Recruits at Great Lakes enjoy Thanksgiving through Adopt-A-Sailor program

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

Recruits are escorted inside Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall by a member of a sponsor organization of Recruit Training Command’s (RTC) Thanksgiving Adopt-A-Sailor program, an opportunity for families, as well as local organizations, to host recruits from eligible divisions to celebrate during the holidays. (Photo courtesy of Recruit Training Command Great Lakes)

When the Thanksgiving holiday comes around, it offers a moment for counting blessings, sharing with others, and enjoying time with family and friends over dinner.

For some Navy recruits at the Naval Station Great Lakes, the day can also be keenly filled with loneliness. Their daily regimen includes eight to nine weeks in boot camp training without leaving the base or receiving visitors.

The Adopt-A-Sailor program offers that opportunity, where recruits are able to leave the base for Thanksgiving Day and reunite with their families. Recruits with families that are unable to make the trip are adopted by local civic organizations, families, and churches to transport them to and from sites offering the comforts of camaraderie and a home-cooked meal.

“For many of these recruits, this is their first time away from home as they stepped up to serve in our Navy,” said Susan Martin, RTC’s deputy public affairs officer and AAS coordinator. “Many of the organizations consist of veterans who know all too well what it is like to experience the holidays away from home, so they go above and beyond to help these young recruits have a home for the holidays.”

Eligible recruits, who are graduating within two weeks after Thanksgiving, are also the senior-most recruits having been in training longer than others that arrived after them. Families that can make the trip for the day have been tabbed at 20 percent, as an average. The off-base support organizations play an important role by coming to pick up the recruits in the morning, treat them to a day of holiday feasting, entertainment such as movies or sports games, and the opportunity for phone and computer usage to contact their loved ones.

Families and organizations later return the recruits to the base, at approximately 7:30 p.m.

The local civic groups have volunteers to prepare the meals, or cater them, while spending months in preparation. Many have been involved with the program for more than 15 years.

Martin has been involved with the program for 11 years. Working as the coordinator, she said the details and logistics are the most challenging parts of the process. “Being a mother myself, the rewarding aspect to me is seeing the parents come in … maybe after six weeks and with limited communication, they start sobbing. It’s an emotional reunion for family and recruits that brings an overall feeling of joy to me because I had a small part in making all this happen.”

In 2017, there were 260 families that took part in the program to spend the day with their “future sailor.” That same year, 23 different organizations adopted more than 1,250 recruits from the command. More than 30,000 recruits graduate annually from the Navy’s only boot camp.

Organizations participating this year are: American Legion Post 134, American Legion Post 159/974, American Legion Post 187, American Legion Post 208, American Legion Post 690 Palatine, American Legion Post 888, Howard H. Rhode, AMVETS Post 66, ARMS – Chicago Ridge Police Department, Christian Fellowship Great Lakes, Gurnee Community Church, Hammond Mohawks Athletic & Conservatory Club, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Israel Community Church, Knights of Columbus/St. Margaret Mary Church, Lake County Building & Construction Trades Council, Living Water Community Church, McHenry Moose Lodge 691, New Life Lutheran Church, Nunda Masonic Lodge, Redeemer Lutheran Church, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Sue H. Dufern Memorial Fund, VFW Post 1865, and VFW Post 2868.