US Navy lets recruits use cell phones to call home in basic training

The plan is to get trainees to phase out reliance on phones instead of going cold turkey
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
Navy recruits call home in December, 2023. (photo by Mass Communication 2nd Class Stuart Posada/U.S. Navy)

New U.S. Navy recruits don’t have to part with their cell phones right away. It’s a big change in policy from the Navy Recruit Training Command, which announced the new approach for basic training this week.

On Friday, Recruit Training Command said that all new recruits going through training at the Great Lakes, Illinois-based command will be able to use their cell phones for calling family. Previously, recruits were not allowed to access their phones, and all calls to family were done through landline phones on base. Now new recruits can use their cell phones for family calls. It’s limited access though; they’re only allowed to use them during the designated time to call home, and solely for calls, not for using apps or other features. 

“In this post-COVID pandemic culture, digital identities have proven increasingly critical in helping to deal with day-to-day stress,” Capt. Ken Froberg, the head officer for Recruit Training Command, said in a statement. 

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The policy comes after a trial run that started in December. Late that month the Navy Recruit Training Command announced that 60-80 sailors would be allowed to use cell phones to call home. That test was a success, the Navy said, resulting in this new campus-wide approach. 

Approximately 40,000 new sailors pass through Recruit Training Command each year, going through the 10-week boot camp.  Lt. Eren Roubal, Recruit Training Command’s clinical psychologist, said in the Navy’s release that suddenly being cut off from phones can be an added stress on these recruits.

The shift is in part meant to help prevent attrition during basic training. The Navy, as with several branches of the military, is struggling with recruiting new troops. It failed to meet its recruitment goals in the 2023 fiscal year and like the rest of the military is changing elements of service and the enlistment process to be more enticing to potential sailors. The U.S. Army and Air Force already have similar policies for limited cell phone use during basic training. 

The widespread use of cell phones isn’t always popular with some in the military. However, Navy Recruit Training Command hopes that the limited use of cell phones can help to essentially ween sailors off of heavy use of devices. The Navy said the new policy is meant to help new sailors phase out heavy use of phones instead of going cold turkey to better prepare them for “a digitally austere operating environment at sea.”

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