NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- The master chief petty officer of the Navy (MCPON) visited Recruit Training Command (RTC) and thanked staff, recruits and families for their hard work and commitment to the Navy's mission during the weekly Pass-in-Review ceremony Dec. 22.
During his visit, MCPON (SS/SW) Rick D. West served as the reviewing officer where 753 recruits became Sailors.
"Shipmates, you raised your hand and took on the responsibility of defending our nation, and there is absolutely nothing you can't achieve if you apply yourself," said West. "My advice to you is to stay focused, work hard, be proactive, get qualified, and stay out of trouble."
West also had a message for the recruit division commanders (RDCs); the men and women who have trained the recruits for the past eight weeks and prepared them for the fleet.
"Eight weeks ago you took a group of civilians and transformed them into the Sailors you see before you," said West. "I thank you for your outstanding dedication to our Sailors and our Navy."
This was not West's first visit to RTC. In 2008 he sat in the crowd anxiously awaiting the graduation of one particular recruit, his son, Seaman Recruit West.
"As your MCPON, a spouse, and a Navy dad, thank you for allowing your sons and daughters, husbands and wives, to serve in our great Navy," said West. "I welcome you with open arms into our Navy family."
Prior to graduation, West attended pizza night at the USS Triton, a barracks where recruits eat, sleep, and train. Recruits scheduled to graduate the following day attend this event and are able to relax and talk to their shipmates during their meal, something not normally authorized during chow.
Seaman Recruit Richard Pallenez, Division 025, from Houston, Texas, said his heart was beating when MCPON, the Navy's top enlisted leader, sat down to eat dinner beside him.
"We ate pizza and talked about football, bootcamp and the Navy," said Palleneze. "MCPON said that the people are the best part of the Navy and so far I agree."
West spoke to several recruits at pizza night and even handed out pizza to those who needed another slice.
"It's not every day MCPON serves you pizza," said West.
The following day West stopped at each of the 13 barracks at RTC and spoke to staff and recruits. He wanted to know what was on their minds and make sure they knew he was proud of them.
While speaking to recruits in division 059/060, who reported to RTC approximately two weeks ago, West recalled when he had reported to bootcamp in Orlando, Fla., 29 years ago as a new recruit.
"You are about to go through a challenging period in your life," said West. "You are going to get through it by working as a team. You have to dig deep, you have to help each other, and you have to motivate each other."
"The strength of our Navy is not in our ships, submarines or aircraft. It's in our people," said West. "You, the people, are what bring the Navy to life."
After his speech the more than 700 recruits responded with a loud "HOOYAH!"
The recruits weren't the only ones excited about West's visit. Operations Specialist 1st Class (SW) James Maudsley, an RDC, had the opportunity to talk to West about being in the Navy and the amazing things that are happening at RTC.
"Meeting an enlisted person that has made their way through the ranks motivates me," said Maudsley. "It reminds me that I am capable of doing great things."
In addition to the graduation ceremony, West also spoke to the staff at the USS Missouri Small-arms Marksmanship Trainer, or SAMT, and the USS Wisconsin Live-fire Range next door to Missouri. While at both facilities West was given hands-on weapons familiarization and training that recruits receive. He also was given the opportunity to brush up on his shooting skills.
"Live fire and SAMT are very useful and should be utilized but there's nothing like putting a real weapon in your hand and feeling the impact of (firing) that weapon downrange."
At the conclusion of his visit, West said it's always good to come to the "Quarterdeck of the Navy" and see America's youth being shaped into the Sailors they become in the fleet.
"I could not be more proud of them (recruits) and more importantly I could not be more proud of the staff," said West. "The folks that take duty up here are my heroes."
For more news on the Navy's only bootcamp visit http://www.bootcamp.navy.mil/.
For more news from Naval Service Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/greatlakes/.