Changes take hold at Great Lakes

By Eric Fidler
Associated Press
November 12, 2003

CHICAGO - Generations of recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center have marched from barracks to classroom, classroom to barracks, barracks to mess hall more than a mile and a half a day for their nine weeks of basic training.“Two years ago, we did more marching than even the Marine Corps or the Army, said Rear Adm. Ann Rondeau, commander of the center in North Chicago.

But the nation's only boot camp for Navy enlistees is undergoing a major change and less marching for the roughly 45,000 recruits who pass through every year is only a part of it.

Instead of wasting training time by making recruits adapt to the aging base, the base is adapting to them. The result, Rondeau and others say, should be better-trained, healthier sailors who are prepared to serve from the day they graduate.

Two years ago, recruits were allotted six and a half hours of sleep. Today, they get eight hours, a reflection that most people need that much shuteye to be healthy and to learn effectively.

Recruits no longer spend a week of their training on kitchen duty. Meals are handled by a private company, leaving more time for training in fighting, survival and counterterrorism techniques.

The two giant dining halls are disappearing, to be replaced by galleys in the barracks.

Fifteen new barracks are being built containing classroom and training areas; each will be named after a famous ship from Navy history in an attempt to imbue Navy lore in sailors from the start.

They will replace barracks with antiquated ventilation systems in which, Rondeau said, when one recruit gets sick, 70 or 80 more quickly follow.

Also slated for the wrecking ball are the base's drill halls, which were put up more than 60 years ago as temporary structures. They will be replaced by three new training halls with air conditioning, offices and classrooms and modern amenities.

The cost of all the new construction is projected to be $798 million over nine years, said Cmdr. Tony Edmonds.

Navy officials are quick to say the new approach is intended to be more focused, not any less rigorous than the old way of doing things.

I think the recruits are going to get a training that's more tailored to the needs of the Navy, Lt. Dan Cook said.

Always being tired all the time and always being sick and coughing really affects your ability to effectively learn, Rondeau said. We want people to be able to focus on making critical decisions.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.

Thanks to shipmate Don Harribine, YNCS USN, Ret