NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- Like many of the 6,000 recruits presently learning to be Sailors at the Navy's only boot camp, Recruit Training Command (RTC), recruits from Division 333 and 334 took time out from their training to discuss and remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11 here Sept. 8.
"Our mission here at RTC is to turn civilians into Sailors, and that's been the mission for 100 years," Lt. Josh Oates, USS Hopper recruit barracks ship's officer, said. "It was like that before 9/11 and continues to be that way 10 years after 9/11. But I think we are seeing a more determined recruit coming into the Navy today, a recruit with a higher resolve to defend their country."
Recruits paused following breakfast two days before the anniversary to listen to their Recruit Division Commander (RDC), Operations Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Chris Shaw, 25, from Sun Prairie, Wis., in their berthing compartment of the USS Hopper barracks.
"We try to incorporate 9/11 into our training," Shaw said. "We remind recruits what their job will be as Sailors in today's Navy since the attacks. And that job is to prevent this from ever happening again."
Shaw added that RTC tries to tie-in 9/11 and maritime security operations (MSO) to mission accomplishment, attention to detail and not allow things to slip in security.
"We try to get the recruits into a mindset that this is real and they are here to protect and defend the country," said Shaw, who joined the Navy because of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Many of the recruits vividly remember the tragedy even though they were younger than 10 or in their teens, or half a world away.
"Our whole country was shocked," said Seaman Recruit Aloha Mencias, 30, from Manila, Republic of the Philippines, who was a student in college at the time. "We all thought this couldn't have happened to America."
Mencias said she spent a lot of hours trying to contact relatives in America to make sure they were alright.
"At first we couldn't believe it, and then we worried that there would be more attacks and wanted to make sure our relatives were safe," Mencias said.
Mencias moved to the United States shortly after the attacks looking to become a citizen and hoping to help in the fight against terrorism.
"I just want to defend this country that, so far, has been so good to me," said Mencias, who will attend ship's serviceman "A" School in Meridian, Miss., after graduating from RTC. "Hopefully I'll be able to contribute a little bit."
Many for the recruits were directly impacted by the attacks which eventually would help them decide to join the Navy.
Seaman Recruit Paul Bader's father was a Long Island, N.Y., fireman whose station was called in to help in the aftermath of World Trade Center collapse.
"My father had a close friend, Edward Rall, also a fireman with Rescue 2 of the New York Fire Department (NYFD) who was with some of the first to arrive on the scene," Bader said, adding that Rall and six others from Rescue 2 were among the first firemen and responders to perish when the towers collapsed. "They just went in and up the tower doing their job."
"They went to the (fire) academy together and my father was supposed to be with Rescue 2, after graduating from the academy, but his orders were changed at the last minute and he went to a fire station in Long Island," Bader said. "He could have been with Rescue 2 and in the tower when it collapsed."
Bader, who was 14 at the time, said his father and Long Island fire stations were called in later to help and arrived on the scene just as the second tower was collapsing.
Seaman Recruit Louiginna Rijo, 20, was born in the Dominican Republic and later moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. She said she had an aunt who was working two buildings away from the towers.
"She made it out that day but still has problems breathing because of all the smoke and dust in the air," Rijo said.
Rijo, a fifth grader then, said she was picked up from school early that day and remembers her whole family being at home when she got there.
"Some people were crying, every television was on in the house and my family explained what happened," Rijo said. "At first it didn't seem real, like it was a video game. But then it kind of hit me that it wasn't a cartoon and that we had relatives near the towers."
Rijo said all her relatives ended up being fine but the mental images of the day would remain with her and spurn her later to act.
"I would always think about what I would want to do when I got older," she said. "Because of the attacks and the unselfish response by the New York police and fire fighters, I knew I wanted to go into law enforcement, but didn't know what kind of enforcement."
Rijo chose the military after discussing it with friends and family members.
"I've always wanted to do something big with my life and become part of something bigger than I am," Rijo said.
The Navy, so far, seems to be a good fit for Rijo and the other "recruits of 9/11."
"The Navy is allowing me to do something more than just an ordinary job and allowing me to give back to this country that has given me so many opportunities," Rijo said.
When asked how important it was to remember the tragedy of 9/11, Rijo had a simple and direct response.
"9/11 should always remind us to be prepared, aware and ready. We should strive to be one country, one team, one family."
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