GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- Five friends filed out of a vehicle and into the “Golden Thirteen” in-processing building for new recruits at Recruit Training Command. There, they were shuffled into a hallway where Chief Fire Controlman Daniel Rainmaker immediately ordered them to stand on a toe line and began shouting out instructions in a booming voice.
As the five buddies stood motionless, it was apparent a few were trying their best not to smile or laugh, though a few smirks began to appear. It wouldn’t matter if they did break military bearing as they’ve already been through this same routine — 50 years earlier on July 8, 1969.
In celebration of their half century of friendship, as well as the day they arrived together in Great Lakes to begin their Navy adventure at boot camp, the group was granted an informal tour of RTC on July 8.
“It is amazing to me after 50 years and all the different career paths we’ve taken that we have been able to stay connected,” said Mark Duvall, a former Sonar Technician (Surface) who served four years. “Even though there a number of years we didn't get see each other, we always had our time at the Naval Station Great Lakes to keep us connected.”
Duvall and Tom Cusamano attended high school together in St. Louis, while Cusamano and Chuck Welz were friends with Tim Sullivan, who lived in the same neighborhood. They later met Rick Downs while on the train to Great Lakes after they joined in early 1969 on a delayed enlistment.
Once they assembled, and stood quietly with their utmost military bearing, on the toe line at the start of their visit, Rainmaker bellowed out the position of attention, the rank and recognition that is taught to the recruits once arriving, and lastly, the ditty process and what to expect for the “night” as if they were recruits.
The veterans were clueless that this was how their visit was to begin.
“For me, I was shocked and taken back when I was told I would be screaming at those who’ve served before me, so I took care not to curse and to only shout directions to give a similar experience of what current recruits of now go through,” said Rainmaker, a Recruit Division Commander. “Afterward, they even took note that I didn’t curse, like I’m sure the RDCs did when they went through for the first time. I just couldn’t bring myself to even jokingly disrespect those that served before me. It was an honor to take those guys down memory lane.”
When the shouting concluded, the five veterans let out a deep breath and laughed with relief as some admitted they had forgotten how intense their night of arrival was for them.
“I remember doing that 50 years ago and I remember I wanted to go home!” said Downs, a former Engineman who served 18 months. “This reminded me a lot of it except back then there was a bit more, uh, ‘flowery’ words.”
They continued their tour in the ditty bag issue area where they were able to view a display case showing everything the recruits now receive in their sea bags. Quiet whispers of, “I still have my sea bag,” and “I still have my uniform,” transferred between them.
Next up, they saw how recruits are fitted for gym shoes using a computerized biometric machine to determine proper fit and style to help pre-empt injuries. The veterans learned that the recruits now only wear boots part of the time while switching over to gym shoes at other times while marching during the summer months.
“We had to wear boots whether they fit or not!” said Sullivan, a former Cryptologic Technician (Collection), who served more than four and half years, as he gazed at the machine. “Fascinating.”
The tour continue with a visit the USS Indianapolis combat pool to observe water survival training, followed by the USS Chief, a controlled training environment where recruits conduct hands-on training and testing while fighting fires in shipboard compartments. They were able to observe recruits battling fire during drills.
“This was a lot more sophisticated than what I remember from firefighting,” said Welz, a former Ship’s Serviceman, who served four years. “They had us basically just touching a hose a few seconds.”
The group then moved on to Freedom Hall, the command’s state-of-the-art, 187,000 square-foot physical training facility to see where recruits train and test for their Physical Fitness Assessment. They were shown a sample tile to demonstrate the track’s softness to help lessen the impact on recruits’ legs during training.
“They get special shoes with padding and they get special floor tiling — we only had the grinder to train on! It’s a whole new generation coming into boot camp,” said Downs.
The men joked with one another wondering what time requirements they would need to meet at their age today for the 1.5-mile run.
“Hey, easy now! We still need to make it to the galley!”
“I would need a moped!”
“I’m gonna go wait in the van.”
The next stop on their tour was the USS Marlinespike where recruits have a two-day basic seamanship training evolution that covers everything from line-handling and shipboard watch standing, to ultimately teaching recruits how to launch a ship and bring it into port safety.
“This type of training would have really helped the guys who were on the ships,” said Duvall. “We did not have any structure like this when we came here as it was strictly in a building. Most of the experience I got was when I went on a ship. Every ship I served on was WWII built, and every ship I was on, I decommissioned.”
The veterans moved on to the last leg of the tour at the USS Hopper to view a berthing compartment. While inside the recruit barracks, the group saw how each is set up like a ship with galleys, classrooms, berthing compartments and offices. While there, they posed for a photo to recreate one they had taken 50 years earlier.
“People might look at this photo and say, ‘Man, they’re hard up for recruits!’” laughed Downs.
Finally, the group headed to the galley where they stood in line with recruits for chow.
With their trays in hand, most made the choice of an Italian beef sandwich or Mai tai chicken along with a couple who also chose from the salad bar. As they observed their choices, they again were joking with one another as they reminisced of their time in the galley in 1969.
“They only get 12 minutes to eat today? Why, I think we had a half hour!”
“Choices? We only had one choice of a main dish — these recruits get two!”
“We never had a salad bar! This food looks different; this is nicer.”
“This food actually looks edible.”
After their meal, they sat back and took in all they were able to see and experience in the previous two hours.
“We are very appreciative and this was beyond anything we thought it would be,” said Cusamano, a former Boatswain’s Mate, who served two-and-half years. “So much has changed. All the buildings we participated in are gone; it’s all new, but the reality is there. It’s good to see they still have the discipline reality coming in on that first night because I think that would be a tough deal today as young people really don’t adhere to the discipline.”
“I was amazed at the different exercises and how they do it compared to how we did it and how you prepare the Sailors for the ships,” said Welz.
While the group seemed fascinated by the entire visit, it was unanimous which part highlighted it all.
“The one experience that matched up with us 50 years ago was the chief yelling at us when we first got here this morning, especially when he was shouting, ‘Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me!’” said Cusamano.
Before they headed back to St. Louis, the group stopped off at the Navy Exchange to do a little shopping for Navy gear to commemorate their visit where it all began 50 years ago.
“Going into the Navy at 18 years old was the best thing that ever happen because it helped us grow up,” said Duvall.
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 35,000 recruits are trained annually at 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/.