GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- The holiday spirit was in the air at Recruit Training Command (RTC)as 979 recruits enjoyed a day of family, food and fun as part of the annual Christmas Adopt-A-Sailor program.
This year, families arrived Christmas morning to meet their future Sailors, whom they haven't seen since the recruits left for RTC. At the USS Yorktown visitor center, the families reunited with their recruits, sharing smiles, laughter, hugs and tears as they spotted one another.
Recruits were able to invite one shipmate to be adopted by their family and 227 recruits were able to enjoy time with families.
The program, in existence since World War II, offers families the opportunity to adopt their recruits for the day and spend off-base time with them. Eligible recruits included those in their final weeks of training who are scheduled to graduate Jan. 5.
RTC Commanding Officer Capt. Michael Garrick, who saw the Adopt-A-Sailor program for the second year, said he was absolutely floored by the generosity of the families and organizations that support recruits during the holidays.
Garrick added that saying "thank you" only begins to express gratitude toward everyone whom helped to give future Sailors a pause in their training to share in some fellowship.
For recruits whose families could not be present, 16 local civic organizations, including churches, VFWs and American Legions, transported them to their facilities where the recruits were treated to a traditional holiday meal, usage of phones to call loved ones, games, movies, entertainment and computer usage.
Many organizations have continued this tradition with the help of hundreds of volunteers and fundraising efforts throughout the year to make the program a success.
The 50 recruits who enjoyed a day of festivities at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, left quite an impression on church representative Thomas Vogel.
"We're just thoroughly impressed with the recruits in every aspect," said Vogel. "What it means to our church is that our people have a chance to give back to the military, and specifically, the Navy for their sacrifice and their service. We couldn't be more thrilled. It's a great day and our folks look forward to it every year. It's one of the highlights of our year."
Retired Master Chief Damage Controlman Charles J. Ballard Sr., his wife, Mary, and their daughter, Kaitlyn, were among the first to arrive on the cold morning and reunite with twins Daniel and Charles Ballard II, who is the older of the two by a minute.
After a quick breakfast, tour of Naval Station Great Lakes and checking on their accommodations at the base, where the family is planning to stay when they return for graduation, they were off to Chicago. The Ballards visited Downtown Chicago, took pictures at the Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park and enjoyed some 'Chicago pizza' for dinner.
"The Adopt-a-Sailor program was extremely special to us since this would have been our first Christmas apart," said Charles J. Ballard Sr. "Even with graduation only 10 days away we knew that it was our Sailors' Christmas wish for us to be together. This program allowed our Christmas to be complete, a true blessing."
Organizations participating in this year's program included: American Legion Post 991; American Legion Post 398; American Legion Post 615; American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association/VFW Post 2791; Bristol United Methodist Church; Combined Veterans of Berwyn/City of Berwyn/IAWV Post 1; Combined Veterans of McHenry/Polish Legion of American Veterans; First Baptist Church of Hammond; First Corinthian Baptist Church; Immanuel Church; Masonic Lodge No. 158; Mt. Sinai Baptist Church; North Point Church; Northwest Bible Church; Our Saviors Lutheran Church and Elks Lodge No. 1273.
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. About 30,000 to 40,000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
For more information, visit https://www.navy.mil, http://www.facebook.com/usnavy, or http://www.twitter.com/usnavy.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.