GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- More than 1,000 recruits at Recruit Training Command (RTC) took part in the Adopt-a-Sailor program at Great Lakes 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 is a win-win for the community and the recruits," said Capt. Steven G. Bethke, RTC commanding officer. "Local organizations get involved with the Navy, and recruits who are spending their first Christmas away from home receive good company and food that help lift their spirits."
This year, eligible recruits who participated in the Christmas Adopt-a-Sailor program included those scheduled to graduate from boot camp Jan. 6 and Jan. 13, 2012.
More than 300 families arrived Christmas morning to meet their recruits with whom they haven't seen since they left for RTC. Families reunited with their recruits at the USS Yorktown visitor's center and, through tears of enjoyment, ran to them as they spotted one another. Recruits were allowed to bring one fellow recruit from their training group to accompany them for the day.
Many recruits have family in the local area, including Seaman Recruit Nicholas Imgrund, whose father David Imgrund from the Western Chicago Suburb of Downers Grove came to pick up his son and a friend.
"This is a wonderful program, and I'm excited to see my son on Christmas," said David Imgrund. "I am so happy that he decided to enlist in the Navy, and this program gives a great impression of the Navy."
One family took a longer journey to see their son for the holidays. Jay and Pat Werts, from Yankton, S.D., drove three hours to Omaha, Neb. to catch an Amtrak train to Chicago and then a Metra train to Naval Station Great Lakes. All in all, they traveled nearly 12 hours to spend some time with their son, Seaman Recruit Jeffrey Werts.
"It was really great to be able to come see our son for the holidays," said Jay Werts. "Now we are allowed to spend a few more days in the Chicago area."
For the eligible recruits whose families were unable to visit RTC, they went in groups of 25 to 300 with organizations from local churches, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) 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, 11 organizations adopted more than a thousand recruits for Christmas.
More than 100 recruits spent the day with Berwyn VFW Post 2378 in Berwyn, Ill., and volunteers that included military veterans, police officers, firefighters and members of the local community.
For the past six years, the Berwyn VFW Post has hosted recruits and the event, and the caliber of recruits coming into the Navy has been getting better and better, said Army veteran Wayne Parthum, who, along with fellow Army veteran Frank Amaro, started the program to support members of the military around the holidays.
"We get so much support around the community and, this year, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn will be making a phone call to speak to all the recruits, and he has been a big supporter throughout the years," said Amaro. "Next year, the governor promised to visit personally."
The recruits arrived on charter buses and were treated to good food, games and phone calls compliments of Verizon wireless, who donated cell phones for the event.
One volunteer and Navy veteran, Walter Coffey, of Berwyn, enjoyed sitting down and talking to recruits and telling them about his experiences in the Navy.
"This is a great event, and my hope is to keep making it better and better over the years. But I am so honored to give recruits something special for Christmas," said Parthum.
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For more news from Naval Service Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/greatlakes/.