NS Great Lakes, IL Image 1
    NS Great Lakes, IL Image 2

    NS Great Lakes, IL History

    NS Great Lakes is today the only boot camp recruit training center in the US Navy for enlisted personnel. Here recruits are trained from P-Days to Pass In Review, over a thousand miles from any ocean.

    This was once a radical new idea; until the 1880s all sailors were trained and rated at sea, underway. In the 1902 the Navy, under the Teddy Roosevelt administration, observed that a high percentage of sailors were from the Midwest, including many of the best sailors of the Navy. A proposal to establish a training center on the shores of the Great Lakes was made, and in 1905 the announcement was made. The station was scouted, selected, designed and constructed over the next few years, and opened in 1911, near the main source of personnel.

    This timing worked out to be fairly good; opening in 1911 gave NS Great Lakes a few years to develop its program before the US entered World War One; suddenly the 2,000 recruits per year swelled to 9,000 per month. The brick buildings were not enough for these sorts of numbers, and housing was rapidly supplemented with tents, and soon wood temporary housing, some of which was later converted to permanent status. This rapid construction also gave the Navy an appreciation for rapid, skilled shore construction, performed then by the "Fighting Tradesmen," which did not find its best expression until World War Two, with the creation of the Construction Battalion Seabees.

    This huge inflow of recruits required organization, and the trainees were organized into regiments, the original version of organizing training classes into ship barracks. The facility grew from a few dozen buildings to several hundred, brimming with recruits. This was, unfortunately, a perfect arrangement for disease to break out, and in 1918 a worldwide flu epidemic ripped through the entire USA. Military camps of all kinds made perfect stews for any disease, and the 1918 Flu was especially contagious. However, the station medical personnel at the time, led by Captain Moffett, kept losses to a minimum through strict medical discipline and isolation.

    After World War One the training levels dropped to pre-war levels, an airfield was established, and life settled into a military routine. In the mid-1930s the military budget was very limited, and only 12% of recruit applicants were accepted. By 1939, the military budget, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expanded rapidly. Training classes swelled and life at NS Great Lakes stepped up. By the end of 1940 the number of enlisted personnel in the Navy had doubled, meaning the classes at NS Great Lakes had doubled.

    At the end of 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the classes at NS Great Lakes increased again, tenfold. Seventeen camps were added, eleven swimming pools were added to teach swimming to Midwest city and farm boys who did not have a local pool or swimming hole. Millions of hours of technical class training were logged by hundreds of thousands of sailors; the Navy needed rated technicians. NS Great Lakes was not the only Navy recruit training center in the war, but it was the largest and one-quarter of the Navy flowed through.

    In an effort for maximum use of manpower, the first technical training for African-Americans in any US military branch was performed here. This led to integration in the Navy, as it was determined that the segregated classes were inefficiently small. By war's end the first African-American officers were graduated and commissioned or warranted at NS Great Lakes, the "Golden Thirteen" officers, February 1944. Eight months later, the first African-American officer assigned to a combat ship graduated NS Great Lakes - Samuel L. Gravely, Jr, also the first to command a ship, the first fleet officer, and first flag officer. Segregation did not suddenly halt in the Navy, but it started slowing here.

    World War Two ended in August 1945, and NS Great Lakes became an out-processing center. The Navy remained the largest, most powerful naval force in the world, but shrank quite a lot, with hundreds of thousands of personnel departing wartime service. The facilities generally stayed in place, which worked out quite well when the Korean War, which saw Great Lakes reach levels of activity similar to WWII. The Navy was now facing the Cold War, a long, drawn out conflict with the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China, in which Navy ships would often be the line of contact; incredibly powerful ships passing as close as could be tolerated, ready to respond but not to act. Technical excellence was required; it started with recruit training.

    Training life at NS Great Lakes continued; a WAVE boot camp came and went in the later 1940s. The Navy went nuclear in the 1950s and 1960s. SEALs began recruiting a very small number of trainees in the 1960s, preparatory for training at NAB Coronado. In the 1980s the bulk of the World War Two era buildings and housing, intended for a five year lifespan, was finally becoming irreparable. A wave of construction was necessary to replace these Seabee-constructed buildings.

    The Cold War ended in the late 1980s, and the Navy found itself the undisputed world leader, theoretically able to engage every other navy in the world. Force reduction was called for, and recruitment declined. The other two training stations were closed, leaving the first as the last. The new world, post-Cold War, and post-911, called for increased technical and performance excellence, leveraging the modern Navy's technology for maximum effect in defense of the USA.