GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- Recruits at Recruit Training Command (RTC) spent the Thanksgiving holiday with loved ones Nov. 22, as part of RTC's annual Adopt-A-Sailor (AAS) program.
The AAS program offers families of Navy recruits the opportunity to spend the day off base with their recruits. Families of 384 recruits took advantage of the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving together this year.
More than 1,300 recruits whose families were unable to visit for the day were adopted by local civic organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legions and churches. In all, 24 organizations adopted recruits in groups of 13 to 200.
The majority of the organizations and volunteers have continually supported the program over the years by providing a day of food, movies, video games, music and — most popular of all — phone calls home.
For the Hammond Mohawks Athletic and Conservation Club in Hammond, Indiana, the group experienced yet another successful year as they hosted 53 recruits.
“We had a number of visitors during the day: The mayor of Hammond, also a Navy veteran, came by for a little bit as did a couple Marine veterans, one who served during Viet Nam and one from the Korean War. Also, one of our oldest members, a WWII Navy vet was on hand as he is every year,” said Pete Vukovich, the event’s coordinator. “The recruits were attentive, respectful, and very well behaved. They loved the dinner, computers and phone calls home. We had a couple of guitars set out and a number of them enjoyed playing some music together as well. As always it was a great day!”
The AAS 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.
“I am absolutely amazed and humbled by the generosity of the families and organizations who support our recruits during the holidays,” said Capt. Erik Thors, commanding officer, RTC.”
Families who were able to make the trip anxiously waited in the visitor's center at RTC for their recruits to emerge.
For Victoria Dimassi, of Long Island, New York, there was never any doubt as to whether or not she would make the trip.
“There was no question about coming. None. There was no way I was going to miss being here today with my son. We’re going to look around Chicago, have reservations at a fine dining establishment this evening, and we’re just going to have a nice meal together,” said Dimassi, who a moment later spotted her son and they locked into a long emotional embrace.
“This event is a beautiful thing as we do not have to be here for the day and have the opportunity to finally be able to get out and get a little break from all the training we do day to day,” said Seaman Recruit Joseph Dimassi. “We have only two weeks until graduation and then we get to move on from here.”
Families who were unable to make the trip were grateful to the organizations for taking in their recruits for the day. Many expressed their thanks through RTC's Facebook page.
“A huge ‘thank you’ to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Barrington, Illinois, for hosting the recruits. We greatly appreciate the church family for sharing their phones so our son could call home,” said Missy Alber, of Copperas Cove Texas. “We really would have loved to be there with our son for Thanksgiving as it was our first one without him. We knew that graduation was a little over two weeks away and being there for that was important to us. I’m thankful that the church opened their doors and hearts to the recruits when they couldn’t be with family.”
For Alison Martin, of Puerto Rico, making two back-to-back trips — one for Thanksgiving and one for graduation — wasn’t possible, due to family obligations. She, too, was grateful for the generosity of American Legion Post 187 in Elmhurst, Illinois.
“Thank you for feeding our son and for blessing us with the opportunity to talk with him. I didn’t have concerns about not being there initially as I saw on the Facebook page that the recruit would have some sort of Thanksgiving dinner celebration. Also, our son has never been a huge fan of Thanksgiving dinner,” said Martin. “However, come Thanksgiving morning, I regretted not going, but once I spoke to him, I felt a lot better. He sounded happy and well. And when he talked about all he ate, I said that I thought he didn't really like Thanksgiving food. And his reply was, "Yeah, well, the turkey here wasn't dry at all.”
While the phone calls may have appeared to be the most popular part of the recruits' day, for many of the parents and family members it was those who made it all possible that had the biggest impact.
“I was so impressed with their generosity and how appreciative every member was of our decision to join the Navy along with the consideration of our time to make sure we got the most out of what they set up for us,” said Seaman Recruit Alexandra Ballejo, of Seguin, Texas, who spent the day with American Legion Post 134 in Morton Grove, Illinois.
The group had many planned activities for the recruits including movies, a game room, and they also went as far as renting laptops for recruits to use to Facetime their families.
“We had an opportunity where we were able to treat them to some of our cadences and they really enjoyed that. It was definitely a relief to just be out of the military lifestyle for a day and we do remember that this type of training is just a part of what we have to do for only two months and this isn’t going to be for our whole entire life,” said Ballejo. “A boost in morale and a way to let loose for a day, within reason, and learning from veterans — that was one thing I thoroughly enjoyed. They had a museum, a short memorabilia room set up where they had a lot of history posted in there and getting to see that was also just a really humble reminder to us to what we are carrying on in the future and where it all began.”
RTC also holds an AAS program at Christmas, and the command has yet to encounter any difficulties in finding enough organizations to participate.
“I would like to say, ‘thank you’ to everyone, who got up early on Thanksgiving to give future Sailors a moment of pause in their training and share in some fellowship,” said Thors.
Several organizations contributed and participated to this year's Thanksgiving AAS program. They included: American Legion Post 134; American Legion Post 159/974; American Legion Post 187; American Legion Post 208; American Legion Post 690; AMVETS Post 66; Chicago Ridge Police Department; Christian Fellowship Great Lakes; Grace Gospel Fellowship Church; Gurnee Community Church; Hammond Mohawks Athletic & Conversation Club; Immanuel Lutheran Church; Israel Community Church; Knights of Columbus/St. Margaret Mary Church; Lake County Building & Construction Trades Council; McHenry Moose Lodge 691; New Life Lutheran Church; Nunda Masonic Lodge; Redeemer Lutheran Church; St. Michael’s Episcopal Church; Sue H. Dufern Memorial Fund; VFW Post 2868; VFW Post 2801; and Wauconda Moose Lodge 1969.
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 30,000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.