Navy recruits get Christmas break from boot camp
By Bob Okon bokon@stmedianetwork December 25, 2013 7:34PM
Christmas definitely was merrier for recruits who had a holiday from boot camp.
Back at Naval Station Great Lakes, there is no talking during meals, no long phone calls and no Facebook.
You could see the Facebook pages lighting up on computers provided to Navy recruits at two separate parties in Tinley Park hosted by local veterans. Many of the recruits had not had a break from the tightly regimented life of boot camp since arriving Nov. 12. Their appreciation for simple pleasures was deeply felt.
Jeremy Kerley, of Stockton, Calif., said he had experienced “the greatest 40 minutes I ever had” after talked by phone with his fiancee for the first time since starting camp.
Recruits at Great Lakes get to make some phone calls but not many, and they are not long. Kerley had not been able to connect with his fiancee until he got the chance on a phone provided by American Legion Post 615 in Tinley Park, where 50 recruits were in attendance.
Kerley said he was feeling “really good” thanks to the American Legion.
“I know I’m not with family, but I’m with my new family, and they help a lot,” he said.
Recruits spoke both with obvious pride about their military training — referring to fellow recruits as brothers and sisters and drill instructors as father figures — and thankfulness for a break from the rigors of the base.
Boot camp is “very disciplined,” said Austin Preston, of Lancaster, Penn. “But it gives you a lot of skills you didn’t have before.”
Becoming a certified firefighter is one of those skills, Preston said.
It’s a basic skill needed for a sailor at sea should a ship catch fire, and it’s a skill the recruits acquire in two months of boot camp, which gives an idea about the intensity of training.
Recruits are so focused on training at boot camp that while they got a Thanksgiving meal that included prime rib along with turkey, they ate it in silence because talking is banned duing chow.
Preston called the Christmas party “a very appreciated break.”
Back at base, the recruits would be on holiday routine on Christmas Day, which, Preston said, “would be relaxed for boot camp. But it would still be boot camp.”
Asked what they do on holiday routine, many of the recruits mentioned polishing boots.
It can be fun, said Adam Morowitz, of Bethany, Conn.: “We have competition to see who has the shiniest (boot) toes.”
“I love it,” Deldrick Lee, of Columbus, Ga., said of the homey atmosphere at American Legion Post 615.
Not only is Lee adjusting to his new life but also to a change in temperature from the warmer climate of Georgia.
“My teeth were chattering when I got off the airplane,” Lee said of his arrival in Chicago.
Lee was playing video football on one of several large-screen TVs provided for the occasion with fellow recruit Terrence Keenan, of Stony Point, N.Y. Keenan earlier had used one of the computers to Skype back home.
“This is the first time I was able to see my family since November,” Keenan said.
At Veterans of Foreign Wars Bremen Post 2791, the American Veterans Motorcycle Association hosted a similar party for 36 recruits from Great Lakes.
“A lot of us know what it was like in boot camp,” said John Bartosiewiz, commander of Chapter X of the association and a Great Lakes recruit in 1967. “You’re basically on lockdown.”
Marcus Tate, of Ware Shoals, S.C., said the party gave him and fellow recruits an opportunity to “just relax and laugh and get a little louder then we usually get.”
Besides Facebook and video games, Tate said, he was getting something else at the party that he normally doesn’t get in boot camp: sugar.
“I can actually feel the Christmas spirit,” said Kazuhiko Coleman, of Suffolk, Va., calling the Christmas party is a morale booster for the recruits.
Great Lakes encourages the Christmas parties through its Adopt a Sailor program. This was the third year for the party at the VFW Bremen Post and the fourth year at American Legion Post 615.
Jim Taylor, of American Legion Post 615, said he knows the recruits appreciate the parties. The post gets letters from recruits with such comments as “best Christmas party ever.”
“We got one letter from a recruit’s mother,” Taylor said, “saying we substituted for their family and made them feel at home for Christmas.”