them to adhere to the rules and understand that we're doing this so that you can do what you need to do to talk to your family and take care of your loved ones," Lingo said.

The change will also bring the Navy in line with both the Army and the Air Force, which already give recruits some access to their phones.

Lingo also said that the change in policy was driven in part by concerns that cell phones and their apps have become deeply intertwined in the lives of every American, and asking recruits to completely ditch their phones for 10 weeks is no longer practical, specifically citing functions like two-factor authentication for banking or financial reasons.

"We have family members outside of boot camp. ... Some of these recruits may have children," Lingo said. "They need to ensure that the family members are going to be able to continue to do the things that they need to do to survive outside of the boot camp environment."

According to the Navy's statement, most recruits who drop out of basic military training do so during the first two to three weeks. Lt. Eren Roubal, the Recruit Training Command's clinical psychologist, noted that leaders are "hopeful that allowing recruits continued but limited access to their cell phones and digital identities may help reduce this attrition."

The shift is also just the latest in a series of major changes that the Navy has made to its boot camp experience in recent years that aim to both modernize the process but also address the service's struggles to recruit and retain sailors.

In March 2023, the Navy duplicated an Army program that takes would-be recruits who don't quite meet physical fitness or academic standards at the time of enlistment and gives them additional training before they begin the formal 10-week boot camp training.

Early in 2022, the sea service also lengthened the boot camp training to 10 weeks from eight in order to add more life skills and personal development training after recruits complete the boot camp curriculum.

"I used a pay phone and phone card calling home from overseas in 1994," Froberg said in the Navy's statement. "We can do better in 2024."

Related: Cell Phones at Boot Camp: Navy Will Let Some Recruits Use Their Devices

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