GREAT LAKES (NNS) (NNS) -- Families, civic organizations and church groups shared the spirit of giving at Recruit Training Command (RTC) as recruits enjoyed a day of festivities, food and fun during RTC’s annual Christmas Adopt-A-Sailor (AAS) program.
The AAS program, in existence since World War II, offered families and local organizations the opportunity to spend the day off base with recruits in senior divisions of the Jan. 4 training group.
Families of 150 recruits took advantage of the opportunity to spend Christmas together this year. More than 700 other recruits, whose families could not be present, were adopted for the day by 16 local civic organizations, including American Legions, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and church groups, which provided transportation to and from their facilities. Those recruits were treated to holiday meals, games, movies, entertainment, computer usage and – most popular of all – phone calls home.
Many organizations have continued this annual tradition with the help of hundreds of volunteers and fundraising efforts throughout the year to make the program a success.
“This is our 18th year,” said Tim Groark of Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Burbank, Illinois, which hosted 50 recruits. “Everybody gets together and helps. For months, we go around getting donations and asking for support. A lot of it comes together last minute. We look forward to the day we can come get the Sailors and hope they have a good time.
Groark said that volunteers donated enough cell phone time to allow each recruit a 30-minute phone call home.
Seaman Recruit Austin Hale was among 45 recruits who spent the holiday at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Chicago. Hale said recruits were able to enjoy FaceTime with family members, play board games, eat plenty of food and watch a full day of televised pro basketball.
“It was a fun time just hanging out with shipmates,” said Hale. “You got to know them better. You don’t always get a whole lot of time to talk during training, so we got a chance to know each other better and it got us a lot closer. There are people who, other than their name and what they do in our division, I didn’t know anything about them, so that’s who I was talking to all day.”
Families arrived Christmas morning to meet their future Sailors, whom they haven't seen since their 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.
Army Chaplain Capt. Jaffet Duquela didn’t hesitate to make the trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to see his daughter for the day.
“Once I got the letter and the information, I jumped on it right away,” said Duquela. “Just to be here, to do this with my Sailor, no questions asked. This is a wonderful program and opportunity. I haven’t seen her in 6-7 weeks, so I’m very excited to be part of this and to have the opportunity.”
Organizations that contributed and participated to this year’s Christmas AAS program included: American Legion Post 991 in Worth, Illinois; American Legion Post 389 in Hazel Crest, Illinois; American Legion Post 615 in Tinley Park, Illinois; American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association/VFW Post 2791 in Tinley Park, Illinois; Bristol united Methodist Church in Bristol, Wisconsin; Christian Fellowship of Great Lakes in Gurnee, Illinois; Combined Vets of McHenry/Polish Legion of American Veterans in McHenry, Illinois; First Baptist Church of Hammond in Hammond, Indiana; First Corinthian Baptist Church in North Chicago, Illinois; Immanuel Church in Gurnee, Illinois; Masonic Lodge No. 158 in McHenry, Illinois; Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois; North Point Church in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois; Northwest Bible Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois; Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Burbank, Illinois; Whiting Elks Lodge No. 1273 in Whiting, Illinois.
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 30,0000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.