NPR

| Back to npr.org

PRC May 12-18, 2002
Hilton Washington and Towers, Washington DC

Scott's Story

HOST INTRO:
AFTER SEPTEMBER 11TH, THE UNITED STATES NAVY'S ROLE IN NATIONAL DEFENSE HAS GROWN CONSIDERABLY AND IT'S EXPECTED THAT THE NUMBER OF NAVAL TRAINEES WILL RISE. GREAT LAKES NAVAL TRAINING CENTER, LOCATED 45 MINUTES NORTH OF CHICAGO, IS HOME TO THE NAVY'S ONLY BOOT CAMP. GREAT LAKES IS THE LARGEST TRAINING FACILITY IN THE ENTIRE US MILITARY. THE BASE GRADUATES 1,000 MEN AND WOMEN EVERY WEEK. NEXT GENERATION'S SCOTT RODBRO REPORTS THE CHALLENGE IS FORMIDABLE: TO HONE RAW VOLUNTEERS INTO COMBAT-READY AMERICAN SAILORS:

Entering the heavily guarded fortress of Great Lakes takes you into a world of rules and rhythms:
Sound (2,40)

Growing up outside of Chicago, I've always been aware of the base's existence- I'd often see groups of fresh-faced sailors around - but I didn't really know what went on up there.

(1,12) "Great Lakes was founded in 1911."

Bill Dermody, the base's assistant public affairs officer:

"The first recruit arrived here in the 1st week of July, 1911 and the base was officially dedicated by President Taft in October…. We've been in business ever since."

The business of training sailors. Overseeing this endeavor is Rear Admiral Ann Rondeau.

(3, 13): "This is the only boot camp for the Navy. It is also a place where young Americans, men and women, come to learn how to be a sailor and then go out in a very short period of time and be on the front edge, the leading edge of our combat teams at sea."
(3,15+)"Every year we graduate 60,000 a year as sailors and the enlisted force.
"

Preparing these recruits involves more than just getting them ready physically.

(3, 38+) AR: "…there's a tendency to say 'am I really ready for this?' and as you're getting ready to go out and do it you're never quite sure…..you see in their eyes anxiety."

Sitting down to talk with a few recruits, I find that I, too, have some obstacles to overcome.
(4,12) "Relax. You don't have to sit at attention, please relax, take a couple deep breaths, ok."

As I take out my microphone, Lt Brian Nowak gives the recruits some instructions.

"You're going to be on radio. It doesn't matter how you look, what you're talking about is the most important thing- what you say and how you say it. So please, clear your minds somehow, get out of recruit mode for a couple minutes. Okay Kaspar? Lean back, please. Lean back, take some deep breaths. In, out. Relax. Ok. Feel better?"

The brief breathing exercise helps me too. All of the discipline, saluting, and general formality leaves me a bit tense.

(4,23+)S: "What's your name sir?"
M: "I'm senior recruit Massey from division 224."
(4,102) S: "Have you always had this determination- when you were a 10,12 year-old kid were you-"
Sr.Recruit Massey: "No, sir, I didn't. To be honest with you, after this September 11th I got my head screwed on and I decided it's time to grow up. I'm only 17 years old, and it's hard, it's what I want to do. I want to fight for my country. What happened was not right. That's what I believe, it's not right. So I want to do what I can to make it somewhat right.
"

(4,18) "Good morning. I'm Senior Recruit Kaspar. Division 223."
(4,68)S: "Did you have any low points so far? When you were kind of questioning your decision to be here?"
4,71)Sr. Recruit Kaspar: "…after my 1st day of being up for almost 24 hours, getting 2 hours of rest that same nite. And waking up at 3 o'clock that next morning. I woke up that next morning and said, "oh my goodness, what did I do?
"

And as Drill Division Officer Robert Asmann points out what these new recruits will do is grow- dramatically.

(1,26) "A lot of the kids come in here have never had anything to look forward to in their life; never been touched in their life, never had anything to fight for in their life and they come out of here completely changed, motivated individuals…."

During the first eight weeks of bootcamp, instructors stress swimming efficiency, discipline, and above all, teamwork. This all serves to lead the recruit towards one final end. Since I first set foot on base I kept hearing reverential mutterings about something called battle stations. The name brought to mind Parker Brothers but I knew it was no game. Lt. Cdr.John Wallach.

(5,27) LtCdr John Wallach: "Battle Stations is the de facto final exam of boot camp. It's done in the 8th week of training, or 7th, and…we test them for 12 straight hours. We get them up at 9 o'clock at night after maybe an hour of sleep if they're lucky, and run them all night long thru 12 different scenarios all based on an actual event that's occurred in the Navy in its history."

One of the battle stations re-enact s Pearl Harbor, another: the flood on the USS Tripoli during the Persian Gulf War. The newest re-creates the USS Cole, the target of a terrorist attack. This scenario is called the mass casualty drill. Again, Lt. Cdr.Wallach.

Lt.CdrW: (5,27+)"It basically simulates an attack on a ship and the recruits are required to navigate many different obstacles in a very harsh environment- it's dark, it's noisy, it's chaotic, and they have to navigate a maze of twisted passageways and broken equipment and get their shipmates to safety."

I never thought I'd be allowed to observe battle stations but I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask. Two weeks later I'm invited to watch the final 4 hours.

(5,58) disjointed siren

(5, 56) MOVE IT MOVE IT MOVE IT; EXPLOSION (FADE UNDER)

It's pitch black, and I'm making my way along a cat walk. With the red-beamed flashlight they gave at the entrance , I can make out some of the action below. Underneath me, recruits scurry with synchronized efficiency, working together to carry a 185 pound dummy to safety.

(5,132) ? "Or you can let us know the truth, so you can get medical attention. Cause you're already at the end, man…."

I notice one sleep-deprived recruit who is at the end of his rope… so much so that he didn't even notice he was at the end of his ordeal.

(5,132) "… So I don't know why you're sweating along now. So if you're hurting, you've got to let somebody know."

(5, 56) MOVE IT MOVE IT MOVE IT; EXPLOSION (CROSS FADE W/ GRADUATION MUSIC)

(5,137+) "welcome to the battle stations completion ceremony. …At this time of war, we must be ready and capable of achieving victory….(FADE UNDER NARRATION… War fighting readiness is paramount….")

The battle is finally over and 200 tired but thrilled recruits shuffle into the graduation hall. The relief is visible on every sailor's face.

(6,3) THE NAVY CREED (FADE UNDER 'ASMANN')

Drill Division Officer Asmann:

(1,27+) "No matter what job I have, it never gets old on a graduation day to see these soldiers after liberty call, how proud they are, how their uniform looks, how their parents are just incredibly, and extraordinarily proud and every single soldier that comes here and graduates has my utmost respect and I'd be proud to serve with every one of them in the fleet."

At the final graduation ceremony a few days later, these new sailors are all cleaned up and excited to see their loved ones. It's been over two months since they've laid eyes on each other:
(2,17) S: "Does he seem different at all?"
E: "Oh, yes."
S: "How's that?"
E: "His attitude, his physical appearance, but he just seems focused, disciplined, and just ready for the world…I knew that he had the ability …but to see it all come to fruition like this is amazing
."

But despite appearances on this day, how will these new sailors handle what's ahead?

(6,8+) "So, are you scared?" "Anxious, anxious to see what awaits us in the fleet. Everybody's really wondering what goes on out there."

(1,171) drums, yelling

For Fresh Perspective, I'm Scott Rodbro