The weather in Chicago was terrible on Thursday, February 26th, so it was difficult to get there. We left Boise, Idaho, at 9:51 in the morning and finally got to bed in our hotel room at about 1:00 a.m. But we did make it and I would have gone through much worse for our girl. We had decided to rent a car from O’Hare, since I’m pretty good at navigating around new places. It also gave us a little more flexibility. I won’t go into the whole plane canceled, sitting on the ramp and bumpy flight story. Just believe me when I say there are better times to fly to Chicago.
We stayed at the La Quinta Inn out on Grand Avenue, which was a quick 10 minute or so drive from RTC [Recruit Training Command]. The hotel was very good, with a Continental Breakfast that we took advantage of every day, even the first day when they started serving at 6:00 a.m. and we left the hotel at about 6:15. As we were leaving the hotel I noticed how very cold it was. Our car said it was 17 degrees, but between the humidity and the wind it felt like 10 below.
We got to the front gate at just about 6:30 and I believe there were less than 20 cars ahead of us. Make sure you know where you’re going, because you pass about three gates on Buckley before you get to the right one. The proper gate is east of the VA hospital and is on the corner of Buckley and Illinois Streets. They waved us right through the gate after checking our parking pass and directed us to a small parking lot nearby. There they put us in rows and checked everyone’s I.D.s. That was it. They were patrolling around with a dog, so it’s possible they were doing spot checks on car contents. The dogs were even wearing coats. Did I mention the cold?
After the first parking lot they directed us to the large lot near the chapel. I was tempted to drop my wife and mother-in-law off at MCPON Hall on the way by, since it was blisteringly cold, but I was afraid to stop and mess up the traffic flow. As it was, since we were early, we parked at the far end of the parking lot and had to walk back about 3 or 400 yards. Did I mention it was cold?
We trooped into MCPON hall and got to the front of the line very quickly. Our names were checked off a list and we asked about the fifth member of our group, our German exchange student. We had brought him thinking he would have to wait in the visitor’s center until he could be seated. They just told us to keep him with us, stamped all our hands and waved us along. You do only have four names on the list, so be aware if you bring more they might be disappointed. It worked for us, but ours was a fairly small class with only eight Divisions.
We then walked from MCPON hall to the Drill Hall. If I knew its name I’ve forgotten. The walk was maybe 200 yards. I think I mentioned before that it was cold. We entered the Drill Hall and immediately you can tell where to sit, because there are signs out on the floor for each Division. We found Division 109's seats and proceeded to wait for about two hours. It wasn’t too bad, because you could get up and walk around if you wanted to and they were showing films if you could concentrate. The bathrooms are large, clean and located under the bleachers. They also were selling water at a little stand.
We asked about buying a Division T-shirt, since we heard they sold them during graduation. They said they weren’t selling them. We only found out later our daughter already had hers, so we didn’t have to make sure and get her one. I’ve heard other people say that they sell them while you’re waiting for PIR, but not this time.
I apologize for forgetting what order things happen in, but a few things happen before our Sailors are in the hall. The Navy band plays, a band from the 900 Division plays and they present the colors and all the State Flags. Make sure and cheer when they name your state (you know who you are Rhode Island). If you’re wondering, the flags are presented in the order your state entered the Union. Sorry Alaska and Hawaii, that’s just the way it is.
Then the moment we’d all been waiting for. The large garage doors in the northeast corner (far left, across from the stands) open, and the first Division marches in. They stop immediately and strip off all their watch caps and scarves, then they start moving again. You can hear the excitement as families start recognizing their Sailors. The Divisions all parade in front of the stands then reverse direction and come to a halt in their positions. Don’t be surprised if your Division is not right in front of you, it just works out that way.
We saw our girl fairly early on, but we weren’t sure it was her, because her blond hair looked dark against the Navy Blue Dress uniform. At this point I was getting a little emotional so maybe I wasn’t seeing so well. When they did their turning maneuver that put all their guidon and flag bearers at the front, she went to the back, since she was the tallest girl in the Division. I could see her with binoculars and my wife was able to get her picture with her telephoto lens.
The ceremony is surprisingly short. The main part of it is giving out the Honors to the Honor Recruits and Honor Divisions. A Rear Admiral, who works at the Pentagon, was the honorary graduate inspector, and he gave a speech. It was a rousing dedication to “The most powerful Navy in the world” and our Sailors. At one point he mentioned that this class means a lot to him, since he had a new Sailor out on the floor. I thought he was going to lose it then and I almost did myself.
I can still hear in my head the moment they called, “Now Hear This, Liberty Call, Liberty Call.” If the three little old ladies and the Chief RDC [Recruit Division Commander – what in other branches of the military might be known as a drill sergeant] I ran over getting to my girl are reading this, I’m really sorry. I have to blame extenuating circumstances. I’m sure you understand.
I’m about 6’ 4” tall and my girl is 5’ 8” so we didn’t have much trouble finding each other. The big grins we each had on our faces would probably have lit up a dark room anyway. I caught her and gave her a big “Bravo Zulu” hug. The rest of the family caught up and we all stood around congratulating ourselves on a job well done. There wasn’t a dry eye in the group. Even our crusty new Sailor showed a little emotion.
We spent the next three days catching up and trying to stay warm. It was very hard to take her back Sunday night, but she was able to call and leave a message on my cell phone Monday. She called Wednesday from O’Hare, where she was waiting to catch the plane to San Francisco and then to Monterey.
She’s getting settled in in Monterey right now, waiting to “class up” and begin learning Arabic – a process that’s scheduled to last at least 63 weeks. Once she’s mastered her language, that’ll be the last we know of her job as everything from there on out will be classified. She could tell us, but then she’d have to kill us.