By Sue Krawczyk, Recruit Training Command Public Affairs
NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- More than 3,000 Recruit Training Command (RTC) recruits took part in the Adopt-a-Sailor program, Dec. 25.
As part of RTC's annual involvement in the program, the recruits were afforded the opportunity to spend the day off base with their families or with a local civic organization.
"The Adopt-a-Sailor program allows RTC to get involved with the community over the holidays," said Capt. Steven G. Bethke, RTC commanding officer. "Many recruits are spending their first Thanksgiving or Christmas away from home, so phone calls, good company and food help lift their spirits."
The program affords recruits the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas Day with their families or with locals. Eligible Christmas Adopt-a-Sailor recruits included those scheduled to graduate Jan. 7 and Jan. 14.
This year, 213 families arrived Christmas morning to meet their recruits with whom they haven't seen since they left for RTC. At the USS Yorktown visitor center, the families reunited with their recruits who shared smiles, laughter, hugs and tears as they spotted one another. Recruits were allowed to bring one fellow recruit from their training group to accompany them for the day.
For one parent, this was not an opportunity to be missed no matter how far he had to travel. Joseph Starling, originally from
, flew in from Dallas, Texas to see his son, Seaman Recruit Jordan Starling for one day. Nigeria
"I'm excited about seeing my boy," Starling said. "When I heard about this opportunity I knew I had enough frequent flyer points to fly over. I rescue orphans in
, and they would all be here if they could be, to see Nigeria . He's got a whole group of African orphans cheering him on." Jordan
Thanks to generous friends, newlyweds Linnea Allen and Seaman Recruit Jack Allen, of
, were able to spend the day together. Pinon Hills, Calif.
"I didn't have the funds to make the trip here," Linnea Allen said. "I put something up on Facebook about possibly not being able to come out, and friends were sending me e-mails within hours. They took up a collection for me to come here and paid for the entire trip. A bunch of them donated, including some people I don't even know."
For recruits whose families were unable to visit RTC, they went in groups of 25 to 200 with organizations from local churches, Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion posts. The majority of organizations and volunteers have continually supported the program throughout the years by providing a day of food, movies, video games, music and phone calls home. In all, 12 organizations adopted more than 1,000 recruits for Christmas, and more than 1,200 recruits were adopted by 19 organizations during Thanksgiving.
For the past 10 years, 30 volunteers with a local
pub have worked to provide an average of 100 recruits with a day filled with activities. Chicago
"The original owners started participating 10 years ago and then we took over about seven years ago," said Leisa Hancock, co-owner. "Once we saw what a good thing it was to bring them all in and treat them to Christmas and how grateful they all were, we knew we would continue the tradition."
The recruits arrived on tour buses and were treated to a day of food, pastries donated by a local bakery, movies, video games, computer access and phone calls.
"For a few years, a corporation donated phones for the recruits to use, but they stopped doing that," said Ken Hancock, co-owner of the pub. "So we just put out the word in the neighborhood and to friends, relatives and (the local) police department, that we needed cell phones for the recruits to use. Everyone comes by to lend their phones. Sometimes the phones are here for an hour, sometimes, eight hours."
Seaman Recruit David Harvey, 19, of
, was grateful for the phone access as he called his mother. Denver, Colo.
"It was one of those feel-good moments for me to hear my mom's voice," said
. "Back home, I used to wake up early in the morning on Christmas and hang stockings with my family and now at boot camp it's totally different." Harvey
Aside from standing in line for phone usage, the recruits also lined up to use laptops so they could access their Facebook accounts.
"Hopefully, I can get online and leave a message for my brother on Facebook," said Seaman Recruit Ian Yates, 23, of
"We are real close even though I didn't live by him. We'd always text or call one another, but now at boot camp, I have to go back to writing and he's not much of a writer. It takes days for letters to go back and forth. Leaving a message on Facebook is instant." Bellevue, Neb.
The Adopt-a-Sailor program tends to bring much of an organization's community together as hundreds of volunteers spend months planning the event and raising the necessary funds to feed the recruits.
For the past 11 years, the Morton Grove American Legion Post 134 in
, has never had any issues finding enough support from the community. The post adopted 50 recruits at Thanksgiving. Morton Grove, Ill.
"Our village loves the promotion," said Casey Bachara, Post 134 Adopt-a-Sailor committee chairman. "Our post has been invited to village board meetings to help promote this more to help make it bigger. It's a fun day, and we've gotten some response back from some of the families. We create a DVD of photos we've taken and then send it to every family if the recruits provide their home address."
Many volunteers are veterans themselves who can empathize with the recruits who are away from their families for the holidays including Richard Bollig, of
, who has assisted with the program for the past four years. Chicago
"I'm an Army vet, and I was in the same boat at one point and far away from home," Bollig said. "I want to do something for our country."
"I'm a Marine vet," said Bob Brieskey, of
. "I spent two Christmases away from home so I know what it's like. We bring our phones here so the recruits can use them to phone home." Chicago
While the phone calls may have appeared to be the most popular part of the recruits' day, for many it was those who made it all possible that impressed them the most.
"The highlight of the day has been the volunteers," Yates said. "Honestly, I thought we were going to spend the day in the barracks shining shoes and hanging out. All the support the volunteers are giving us is incredible. Words can't describe what this means to us."
Evelia Luna, of
, who has volunteered with the program for 10 years, said it's all about the recruits. Chicago
"I find meaning in doing something different on Christmas," Luna said. "I have four children and eight grandchildren, and Christmas d` ay is for the Sailors. My family gets Thanksgiving and New Years'; the Sailors get Christmas. It's a home for them for one day to eat and have fun with each other."
And at the end of day, before the recruits returned to base, they give the gift of music to more than 30 volunteers.
"They all sang 'Anchors Aweigh'," Leisa Hancock said. "More than 100 men and women singing at once sends shivers through us. They're great. When they leave, we feel like we're so close to them."