GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- You don’t need to wear a military uniform to work at Recruit Training Command (RTC), home to the Navy’s only boot camp.
More than 1,100 military personnel are stationed at RTC who are assisted in their mission of transforming recruits into Sailors by 52 civilians who work in a variety of position in various areas throughout the command. This includes: administration, chapel, public affairs, events, curriculum, Freedom Hall, Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall, security, and supply.
They hold permanent positions in their billets whereas civilian contractors have limited positions. The RTC civilian staff play an important role in day-to-day training working both behind the scenes and in the public eye. Some manage supplies or administrative work, conduct investigations or ensure safety. Others answer phone calls and emails from recruits’ loved ones; assist with the weekly graduation ceremony; write stories and take photos; teach recruits how to swim; help the recruit choir learn their songs for graduation, and yes, some even manage the command Facebook page.
All of this is accomplished working side by side with active duty personnel.
“Civilians play an integral role in the success of RTC in building the next generation of Warrior Sailors,” said Capt. Erik Thors, commanding officer, RTC. “Their expertise, commitment, and continuity provide military members with subject matter expertise.”
A great number of RTC’s civilian staff are veterans, including many who retired from, or were previously stationed at RTC.
Longtime employee and Marine Corps veteran Matt Schueneman, a water survival instructor at the USS Indianapolis pool, arrived at RTC in 2002 after struggling in non-government positions.
“When I got out of the service, I was out for four years before I came to work for the government,” he said. “It’s very different from the corporate world where I worked in sales. I didn’t really fit into the niche.”
Five civilians and 32 military personnel are stationed at the pool where they test and train recruits in water survival skills. Pool staff are required to be qualified in all Red Cross certifications such as CPR, first responder first aid, and AED (automated external defibrillator). They train a variety of swim levels from those who have never been in the water to assisting with the Navy SEAL candidates.
“You tend to get a little bit more job satisfaction from the recruits who cannot swim because they really do appreciate it,” said Schueneman. “Some of them are from out of the country who have never swam in their lives and in a matter of 12 hours, they pass a 50-yard swim, float for 5 minutes in deep water and they’re out the door. I like working with the recruits. They’re fun. Even if we come in crabby, the recruits for the most part are happy to see us. We don’t get angry with them.”
The biggest job satisfaction for Schueneman is when one of those remedial swimmers learn to swim and passes the test.
“It’s nice when a recruit passes and you’ve dealt with them since day one for three or four weeks,” said Schueneman. “You’ve been telling them they have nothing to worry about but they do worry about their families having to cancel their plans if they don’t pass and graduate. I’ll use that as motivation and I’ll help them as much as I can while I’m in water with them, helping them up for a moment and telling them to relax. We play a part of that success. They’ll tell me, ‘I can’t thank you enough,’ and I tell them, ‘You did the work. I just sat here and ran my mouth. Lucky for me, you listened.’”
Another civilian position dealing with the recruits’ physical fitness abilities is that of a PRIMS (Physical Readiness Information Management System) coordinator at Freedom Hall, RTC’s physical training facility. Wanza Roberson, a retired Navy yeoman, has been at RTC since 2009.
“I was already here at the base anyway, doing my retired benefits such as medical at the VA or shopping at the commissary, so it made sense to get a government job that was closest to the facilities that I use, instead of being out in town and having to come all the way over here,” she said.
PRIMS’ coordinators input the recruits’ first official Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA) information into PRIMS as well as the official final PFA.
“I track everybody that fails it or doesn’t participate until they either pass it, they get moved to another division, or they get separated,” said Roberson, “So I’m tracking all of these loose ends until they finish and then we put them into PRIMS. It’s statistical work.”
The Freedom Hall staff consists of 15 Navy personnel and three civilians, with instructors training the recruits and the civilians handling the administrative duties.
“I like where I’m at. I work at my own pace and don’t have anyone breathing down my neck. I know what I need to get done and how much time I have to get it done,” said Roberson. “Some people may need some time management skills but I’m used to working independently.”
While there are many longtime employees at RTC, former Navy lieutenant Dr. Jenny Siddiqi, a psychologist, only arrived last year and appreciates the integral role she has with the military staff.
She entered the Navy as a psychologist through a program that allowed her to go through graduate school and spend her final year of residency in the Navy in exchange for a four-year service commitment. After having been stationed in San Diego, she had orders for RTC where she and her family decided to stay and plant roots. Following a stint in the civilian world, she took advantage of the job opening at RTC in July 2018.
“I love it here and I absolutely love this position,” said Siddiqi, who is the only civilian in RTC’s 3rd Fleet department of six. “There is no typical day, which is what I love about the job because it’s not like a mundane come in and do the same thing routine; there’s always something different.”
Siddiqi said 25 percent of her job is doing therapy for the RTC’s military staff, including Recruit Division Commands and instructors.
“We also do assessment and selection as this is something of which the Navy is doing more,” she said. “These positions where service members are working with a vulnerable population, such as recruits, we do psychological screenings to make sure the best person is in the job.”
Warrior Toughness, a holistic mind-body-soul character development program designed by RTC to build recruits’ ability to perform under acute and sustained stress, is the other part of job with teaching classes, revamping the curriculum, and discussing some of the Warrior Toughness exercises as staff determines how it can best fit into various parts of training.
“I really like the command; I feel like they’re very supportive and I like being part of big organization that is part of such an important mission, said Siddiqi. “The RDCs are great. They have a very demanding schedule that is not necessary conducive to mental health, with the lack of sleep and just the nature of their job training recruits, so I really love being able to work with them and help them with their well-being while doing this arduous job.”
Whereas civilians stay put year in and year out, they watch the revolving door of Navy personnel come and go when their tour of duty is complete. A common thread of agreement among the civilians is the continual changing of staff that may wear on them as they consistently meet new co-workers or supervisors, but it can also make them more valuable to the command.
“Military members tend to transfer every two to three years and take their experience with them,” said Thors. “Our professional civilian cadre provide us with a consistent level of understanding and a strong foundation to continue making RTC better and better. The military simply cannot function without our civilian patriots; they’re simply part of the mission and family.”
Siddiqi believes the constant change of personnel helps to strengthen the command.
“Civilians help to provide that continuity that a huge organization needs. Change is important; fresh ideas are important, and I think that’s something amazing that the active duty bring because they’re coming from all over the world and bring new ideas,” she said. “But who’s going to be the one to say, ‘Ugh … we tried that three years ago and it didn’t work but here’s a suggestion of it might work.’ I think civilians can really offer that continuity base for the long term to always assure that we are moving forward.”
While civilians have the opportunity to apply for different positions that become available at RTC or Naval Station Great Lakes, Roberson and many others are content right where they are at with no plans to leave the command anytime soon.
“I’ll work here as long as I can. This is not a hard job and I have fun at work,” said Roberson, who plans to retire from RTC. “We get along well, us civilians, as we’ve got each other’s back and we try to watch out for each other as well as the staff. When you find your niche, you do not want to give it up.”
“This is my stress relief coming to work from everything outside of work that causes the stress,” said Schueneman, who is counting the years left until his retirement. “I really do like this, its fun. Some of the SEALs I’ve helped trained are now coming back as instructors and they remember me.”
As most RTC civilians work behind the scenes, civilians in the Events and Public Affairs departments are on the front lines of communication with recruits’ loved ones.
Those in Public Affairs manage and monitor the command’s Facebook page where they regularly post information and answer questions in the posts as well as in private messages or the department’s email account.
Both departments field phone calls from families and friends with questions or concerns regarding their recruits’ status or questions about training in general.
The Events staff also assists with the weekly recruit graduation ceremony working offering instructions to the official party as well as managing the guest relations desk in the visitors center answering general questions from guests. They also provide a protocol presentation to the recruit award winner families on what to expect during the ceremony and the post-graduation reception for their honor recruits.
Retired Navy commander Mary Blankenship, who was also stationed at RTC, leads the Events department in their dealings with the public.
“One of the things we do in the Events department is field phone calls from the public,” she said. “We predominantly deal with questions about graduation procedures. Family members and friends are often overwhelmed by the prospect of seeing their new Sailor again, about being a part of such a special ceremony, about getting on a military base, and even about travelling! Some have never travelled before at all. Our goal in Events is to empathetically answer every question, which can be a daunting task!”
Civilians at RTC have the opportunity for recognition for their outstanding work efforts by receiving a Hard Charger certificate or Letter of Appreciation from the commanding officer. They can be named by a board of both military and civilian department heads as Civilian of the Quarter and Civilian of the Year. For the COQ and COY, the awardees are presented with a plaque at a regularly held command award ceremony as well as have their photos displayed on the quarterdeck in the command headquarters building as a constant reminder of the importance of the civilians’ role at the Navy’s only boot camp.
“Our team here consistently meets or exceed expectations and contributes in meaningful ways,” said Thors. “I am very pleased with how well we are integrated and work together to achieve the overall mission of RTC. Simply said, we can’t do it without ’em.”
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/.