GREAT LAKES (NNS) — For the first time in 17 months, joyful cheers echoed through Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall at Recruit Training Command (RTC).
RTC resumed boot camp graduation Aug. 13, for a limited number of family members and friends. Guest attendance was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to prevent any potential spread of COVID-19 to recruits, staff and their families.
Capt. Jeffry Sandin, RTC commanding officer, welcomed the guests in front of 774 graduating recruits.
“I am pleased to welcome the return of families and friends to our graduation ceremony and look forward to sharing this momentous occasion with everyone. While we are restricted on occupancy, it is important that you are here to celebrate your Sailor’s significant milestone,” said Sandin. “Your support during these unprecedented times has helped us to complete the mission of transforming civilians into Sailors, while operating in a safe environment to help ensure fleet readiness. I cannot thank you enough for your continued support and I am sure your Sailors are grateful for your encouragement throughout their training.”
Each recruit could invite two guests to attend in person. All guests age 12 and older needed to be fully immunized with 14 days since their final vaccine dose to help ensure the health of the new Sailors and staff, with masks required for all guests and staff while indoors at any facility at RTC.
Currently, recruits spend 14 days in a restriction of movement (ROM) status onboard RTC if they arrive and are not fully immunized. Before hosting onboard, recruits were executing ROM at Fort McCoy, a U.S. Army base in western Wisconsin. Prior to Fort McCoy, RTC occupied local area hotels to ensure the safety of the recruits and staff while still being able to execute the mission of training the Navy’s newest Sailors.
RTC continues to make all decisions with safety in mind, as that is the top priority. A strict cleaning protocol, proper social distancing, and following indoor mask guidance and wearing — regardless of vaccination status — is strictly adhered.
In early July 2020, a shortened version of the graduation ceremony with no guest attendance was held outdoors and videotaped. The video was released to Navy online platforms, including social media. This continued until November when the ceremony was moved indoors.
While the Department of Defense does not currently require military personnel to be vaccinated for COVID-19, in the most recent week of shipping, more than 50 percent of recruits are arriving fully immunized at a steady rate. Recruits and staff have the opportunity to be vaccinated for COVID-19. About 90 percent of each training group are graduating fully immunized, which means most of these new Sailors are safely able to execute their duties at their follow-on training as well as when they get to the fleet.
Every recruit completes required training elements and must meet required training standards before graduating. While training schedules were once modified, those changes did not have an effect on the quality of training that was provided to graduating Sailors.
Seaman Recruit Matthew Barrera was among the first graduates with family in attendance and filled with pride.
“It was fired up! I couldn’t believe it. Standing on the drill deck, I felt every little bit of it, and I think the energy jumped to each one of us,” said Barrera, referring to his shipmates. When asked if his mother and father, who were seated in front were crying, he freely admitted, “I was crying! I sure was. I was trying to keep it together, but it was hard.”
Following the conclusion of the ceremony, the new Sailors lined up outdoors where families and friends were able to reunite with them as shrieks of joy, more tears and plenty of hugs abounded.
“This was great! I was so excited to come to Chicago and see him,” said Jordan Dorough, girlfriend of Seaman Recruit Alex Bennett Weaver as she stood firmly at his side. “I’ll never forget that Facebook post a month ago when it was announced guests were invited. I was sitting in a vet’s office and remember looking up from Facebook and everyone came in worried about my dog and saying, ‘Why are you so happy all of a sudden?’ and I said, ‘You don’t understand what just happened!’ ”
For the Recruit Division Commanders who have only been able to stand in an empty drill hall during the shortened versions of the ceremony, finally having the opportunity to stand with their divisions before a crowd of more than 1,000 guests was a moment to which they have been looking forward.
Weekly graduation ceremonies will continue to slowly bring RTC staff, new graduates, families, and friends back to a Friday morning routine everyone was once familiar with, and will be again.
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 40,000 recruits train annually at the Navy’s only boot camp.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc
Subject specific information for the media
Events or announcements of note for the media
Official Navy statements
Given by Navy leadership
HASC, SASC and Congressional testimony
Google Translation Disclaimer